Dirty Sexy Money star William Baldwin slides easily into the famed cowl as the voice of Batman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, an DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movie from Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation.
A fan of the super hero genre since his youth when the Baldwin brothers would role play in their backyard, William Baldwin has proudly, enthusiastically undertaken the deep, gravelly vocal tones of the Dark Knight. While Baldwin has crafted a fine career in live-action film and television, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths represents only his second foray into voiceover for animation, having recorded a few episodes on the Nickelodeon series Danny Phantom.
Beyond ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money television series, Baldwin has offered memorable turns in the feature films Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Flatliners, Backdraft and The Squid and the Whale, the latter of which earned (ironically) a Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is an original story from award-winning animation/comics writer Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League). Bruce Timm (Superman Doomsday) is executive producer, and the film is co-directed by Lauren Montgomery (Green Lantern: First Flight) and Sam Liu (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies). The full-length animated film will be distributed by Warner Home Video on February 23, 2010 as a Special Edition 2-disc version on DVD and Blu-Ray™ Hi-Def, as well as single disc DVD, and On Demand and Download.
Baldwin took time after his recording session to chat about visualization techniques in the sound booth, his children’s influence on his choice of roles, the super hero roughhouse role play by the Baldwin brothers (particularly Alec Baldwin) in their youth, and his very nearly being cast in the live-action role of Batman. Now let the man speak …
WILLIAM BALDWIN:I almost did join that group – I was one of Joel Schumacher‘s top choices when Val Kilmer wound up playing Batman. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton had left, so Joel had the luxury of replacing Michael Keaton and he told me that his four choices – which was an eclectic, diverse array – were Daniel Day Lewis, Ralph Feinnes, Val Kilmer and me. I didn’t even know it at the time – he told me when I had a meeting with him later. The next time, when George Clooney did it, (Schumacher) said, “You were on my original short list with those other three actors, but the studio went with Val and this time I’d like to go with you.” And that Friday afternoon, I thought I was playing Batman – and then Monday morning, the headlines in the trades said that George Clooney had gotten the part. So apparently, I did actually come very close.
I was very excited to do this. I wasn’t really thinking about any past Batmans, but more of letting the material sort of dictate the choices that I make as an actor. What’s happening physically, what’s happening emotionally, what’s happening in the writing. That’s what really drives your performance.
How did you choose to interpret the character? And was there anything you wanted to do differently than what had preceded you.
WB:I was mostly influenced by whom I perceive Batman to be, with the possible exception that I think sometimes I allow a certain sensitivity or an emotional dynamic to give (the character) maybe a likeability or an accessibility. That’s almost an insecurity of mine as an actor – to want to breathe a little bit of those types of emotions into characters. I think I find them more appealing and more likeable and more human. What I didn’t choose to do is to go towards the darkness of the way the original Batman series was intended. Because Batman, in the original comic series, was a lot darker than the character that was brought to life in television.
Are there any personal attachments to Batman that make voicing this role special for you?
WB:It’s a number of things – certainly the history of the character. The people that have been lucky enough to portray Batman on screen, or provide his voice, is a short list and it’s pretty cool. I’m in good company. I enjoyed it as a child, and the character still resonates for me. And I’m a father of an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 4-year-old – my boy is sandwiched between his sisters, and he just loves the super heroes. We watch Justice League together. I try not to let him overdo it too much with television, but there’s great, wholesome messages that come out of that series. When I told him that I was playing Batman, his jaw dropped. I almost took him out of school today to have him come down here (for the recording session).
How many times have you said “I’m Batman” in the past week?
WILLIAM BALDWIN:Probably about a half a dozen, usually just joking with my kids and my wife. I was in the studio about a 9-iron from here, where my wife (Chynna Phillips) was recording, and all the band members were giving me different lines to say as Batman. Or having me improvise some lines. And we were having some wicked, twisted fun with it (he laughs).
It seemed you were quite focused in the booth, conveying all the physical and emotional traits as Batman. How immersed in the role did you feel?
WILLIAM BALDWIN:I take it seriously. And I enjoy it, especially recreating the sound effects of the fight sequences and stuff like that. One thing that was interesting to me was how clean they need the lines and, thus, how specific I had to keep my relationship to the microphone, and making sure there weren’t any other sort of ancillary sounds. When I’m doing looping for a film, I guess it’s sort of a method approach. I’ll put things inside my mouth and try to recreate the circumstances or the emotions that existed while I was performing. There’s nothing better than when you’re grunting from lifting something to try and create that sensation. I do a lot of visualization, too. So when you’re having the confrontation with Lex Luthor or Superwoman, sometimes I’ll look through the mike into the booth to somebody in the room. I’ll look at them and just sort of imagine it in my mind, to just pick somebody and lock into that, giving off this energy to them. It’s very helpful for me to have that specificity to lock into.
Did the Baldwin brothers play super hero games growing up?
WILLIAM BALDWIN:You’ll have to get my brother Alec in here sometime – he’s got the scars to prove it. Back in the early ‘60s, he tied a bathroom towel around his neck as a cape and was doing his Superman (impression), and he went through a plate glass sliding door. He ran right through it. He has these big V-shaped scars under his bicep and his forearm from all the stitches that he took when he was five or six years old.
So yeah, we did play super hero games. And my family was pretty rough. I mean, when we were playing super heroes, if there was a cartoon where somebody got thrown off the roof and they landed on the ground with a thud, then Stephen or I got thrown off the roof – into a pile of leaves, or into somebody’s swimming pool.
You rode along with the Chicago Fire Department to prepare for Backdraft. What kind of research went into this performance?
WILLIAM BALDWIN:First of all, some parts lend them self to that type of research and preparation more than others. Secondly, I had a fairly deep understanding of this character because I’ve been watching the shows and films and the character for 40 years. So if I felt like I didn’t have enough of an understanding, I probably would have postponed (the recording session). But when I was looking at the script on a plane a few days ago, I felt it was kind of a piece of cake based on my understanding of the character, and really fueled my attraction to the character and the piece. There’s a lot of two- and three-line exchanges rather than two- and three-paragraph exchanges. There weren’t a lot of monologues that required a lot of line memorization, or anything incredibly challenging emotionally. I just had to get into the rhythm of how the character speaks.
Batman’s spectrum of emotion is fairly narrow – for a number of reasons. He’s always in command, he’s always in control, he’s always holding it together, and he’s pretty tough relative to the rest of us in this room.
Does the Gotham City/New York connection hold anything special for a lifelong New Yorker?
WILLIAM BALDWIN:There’s always been something cool about (Gotham City) being based on New York – it’s where I’m from, where I grew up, and I’ve spent my whole career there. I remember referring to it as Gotham – not Gotham City, either – more often than I called it Manhattan or New York. I’d be on the West Coast finishing a meeting, and somebody would ask, “Where you going?” And I’d always say “Back to Gotham.”
Did having children that enjoy the genre influence your desire to give voice to an animated character at this point in your career?
WB:That definitely motivates a lot of the choices that I make as an actor now. I’m looking to be involved with projects that are family oriented. Not exclusively, but I’d like to do some things that my children can see. My brother Alec has done a series of films over the last couple years – Madagascar and Thomas (the Train) and things like that – and the kids got really, really excited about that. And we’re good friends with Chazz Palminteri, and Chazz does a lot of animated voiceover work. When they hear his voice, they really get excited.
I was doing a television series for two seasons, so we would watch that together as a family. Sometimes I would let the kids stay up, and they really got a kick out of it. I did a film last year with Henry Winkler called A Plumm Summer that won a couple of family film festival audience awards. So yes, I’m definitely looking for some choices. Because the films in my past, like Flatliners and Internal Affairs, Three Of Hearts and Backdraft and Sliver, Fair Game and The Squid And The Whale and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, these are all films that my kids aren’t quite ready to see.
You’ve tackled this legendary comic character. What other roles would you like to fill?
WB:I’d like to surprise some people maybe and do the voice of something that’s much more charactery. It could be much more ethnic. Jewish or Irish or a New Yorker. I have a lot of fun with that stuff. I’d even like to sing. I wouldn’t want to sing in the way that you would need Mariah Carey to sing, but just have a character sing and have fun with that, too.
What were your impressions of this animation experience versus some of your previous experiences?
WB:I’m getting better at it. I’m very tough on myself, so I’m never quick to say that I felt like it was great when it wasn’t. I usually have my own sort of standards that I set for myself. It felt like I was able to achieve my objectives more quickly. I think that comes with maturity as a performer and, uh, it’s nice to know. Because there’s been times where I’ve done voiceover work where they would normally allot two hours for someone who can bang it out, and they would have to allot three or three and a half or four hours. It’s not that I couldn’t do it quickly, it’s just that I’m such a perfectionist. I tend to be saying “Let me try that again. Let’s do one more … one more … one more.” I think I said, “Let me do one more” about 10 times today, which wasn’t a lot. Sometimes I say it 100 times. I think everybody thought that it felt right, it felt good, it sounded great. It’s always fun, but I want to get it right.
Is it difficult acting alone in the booth?
WB:It forces you to hone in and focus on the performance aspects and the emotional aspects of what you’re trying, and visual them in your head. Acting is not acting, it’s reacting. You’re reacting to what somebody’s saying and how they’re saying it. That was great about the television show that I just did (Dirty Sexy Money) because the props department would tie me in when we would do something like a telephone conversation. When I had one with Donald Sutherland, I didn’t have to come into the studio to do it. They would just have me call on my cell phone from my home in Santa Barbara, and I would call in when the camera was rolling and I would literally have the conversation with him. In the old days, sometimes you would have the other actor come in on his off day just to read that telephone conversation off camera. Then that changed and you would wind up reading this telephone conversation with the script supervisor who (A) is not an actor, and (B) does not know what the choices of the actor are going to be when they shoot his side of the telephone conversation in two weeks. That can be very difficult and very stilted when they cut that telephone conversation together – sometimes you can tell by the way someone’s reacting to a line that they weren’t hearing the actor do it on that day. They just interpreted what they thought the actor was going to do on that day, and they were wrong. I’m talking about stuff that’s very subtle, like someone raising their voice a little bit in the reaction to the other person. Little things. But that’s acting. You’re not just reacting to the words, you’re reacting to the way the words were said. Was it threatening? Was it menacing? Was it intimidating? Was it submissive? It’s all based on little layers and subtleties.
Can you compare acting on camera to acting in the booth, and how Andrea Romano was able to guide you through those differences?
WB:It’s sort of a mixed bag. On camera, you’re usually acting to another actor who you’re looking at, who’s in the room with you. Today, I was in the sound room and Andrea was behind the glass. And she’s not an actor. But for a director, from a performance standpoint, she was giving me more than enough. What really helped was the specificity of her notes. When something wasn’t right, she would give me a note that would 180 it, or she would give me a little subtle note. That was great. “You’re forgetting to add in this layer” or “Give me a little bit more urgency.” At one point, I throw a punch and Superwoman catches my fist and starts to squeeze my fist. And I said, “Do you want me to wince and scream in pain when she’s crushing my fist? And am I supposed to fight the temptation of revealing to a woman – because wouldn’t Batman wouldn’t want to give away that power that a woman is causing the pain.” I mean, it would be different if Lex Luthor or Superman were doing this, right? So we sort of hashed that out and found those sort of things as we were going along.
For more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s official website at www.JUSTICELEAGUECRISIS.com.
William Baldwin Photo courtesy of Gary Miereanu. Special Thanks to Gary Miereanu
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