Jason O’Mara is one of the most recognizable voices in the world of popular culture. He is the voice of Batman in the ongoing DC Original Animated Films. Recently, Jason stepped back into live-action as the newly appointed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jeffrey Mace, in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ComiConverse caught up with Jason O’Mara to ask him about his experiences atop two of popular culture’s biggest franchises. What follows is our exclusive interview.
We ComiConverse With Jason O’Mara
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ComiConverse: By the time the opportunity arose to work with Warner Brothers on their animated projects, you’d already been a stage actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company overseas and an actor on large American shows like Criminal Minds. How does someone with that breadth of life experience react to the news that you are going to be the voice of Batman?
Was it a little bit mind-blowing, or was it something you just took in stride?
Jason: I think if it were just another voice job, I would have taken it in stride. But when I was first asked to voice Batman four or five years ago, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must have been some kind of mistake!
To voice arguably the most famous and iconic comic book superhero ever was, and still is, an incredible honor. I pinch myself every time I get a chance to stand in front of the microphone for a Batman movie. I am well aware of how fortunate I am to be in this position. I don’t know how long it will last, but I intend to enjoy every minute of it while it does!
ComiConverse: Your wife Paige Turco, is a highly successful actress in her own right, having been involved with shows like NYPD Blue and the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise.
What’s it like being part of family so heavily involved in today’s popular culture?
Jason: Our son, like most 12 year olds, is a great consumer of popular culture. But he’s grown up with actors as parents, so in a way, he doesn’t know any different. So while it is still a bit of a thrill when he is genuinely interested in something we have made (he was 7 when Terra Nova came out and was big into dinosaurs and now he’s enjoying Paige’s CW show, The 100), my wife and I genuinely believe that he thinks it’s perfectly normal!
Isn’t everybody’s mom April O’Neill and everybody’s dad Batman? Of course they are!
Why wouldn’t they be?
ComiConverse: After the success of Justice League: War, it soon became clear that your role as the voice of Batman was going to continue. Obviously, there were already legions of fans who had grown up with Kevin Conroy having filled that role. How aware were you of that dynamic and how much were you looking back at past Batman voiceovers to develop your performances?
Jason: I have always been a bit of a Batman fan myself and had watched Batman: The Animated Series, so I was painfully aware of how good Kevin Conroy is. What’s interesting to me is that his Batman voice has changed and developed over the years, so when you hear him in The Killing Joke or Batman: Arkham video game series, you can tell that he has now completely mastered it. I mean, he is Batman. So do I think there will ever be anyone better than Conroy? nope. But do I think there’s room for other Batman interpretations and performances? Absolutely.
In fact, I think it’s essential to ensure that the Batman brand, like its fanbase, continues to evolve, develop and expand. There are many different Batman stories yet to be told, in many different universes. My Batman universe, the New 52 universe is but one of them. So just as different Batman comic book stories would run concurrently (each with different writers and artists) so too does the animated version. I think that approach has been working and it shows – with the ongoing success of the New 52 Batman/Justice League/Teen Titan movies, which clearly didn’t steal any thunder from The Killing Joke which was a huge smash hit.
But what do I know?
I’m just an actor. I just wait for the call, then do my job.
In my approach to the work early on, I was certainly aware of the other Batman voices that came before me, but ultimately had to find my own. It’s changed a little bit over the course of six or seven movies and creatively, I like the idea of constantly finding new and surprising shades and colours for the voice. Kevin Conroy was, I believe, the first voice actor to give Bruce Wayne and Batman different voices. I do that too as a reverential nod to him, but I try to do it in my own way. The important thing to remember is that Batman is greater than any single actor playing him. We all play the part the best we can to ensure that Batman is and remains to be, the greatest of all superheroes!
ComiConverse: One of the things that we’ve been heavily exposed to in films like Batman vs Robin or Batman: Bad Blood is Batman’s relationship with Damian Wayne – the current Robin. Can you talk a little bit about the chemistry you’ve developed with Stuart Allan – the young actor who plays Robin?
Stuart is an extraordinarily gifted young man. His presence at the mic and vocal range/expression is like that of a seasoned pro. He brings so much to the character just by showing up. As Stuart has matured in real life, so too has Damian. I am sure that if you watched Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood in one sitting, you would both see and hear that progression, in terms of characterization and just vocally. That’s pretty cool.
Regarding the Batman/Damian relationship, I felt that I was able to bring some of my real life experiences of being a father to the role. Obviously, we are dealing with heightened reality in a comic book story. My real son is not a trained-since-birth deadly ninja assassin!
But there were some father/son themes that rang true regardless.
For example, as a parent you want your child to explore their gifts and experience independence. It’s the only way they learn about succeeding in life, ultimately. But at the same time, you are protective and don’t want them (or anyone else) to get hurt. There are also fascinating ‘sins of the father’ dynamics that are explored. That’s really where the meat is in terms of storytelling, and as an actor it gives some narrative and thematic weight to the proceedings. It means that when the fighting starts, there are complicated emotions behind those punches and kicks! Whether they are fighting with or against each other, it’s always interesting to see Batman and his son figure things out together. Because when we think of Batman, we don’t tend to immediately associate that he’s a father.
And maybe he’s not the best dad in the world.
But dammit, he’s doing his best!
ComiConverse: So much of what we see from Batman in today’s animated films is a Batman surrounded by friends and family. We see Batman as a leader, a father or a mentor. Almost without fail, Batman is usually surrounded by numerous other characters, even when he is the title character in the film. What are your thoughts on that dynamic and the way the character is being portrayed?
Jason: I would argue that this particular portrayal of Batman is specific to the New 52 universe. It has deliberately been a story that puts Batman on a journey of discovery, surrounded by others, with the emphasis being on family. It’s easier to lead a group of peers like the Justice League than it is to give members of your family orders that could endanger them when the bad guys come along and the sh** hits the fan!
I think this a more inclusive Batman than the “I work alone” Dark Knight we all know. As I mentioned before, I think there’s room out there for many Batman stories and universes. This Batman is a father in a world where Nightwing has handed down the Robin mantle to Damian. That’s probably not going to be explored in the live action DC movies or in any other Batman universe again any time soon. By the way, the ‘New 52’ moniker itself suggests that there are 52 parallel realities in the DC multiverse!
So yeah, there’s room for everyone!
ComiConverse: Do you think there’s room for a more solitary Batman animated story in the future?
Jason: Of course, but I don’t think I will be the voice of it. That’s more Conroy’s territory. My Batman has a certain kind of emotional baggage that is impossible to ignore. Or maybe there will be a whole new series of animated Batman movies with new voices for a new generation?
As I said, the most important thing is keeping Batman relevant.
ComiConverse: The next time we’ll see Batman in a DC Original Animated film is in 2017’s Justice League Dark. Its a film where we’re going to see a lot of new characters and also where we’ll see Batman and the Justice League put in some challenging situations. Can you tell us a little about the different tone fans are likely to experience in the world of Justice League Dark?
Is it something Batman is going to struggle with or embrace?
Jason: Put it this way, Batman is like the audience’s eyes and ears in Justice League Dark. There are loads of opportunities for comedy because there is a ton of really weird stuff going on and Batman doesn’t understand any of it! It’s funny because it’s a darker tone for a Justice League title, but to me, it’s a lighter tone for Batman. After all, Batman is already the personification of dark, so there’s only one way to go!
ComiConverse: So…. Now you’re jumping back and forth from the Batcave to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. You’re the new Director on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Congratulations!
Jason: Thanks. I know, it’s exciting!
ComiConverse: Do you think your acting in the comics and pop-culture space was an advantage to you when auditioning for the role?
Jason: I don’t think so. I think it’s more about the fact that comic book-inspired drama has taken up such a large space in pop culture that it’s hard to avoid. Not that I would want to. I love this stuff, so I usually jump at the chance to do it if I am available. Even if that does mean working for Marvel and DC at the same time!
ComiConverse: Ya, you are literally one of the very few actors straddling the DC and Marvel universes. As you may have heard, those two communities have somewhat of a rivalry. Are there any amusing stories you can share about crossing over back and forth between the two?
Surely sometime somewhere you’ve felt the hype that surrounds the two fandoms.
Jason: Well, I might be wrong, but I honestly don’t see an issue here!
If I were in a live-action DC movie or TV show, then in a live-action Marvel show then yes, that might be weird. I get that.
I can’t see Ben Affleck joining The Avengers or Robert Downey Jr. taking a role in a Justice League movie. But when it’s just your voice? Nah.
There are many people who watch the DC Original Animated Movies who might not even know, or care to know that I do the voice. Millions, probably. And ok, they might not be the kind of fans that actually go to Cons, but those people remember the voice only as it pertains to the animation. They aren’t watching it and picturing Director Jeffrey Mace standing in a voice booth in front of a microphone!
And actually, I think for the hardcore fans who are aware of the crossover, it’s an extra bit of fun to be had. It’s a friendly rivalry, after all.
I get some great tweets that are in the vein of “Batman is the new Director of SHIELD!”. And if that tickles you, then yes. Why not?
Let’s say yes he is! Oh and by the way, it’s important to remember not to take this DC/Marvel rivalry stuff too seriously.
ComiConverse: Season 4 of Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. already rolling. What can S.H.I.E.L.D. expect from its new Director?
Jason: Well, I can’t say much as Marvel have already told me that I will be shipped off to ‘The Raft’ if I blow any surprises!
But it’s fair to say that they are saying that because there are plenty of surprises in store. It’s a massive season and every episode seems to build on the last in terms of scale. I can’t wait for people to see it!
ComiConverse: Finally, with all of your experiences now in the world of comics and pop-culture, is there a character or a story you’d love to be involved with in the future? I mean, right now you’re sitting in both Nick Fury’s chair and the Batcave, where does Jason O’Mara go from there?
Jason: I try not to give voice to the heart’s desires, for fear they may not come true. But I will say that after a chilled out year or so, things have gotten a little busy. I mean, yeah, to be talking about both DC and Marvel projects at the same time as a feature film I am very proud of premieres on Netflix? Feels like my cup is running over!
By the way, if your interest is now piqued, it’s called The Siege Of Jadotville and it’s a virtually unknown story with amazing battle scenes about Irish soldiers in the Congo. When you find out why it’s unknown, you will be shocked! Jamie Dornan is brilliant in it.
Look it up on your Netflix account and enjoy!
ComiConverse: Will do Jason! Thanks so much for taking the time to ComiConverse with us!
Jason O’Mara in The Siege of Jadotville
Follow Jason O’Mara on Twitter: @jason_omara
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