Arkham Origins’ Eric Holmes, Troy Baker, and Roger Craig Smith on defining a younger Batman
At this year’s New York Comic Con, press had a chance to sit down with Warner Bros. Montreal creative director Eric Holmes, as well as voice actors Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith to talk about Batman: Arkham City Origins -- the latest Arkham game, and a prequel -- that will be arriving in just a couple weeks. The three talents, a lead at a newer studio, and two voice actors replacing some of the most recognized voice actors on earth, discussed the filling of big shoes and the chance to reimagine Batman’s earlier years.
For the voice roles, Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker had especially challenging jobs, assuming the roles of Batman and Joker, respectively. These are roles that, in terms of the animated series and video games, have been defined by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. What could fresh blood possibly bring to roles that have been portrayed so fantastically all this time?
The answer, from both Smith and Baker, is, “Nothing.”
“What am I going to do that Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger or Mark Hamill or John DiMaggio haven’t done in the past? Absolutely nothing,” said Baker. “What we’re showing is this raw, unformed, unchanneled, unbridled passionate power and maliciousness that’s like a firehose. So if I add to that, that’s now Troy trying to do something cool to the Joker. I don’t want to do that. I have such a reverence for this character.”
Photo credit: Brianna Peterson
Baker made a point to define the line between homage and impersonation in his portrayal of The Joker. “Intrinsically my Joker is Mark Hamill, intrinsically that’s going to come through. Fortunately we have the framework of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Batman: The Animated Series where people recognize that Joker. We would be remiss and we would do ourselves a disservice if we didn’t point to that. So that is definitely the star on the horizon that we’re steering the ship towards, but that doesn’t mean we do impressions of them. Within that framework we find the freedom to show a different side to these characters, to show you a rawness to Batman, to show you a rawness to the Joker.”
Roger Craig Smith, the new voice of Batman, puts it in even more basic terms: “The nice part about being a voice actor is being a tool, and being a big old chunk of clay that a creative director, a producer, a writer, the animators, and anyone that works at Warner Bros. Montreal gets to say, ‘This version of this character, we want it to sound like this. Can you do it?’”
While the Batman of Arkham Origins is the same Batman in the Asylum and City games, he’s at a younger, rawer point in his life. He’s fighting low-level crime just before the big boys start showing up.
“Our story is one of personal growth,” Eric Holmes explains. “The Batman at the start of our game -- he’s used to being the best, he’s used to -- every fight he starts he’s the strongest guy in that fight and he doesn’t really have to break a sweat. He’s looking down at the criminals of Gotham. The challenge that he faces in Origins suddenly ramps up from a three-out-of-ten to a twelve-out-of-ten, and so the approach that he’s been using so far isn’t something that’s going to work against characters like Deathstroke. These guys are peers, or in many cases you could argue his superiors.”
That sudden leap in challenge forces Batman to learn, and learn fast. “He makes mistakes continually in our story, but he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Holmes added. During the interview, Holmes described one instance where Batman accidentally chokes out a thug, but when he tries again he knows exactly how much pressure to apply. It will be interesting to see a Batman who screws up on his path to being the best.
In addition, we’re getting to see relationships between major Batman characters established, something that was really exciting for Roger Craig Smith to portray. “All of the relationship building that takes place in Arkham Origins to me is more the fascinating element of this particular story -- even Batman and Alfred have an opportunity to kind of define what their roles are with one another.”
Both voice actors had to take care in their roles here. For Smith, the challenge was blending that rawer Batman with Conroy's tone in previous Arkham games. “If anything, it was hard to not do it to where I’m doing a Christian Bale impression. If you gotta get angry, you gotta start projecting. If you want to stay in that lower register and keep projecting to intimidate some psychopathic criminal, you can’t just go ‘Hey stop that.’”
For Baker, part of the challenge is his increasing notoriety in video game voice acting. He already has two game of the year contenders under his belt, after all. “Maybe you don’t know that it’s me, and you find out when the credits roll,” Baker suggested at one point. “I want people to see the Joker, I don’t want people to see Troy Baker.”
From the trailers we’ve seen so far (not to mention Troy Baker’s performance at the NYCC Arkham Origins panel), it’s clear both actors are taking their roles very seriously. When you hear them talk about it, and you hear Eric Holmes discuss Warner Bros. Montreal’s goals for Arkham Origins, it’s hard to avoid getting excited again. I may have had my doubts about this prequel, but the new team and fresh faces seem like the perfect fit for the story of a younger, fresher Batman.
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