Comic and superhero fans are a an opinionated bunch, and understandably so. The actor or voice actor’s portrayal is key to the intricacies of the character; a bad choice for a voice can spell disaster as easily as a poor live acting choice. So, the internet erupted this May when it was revealed that Kevin Conroy wouldn’t be continuing to voice Batman in the new Warner Bros. prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins.
Replacing him is Roger Craig Smith, famous for his wonderful voice work as Ezio Auditore da Firenze in the three Assassin’s Creed games devoted to the character. His other work includes his portrayal of Resident Evil’s famous Chris Redfield, the current voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, and a bevy of smaller roles in across games like MadWorld, Valkyria Chronicles, and the Naruto Shippuden series.
We had a chance to sit down and talk with Roger about voicing the Dark Knight, and he had plenty to say about the experience.
Pixelvolt: Voicing the Dark Knight himself is a gig anyone would die for. How did you go about landing it, and how did you feel when you did?
Roger: The story of landing it is a bit boring, really—it was just another audition. There were a number of us called in, which is pretty standard, so the process wasn’t all that unique. As far as what was going on during the callback audition, at that point I knew what the project was, so I did everything I could to not think about the gravity of the situation and just listen to what the creatives on the other side of the glass were asking for. When I was given the part, it was a mixture of both elation and fear. I knew this was an iconic character that had been voiced by someone the fans had grown up with, as had I. So, while I was comforted to know that we were exploring Batman at a different time, I was still trepidatious. I knew I was gonna be under the gun from fans and critics and constantly being “compared” to what fans had come to know. That was the challenge in the beginning stages.
Pixelvolt: How did portraying such a specific and popular licensed character differ from other roles that perhaps allowed for more of an original twist? Were you given freedom to imbue Batman with a bit of your own inner Dark Knight, or were the expectations more rigid?
Roger: I think just being a different actor, there are going to be things people perceive as me putting my own “twist” on things. But Eric Holmes, our creative director, and Amanda Wyatt, our voice director, were instrumental in guiding me through the performance they wanted to capture for this character. There aren’t too many places you can go with a character like Bruce Wayne/Batman before it starts to feel off, or wrong for the character. That being said, we were approaching this character at a less-developed, less-refined time in his career, so we were able to play around with some of the performances. Still, if we had gone too far in a take, we knew it. It’s not all that strange to admit that after so many years of a character being around, we all feel like we know Batman regardless of who might be playing him. So, when you push the performance too far outside the lines of what we’ve come to know, it’s a red flag that you’re not being genuine to the character. Thankfully, Eric and Amanda were very on top of that.
Pixelvolt: What process did you go through to prepare for the role?
Roger: Truthfully, there’s not much a of a process for me. If there’s anything at all, it’s just my daily routine of making sure I stay vocally healthy as often as possible. I can’t work in my lower register with the voice if I’m fighting a cold, so staying healthy is paramount. But, that’s the case with me everyday. I am fortunate enough to be working 5 days a week in voice over, so the “process” of me preparing for roles is making sure I am healthy enough to go in and deliver for whatever client I may be working that day. When it comes to working on such an iconic character as Batman, I try to not think too much about the finished product and focus solely on doing whatever my director is asking for. It’s freeing to approach it that way. It also allows me to hyper-focus in short “bursts” for whatever our scene we might be tackling.
Pixelvolt: So, with Mark Hamill finally letting go of the Joker, Troy Baker gave voice to the iconic villain in Arkham Origins. Tell us about how it was working opposite of Troy. What was the chemistry like between you two as you tackled the good guy/bad guy dynamic in the recording room?
Roger: Sadly, Troy and I only got to work together for a few sessions. I think in the end, it serves the dynamic between the two characters really well. Troy and I are friends outside the industry and we’re somewhat goofy together in the booth. I think they realized early on that having us together, recording at the same time, was more like wrangling cats than anything else. We tend to provide a great distraction for one another. Still, I think not having us perform together helped to create that distant, fascination each character has for the other in the end.
Pixelvolt: You also do voice work for other mediums such as film. You were recently the voice of Ripslinger, the villain of Disney’s Planes. How does film voice acting differ from the work you do in gaming?
Roger: There’s not much of a difference, other than the number of things you have to record for a game. As far as performances go, the narrative structure of many games these days lends itself to a theatrical performance. So, there’s no difference in the type of performance you’re delivering. But, with games, since the player can conduct the action, you’ve got to cover so many things with the vocal performance. So, when the playable character is grappling, running, jumping, getting punched, punching someone, you as the actor have to provide all sorts of grunts, screams, and efforts to cover the possibilities. Games tend to be very taxing on the vocal chords as a result.
Pixelvolt: You’ve portrayed the most beloved character in the infinitely popular Assassin’s Creed series, you’ve snagged a role as the world’s fastest hedgehog, and you’ve been Batman now. The sky seems like the limit, so what do you have in the works? Anything you can talk about?
Roger: Every day behind a voice over mic is a great day. I can’t believe the opportunities I’ve had. My dreams have come true many times over and to think that something else awaits is hard to imagine. I’m just trying to do everything I can to enjoy these moments now, knowing that the likelihood of anything beyond is very slim. I will say I have lots of projects for 2014 that have me excited, though I can really speak about them. Folks can keep up with me on Twitter and Facebook for the latest and greatest.