Actor Kevin Conroy is a veteran of stage, screen, and voiceover, but to many fans, he is the definitive voice of Batman. Mr. Conroy played the character starting in 1992 with Batman the Animated Series and continued on through Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, and several of the DC animated direct-to-video features and in the Arkham video game franchise.
We were able to chat by telephone with Kevin Conroy about his upcoming guest starring appearance on DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo FAST, the spinoff animated series from the 2013 feature film that is set to premiere new episodes on Netflix on July 31, 2015. Mr. Conroy will be playing the Stinger, a somewhat familiar looking superhero who takes on the title character as his sidekick. Mayhem ensues.
TOONZONE NEWS: I don’t know if you remember, but we met at a New York Comic Con a couple of years ago. I asked about the fake Kevin Conroy on Twitter at the time, and now there’s @RealKevinConroy on Twitter.
KEVIN CONROY: You wouldn’t believe the effort I had to go to to prove that was a fake. I said, “Now why am I having such a hard time proving he’s a fake? How did he prove that he was me?” (laughs) I finally got it done.
TOONZONE NEWS: In Turbo FAST, you’re playing the Stinger. Please don’t tell me that Andrea Romano made you audition for this part.
KEVIN CONROY: Nooo (laughs), they didn’t ask me to audition for this, which was nice. What a great character, isn’t it? It’s sort of my fantasy of being able to do everything that Batman wouldn’t do. This is just throwing the image up in the air. It’s a lot of fun to play this character.
TOONZONE NEWS: Characters like the Stinger or Captain Sunshine on The Venture Bros are funny because they’re Batman without actually being Batman. As an actor, how does your process differ in doing these characters vs. doing Batman in a movie or a video game?
KEVIN CONROY: See, I love to play comedy, and I also love to do drama. Not all actors feel comfortable in both realms. I found, and I think most actors would agree, comedy is most effective when you play it absolutely straight. You’re playing it as absolutely straight drama, but the world is slightly askew. If it’s being absolutely real in a kind of a cockeyed world. That’s what makes it funny. If you play the comedy, it’s never funny. So I found that just playing Batman, pure Batman, but with the attitude of a slightly cockeyed world, made Stinger. And I love doing that. I love being able to take Batman’s character to that slightly skewed angle to make it funny.
And I love the character of Stinger. I think he’s really out there. Batman is humble, he’s so self-effacing, he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, he doesn’t want any credit for what he does. He wants to live in the shadows. Stinger is arrogant, he’s a braggart, he loves getting attention, he thinks he’s the greatest thing on Earth. Stinger is so full of himself and knows how cool he is. It’s so much fun to just blow it out the other way, you know what I mean?
KEVIN CONROY: No you don’t. Those few times when he did step out of the mold, the audience went wild. There was one episode (“This Little Piggy” on Justice League Unlimited –ed) where Batman has to sing in a nightclub, in order to pay off a bet that he lost, and he sings “Am I Blue?” Which is a great song for Batman to sing. But I get asked all the time at comic cons, “Sing ‘Am I Blue’!” (laughter) You realize how many people saw that and loved it because it seemed so out of character. So the audience loves that when you can tweak the character a little bit.
TOONZONE NEWS: Its also great how you can play this role for comedy, although it’s funny because you’re playing it straight. Because you’re not trying to be funny.
KEVIN CONROY: Oh, absolutely. As soon as you try to be funny, you kill it. So absolutely. And I love doing that kind of stuff. I love having that challenge. It’s a lot of fun.
TOONZONE NEWS: Were you tempted to play the comedy more?
KEVIN CONROY: Oh, it’s always tempting to play the comedy. That’s what you have to resist, because it feels so good as an actor to be outrageous. It feels good to play to the comedy, but you can’t let yourself go there. There’s an old saying that if the actors are laughing, the audience isn’t laughing. If you’re feeling so much fun doing it, then you’re not letting the audience laugh. You have to be playing it absolutely straight, but in a world that’s just a little kind of cockeyed. The world’s a little off, but you’re playing it straight in that world. Then the audience gets to laugh.
There’s a line for actors. I know on stage, if you really want the audience to really become tearfully emotional, it’s usually the actor who doesn’t allow himself to get to tears. It’s that moment before you get to tears. If you can hold back and resist really letting the waterworks go, then the audience goes crazy. Their hearts are ripped out, because you’re letting THEM cry. But if you’re busy crying, then all they’re doing is watching you cry. You know what I mean? But if you get to that point and just hold it, hold it, hold it back, then the audience gets to go to that emotional place. So very often, what makes the actor feel best is not necessarily what’s best for the show, or for the audience. And I find that’s true with comedy. If you’re busy making yourself have a great time, feeling like you’re playing comedy, you’re probably not playing comedy. You’re probably not making the audience laugh. It’s playing it straight that makes the audience laugh.
KEVIN CONROY: I think I picked it up over the years. It’s just something you learn in the course of work. I’ve been an actor for 40 years. It’s just some things you pick up as you go along. You realize that what makes you feel better isn’t necessarily what’s right for the role. I worked with an actress a long time ago, who cried at the drop of a hat. And boy, could this girl cry. Water would just pour. At first, it was very impressive, you’d go, “Wow, she can cry on cue.” And then you realized, “Wait a minute, all she does is cry on cue.” (laughs) It got to the point where it was very uninvolving. Then you realized another actress who got to that point but didn’t let herself go with the waterworks was so much more emotional, because she was letting us feel it. These are things you just learn along the way by watching other actors sometimes.
TOONZONE NEWS: I love hearing about actors’ process. And I’m thinking of lots of examples of what you’re talking about, in live-action and in voiceover.
KEVIN CONROY: The voiceover world is interesting, because it used to be mostly voiceover actors, but it’s not any more. Now it’s all actors. Everyone wants to do it, so you get a lot of film people, a lot of stage people all doing voiceovers. And you get to work with some amazing actors, and you find that there’s a lot of subtlety in voiceover work, because you don’t have your face to sell your emotion. You only have your voice. But if you overdo it, you kill it. You gild the lily and then it kills it. You can only use your voice to describe the emotional journey the character is going through, but you have to be very careful of the line you walk. Some actors get it, and some don’t.
I’ve watched Andrea Romano really work with some actors who really struggle. After the booking, they’ll pull me aside and say, “Are you free this afternoon? Because we have someone else coming in for some other role, can you record with them?” Because the person she was working with just couldn’t get it. It’s a very intersting kind of middle road you have to walk when you only have your voice to sell something.
KEVIN CONROY: Well, the biggest thing right now is, of course, Arkham Knight, which has just been released, and which I worked on for over two years. I am working on a new project for Warner Bros that I’m not allowed to say what it is because they haven’t announced it yet…actually two new projects for Warner Bros. that I’m not allowed to say what they are, but which you will be hearing about in the next couple of months. So I’ve been busy, but I can never say anything unless they let me say something. But Arkham Knight is the big, hot thing right now.
Toonzone News would like to thank Kevin Conroy for taking the time to talk with us, and to the teams at DreamWorks Animation Television and Click Communications for setting it up. New episodes of Turbo FAST will be available on Netflix starting July 31, 2015.