Based on the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank 2008 DC Comics release “Superman: Brainiac,” Superman: Unbound is the latest DC universe animated original movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The story is about a destructive force that is devastating planets across the galaxy, with Earth next in its sights, and even Superman may not be capable of halting the destruction alone. The film features the voices of Matt Bomer (White Collar) as Superman, John Noble (Fringe) as Brainiac, Molly Quinn (Castle) as Supergirl, and Stana Katic (Castle) as Lois Lane. For more on the movie, here’s Dave’s review and our WonderCon panel recap.
While at WonderCon, eight-time Emmy Award-winning dialogue director Andrea Romano (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) spoke at a roundtable about what actor Matt Bomer brought to the role of Superman, what all of the actors voicing Superman have had in common with their performances, what she looks for when an actor is voicing Lois Lane, what made John Noble the perfect actor to voice Brainiac, what makes a great voice actor, the advice she gives actors the first time they go into the voice booth, and how long it usually takes to record the voices for her projects. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ANDREA ROMANO: Everybody brings their own twist to it. It’s actually hard to sometimes identify, specifically, what it is. It has to do with their own specific view of what they think Superman is and what they think Clark Kent is. There’s a vocal quality. Because you’ve typically got a Superman with a pretty good-sized set of shoulders and a very small waist, you have to worry about what that physically sounds like. Does that sound like a big deep voice? We reserve that more for Batman. Superman can have a somewhat lighter voice. What Matt brings to it is a youth. There’s a youth to his voice that’s very appropriate for this particular piece.
Matt Bomer has actually gotten close to playing Superman in real life, and has a bit of a physical resemblance to the character. Is that just a coincidence?
ROMANO: It is! It’s purely a coincidence. I don’t deal with their physical being. I really don’t. I listen to what their voice really sounds like. We’ve gossiped and brain-stormed together about who would be fun as Superman and who would be good, and then we would start mentioning names. You think of someone and you go, “Okay, I know who that actor is. What does his voice really sound like, when you put that voice away from the physicality of that actor?” So, I had to listen to some of Matt’s interviews and some of his work without looking at him and go, “That voice is great! That voice works exactly right for what we’re doing.” So, in casting for animation, you have to separate their physicality from their voices.
What’s the through-line for all the Superman voices that you’ve worked with? What do they have in common?
ROMANO: There’s got to be a strength and, at the same time, there has to be a vulnerability, where you feel like this is not just an alien, but actually someone with human emotions and feelings and a sensitivity. I think that’s really important. Just to make another superhero comparison, I don’t think Batman has as much emotions on the surface. He hides them better. Superman is a little more overt about them. He actually expresses the way he feels about things. I think that’s maybe the biggest difference.
ROMANO: You have to be careful in finding a voice for Lois, so that the strength is there, but she’s still a likable character. She is an investigative reporter, so she’s used to asking the hard questions, trying to get what she needs. And she’s a really tough woman. There’s got to be a vulnerability and a femininity that Clark Kent and Superman react to. So, it’s always about trying to find an actress whose got that quality to her voice and that acting ability. Stana Katic is just excellent at that. Wait until you see how good she is. She’s great!
How did you go about deciding how Brainiac would sound?
ROMANO: The truth of it is that I had met John Noble at Comic-Con, at one of the Warner Bros. parties about three years ago. I said, “I would love for you to come and play on one of these DC universe projects.” And he said, “I’d be delighted to come. It’d be really fun.” So, I was just looking for something for him. When the role of Brainiac came up, I was like, “I’ve got a role for John Noble, finally.” And what was so great about John was that he had really good ideas himself. That’s what you want. You don’t want to bring an actor in and force them into a performance. You want their input. You want their creative thoughts. And he had lots of nice, fun ideas. So together, we came up with what that voice would sound like. The trick, of course, was to make sure that he wasn’t doing his native Australian accent. We always have to fight away from that. And he’s really good at doing an American accent. That’s just one of those things where you go, “I don’t think we can make it really specific where Brainiac comes from on planet Earth. We have to have an identifiable accent, or no accent at all.”
ROMANO: The truth of it is that you don’t want to repeat yourself, either as a director, a producer or an organization. You want to continually grow and do things and find things that are continually interesting, so it does makes sense to cast different people sometimes. The truth of it is that there are some that I would never recast. I would always use Kevin Conroy as Batman, if they would let me. But, my directive comes from DC Comics, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Home Video. They sometimes say, ‘Because the art style is going to be different and because the story is so different, we want a different Batman, this time.” But, my first question always is, “Can I use Kevin Conroy? Can I use Mark Hamill? Can I use Tim Daly?” And then, based on what the material is, we make a decision as to whether or not that’s the best choice.
Was there any role that you felt was tough to cast?
ROMANO: Not with this. These roles were all pretty straight-forward. There is one character that speaks Korean in it, and I had to find an actor who could speak Korean. Every once in awhile I have that challenge because I want and need it to be real.
Do you have any cute anecdotes about this particular cast?
ROMANO: I do have one really cute story. Jimmy Olsen is played by Alexander Gould, who you may know from Weeds. He was the youngest son on Weeds. I had been watching Weeds, so he came to mind and I thought, “Oh, let me bring him in. He’s so great. He’s got such a great voice.” His voice had just changed which we all heard during the production of Weeds. We heard him grow up. And his age was just right. So, as I always do when I bring actors in who I haven’t worked with before, I bring them up to the microphone and chat with them and warm them up, and I just want them to feel comfortable. I said to him, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m delighted to have you here. Have you ever done voices for animation before?” And he looks at me with those big eyes and goes, “I’m Nemo.” And I went, “Oh, my lord, I should be thrown out of the industry for not knowing that you were Nemo!” I love that role! He’s so good as Nemo. But, of course, you wouldn’t recognize the voice because it’s a completely different voice now. That’s what happens when guys change their voice through puberty.
Has it just been a coincidence that so many of the voice actors in the DC universe have worked with Nathan Fillion?
ROMANO: Well, the thing is that Joss Whedon is my casting guru. He has such an eye for talent, so I pretty much look at whatever he is working on. At this point, with the exception of maybe one actor, I’ve used everybody from the Firefly cast. I have cast every single person. They’re all just so very, very good. Nathan just tends to work with really cool people, who are people that seem to know this world, and I just bring them into it and they’re great. Wait until you hear Molly Quinn as Supergirl. She’s so good! And she’s so good on Castle. Their energy together is so good. I had hired Molly before, on a series, called Ben 10, that I was directing. So, when this role came up, I was like, “I know who can do this. I know who’s got that nice, youthful quality, who can act it, but also can give that strength.” Supergirl has got to have some strength, even though it’s got to have the youthfulness. Oftentimes, when you find an actress that can give you that strength, the voice becomes mature. They equate strength with deepening the voice. You have to keep that youth without losing the strength.
When it comes to discovering the talent that you want to work with, do you literally sit at home and watch TV and listen to various actors? Does that also happen when you’re out in regular life and you hear people talking and think they’d be good for a role?
ROMANO: I hear the voice and I appreciate the voice, but so much of voice acting is the acting aspect. There have been so many people who have come to me with really interesting, beautiful, unusual, quirky voices that just can’t act. So, whenever actors or wannabe actors ask me, ‘What should I do to be a voice-over actor,” I always say, “Take an acting class first. Learn how to act. Learn the terminology. Then, deal with the voice-acting aspect of it.” I listen to voices, all the time. Even when I’m on the phone, I’ll be talking to somebody, even if they’re a phone solicitor, and go, “Can I identify that accent? How old do I think that person is?” And then, of course, there’s those people that you always listen to, specifically females usually, where you hear their voice and you’re like, “Are you 12 years old?,” and they’re 27, but they have that little girly voice that will never change. That’s great for someone like Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart Simpson. You never have to worry about recasting her because her voice changed. She’s always going to be able to do it. June Foray is 93 and she can still do the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel. That’s one of those great things about women who have those kinds of voices.
When you’re using an actor who is used to being on-camera, and maybe they’re nervous about playing an icon or they’ve never done voice-over work, is there one thing that you tell them to get them going in the right direction?
ROMANO: Yes, I tell them that I will never let their voice go out sounding bad. I will work with them until their voice sounds right, until the performance sounds good and until it’s something they can be proud of. There’s absolutely no purpose for me ever to embarrass an actor by not getting the best possible performance. So, if it takes staying longer, then we’ll staying longer and work through it. There have been times where I’ve recorded an entire piece, start to finish, with an actor and they’ve said, “I have a thought. What if we were to change the voice and add 20% more rasp to it?” And I’m like, “That’s great! Let’s go back and do the whole thing again.” It’s a lot faster the second time because we’ve already worked through the beats and we understand it. But, that has happened where we’ve actually gone back and re-recorded the whole thing, and it’s better for making that change.
How does it take to be able to record the different voices, or does it just depend?
ROMANO: About a month, from start to finish. In really crunch time, we’ve done it in two weeks, but that’s really hard. The problem is that there will be an actor you really want, like Matt [Bomer], who’s so busy, but they can’t do it in the window that you have, so you extend it an extra week to get them. And he was worth waiting for. But, it’s usually about a month. When I can get ensemble recordings and get everybody together, I can do it in about two days. But, to get everybody in the room at the same time can be impossible. If they’re on hiatus, all at the same time, and they’re not on vacation in Europe or somewhere, then I can get them all together and that’s fun. For Green Lantern, I had Sinestro and Green Lantern record together. Christopher Meloni and Victor Garber were together.