The definitive Batman voice finally gets his Dark Knight moment in front of the camera
By DAVID BETANCOURT | The Washington Post | Published: December 13, 2019
If even just for a moment, Kevin Conroy was the Batman in front of the camera instead of just the voice.
Conroy has been known to Batman fans worldwide as the voice of Batman, after years of work on "Batman: The Animated Series," "Batman Beyond," animated movies and vocal video game appearances. But he made his first live-action acting appearance as the character in Monday’s second part of "Crisis on Infinite Earths," a five-part crossover event involving all of the CW’s DC Comics-inspired shows.
Conroy, 64, plays an aging and lethal alternate-universe Batman who can’t walk without mechanical assistance (thanks to the death battle with the Superman of his world).
Conroy’s vocal talents have always been his strongest superhero muscle, but filming "Crisis" left the Juilliard-trained actor speechless when trying to describe the experience on set.
"To actually get to do a live-action version of Bruce Wayne ... I don’t know how to describe it," Conroy told The Washington Post. "And believe me, that doesn’t happen often."
Conroy may be new to Batman’s live-action adventures, but he’s always been considered the definitive version of how the iconic hero should sound. If you’re reading a Batman comic and are of a certain age, it’s likely his voice that you hear in your head. He says his years of voicing Batman has allowed fans to connect with him on a different level than they do with the live-action ones.
"When you live in the animated world, you live in people’s imaginations. And when you’re the voice in their imagination, it’s a much more intimate place to be and a much more intimate experience that the audience has with my voice than they do with a live actor’s voice," Conroy said. "So, in that sense, I have an advantage over those actors."
Conroy’s animated Batman works have aged like a fine Gotham City wine since their debut in the early '90s. Warner Bros. Animation has recently released both "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Batman Beyond" in high definition, and Conroy has enjoyed the crisper look at work he holds dear.
"The actor’s process, my process, is the same for any approach to (Batman)," Conroy said. "But then to see it visualized in a different way, in a more enhanced way, it just gives more power to the vocal performance. There’s more for it to be married to."
Conroy credits much of his vocal success to the animation voice director Andrea Romano. Conroy says she was enjoyably relentless in making sure that, when he was reading his scripts, he knew who else was in the room with his character. Bruce Wayne at a high-society event with Gotham elite didn’t have the intimidating deep bass of Batman on a rooftop.
Conroy was often actually in the voice booth with other actors, unlike in other animated shows, which voice parts separately. He said his best vocal battles were with Mark Hamill, whose take on the Joker is considered just as definitive as Conroy’s Batman.
"You’re only as good as the people around you," Conroy said. "If you’ve got Mark Hamill sitting there, going insane in your face, throwing you all this energy, it’s just going to make your Batman that much better. Being in a booth with Mark Hamill is a dangerous place to be. He devours the microphone and then there’s a lot of saliva coming your way so you’re getting covered with spit."
Conroy said he has always looked at the role of Batman as a tragic hero's journey. He's never once thought it was "just voice acting" and approached Batman with the same efforts he put on the live stage as an actor.
"I know that the fans sense that and appreciate that," Conroy said. "There’s been a real mutual respect of me for the material, and me for the fans and the fans for my work, and I never take it for granted."
Parts 1 and 2 of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" airs Dec. 14 and Part 3 airs Dec. 15 on AFN-Spectrum.