Longtime fan of comic books and their various adaptations. Aspiring writer who works in advertising for nonce.
ComiConverse contributor, Tatiana Hullender, was on hand at the premier of LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes — Justice League: Cosmic Clash to talk to the cast about their favorite superheroes, what they like about voice acting, and which DC characters they wanted to be when they were young.
The cast and crew of LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Cosmic Clash gathered at the Paley Media Center on Saturday, February 13th to celebrate the world premiere of the latest installment of the series. Before screening the film, they were generous enough to answer some questions about the voice acting and animation process, the universal appeal of superheroes, and the possibility of Young Justice coming back for a third season.
TH: You’ve played a lot of roles. Which is your favorite?
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James Arnold Taylor (Flash): Well, you know, I mean, I’ve been very fortunate as a voice actor to be everything from people that look like myself, like Ratchet, to Fred Flintstone to Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Flash, though, as a kid he was my all-time favorite. He was a character that I was always trying to get. I’d always go in on his casting calls. Playing him in Young Justice and then in this is great, because he’s a little different. He’s comic relief more often, and it’s just fun.
Andy Milder (Lightning Lad): Probably Lightning Lad, actually. I’m not just saying that because I’m here. I read the comics as a kid and fell in love with him. He was probably my favorite of all of them anyway, so to get to audition and book it was just a dream. I love that he’s kind of altruistic. Sometimes it’s a downfall, and sometimes he’s too headstrong, but he’s a good guy and he’s trying.
TH: As an experienced voice actor, do you have any vocal exercises you do that you might want to share with you?
James: I do! Eleven years ago – February 13th, 2005 – I lost my voice to black toxic mold. I had to go on a very strict diet. It took several years to get everything back, so I am very adamant about warming up in the mornings. I do a lot of funny faces and spend about fifteen minutes warming up my vocal chords. I also hum throughout the day to keep my voice warm. Drinking water that is room temperature, not cold water because it shocks the throat. I don’t eat any sugar or dairy.
Kari Wahlgren (Saturn Girl): I’m a huge fan of singing in the car to warm up on the way to sessions. There’s actually a video of me singing one of my favorite Marilyn Manson songs in a cartoon character voice. If you find it, you’ll see how dorky I really am.
Andy: I do some very common stuff, like the bumblebee scale in the car on the way.
Josh Keaton (Green Lantern): One of the biggest ones is singing. Singing is like yoga for the voice. Even if you’re terrible at it, you’re still working the vocal chords. Another thing would be stretching your face.
Yuri Lowenthal (Cosmic Boy): If I know it’s gonna be a strenuous session, like for a video game, then I do a lot of singing in the car. But my wife and I actually wrote a book called Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic. It’s a great start for anyone who wants to get into voice acting.
TH: What draws you to voice acting, as opposed to live action?
James: I’ve always wanted to be a voice actor. Since I was a little kid, at four years old this is what I wanted to do. I loved it so much I created a stage show called Talking To Myself. Voice acting is so great because some 5’4” and 115 lbs. can be a voice actor. Fred Flintstone? That’s the coolest thing in the world, I couldn’t do that in live action.
Khary Payton (Cyborg): You don’t have any limitations as far as your body’s concerned. I can play adults, children, guys who are fifty years older than me. Literally, you walk in and you’re something new that you have to figure out. It’s the wondrous variety.
Kari: I really like voice acting, because there aren’t as many limits as there are on camera. I play babies, grandmothers, little boys and little girls. It’s a very freeing industry, especially for women. June Foray just won an Emmy for voice acting, and she’s in her nineties, so you can have a lifelong career in voice acting if you want to.
Andy: What I love about voice-over is… When I’m on camera, I get to use my whole body. Here, I only get to use my voice, so I have to compress everything into my voice. It’s a real acting challenge, which is great.
Josh: The thing I enjoy about voice acting is that I have the freedom to play parts that I would never be cast as. I am probably about eight inches too short to be Hal Jordan. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell – I can be anybody.
Yuri: I love both. I love theatre, voice acting, live action. But what really makes voice acting so powerful is that I get to play so many different characters that I would never get cast as because of the way I look. If I can sound like it, then I can be it, which is hugely empowering in this industry.
TH: What draws you to superhero stories, which are often thought to appeal primarily to children?
James: I think it’s the universal appeal. We all want to save the day, we want to be the good guy and have the superpowers. Everybody wants to fly, but I was attracted as a kid to being the fastest man alive. I was not a great runner, maybe that’s why. I think it’s that you have that anonymity. It’s kind of like being a voice actor. You can walk down the street and no one knows you, but then you put on your voice and it’s like OHHH. Putting on a mask is like that, too.
Khary: Being a kid growing up in America, it’s part of our lives. I used to have dreams as a kid of a mad scientist putting the wings of a giant bird on my back. Then I’d always wake up and see if they were there, and they never were! I was so excited when I auditioned for Teen Titans thirteen years ago. I saw Cyborg, and I thought, ‘I know that guy!’ It’s so much fun because you can be
anything, you can do anything. You just let your mind go crazy. The great thing about playing a character that popular like Cyborg is that I get to play so many levels. I was recently watching an old episode where my character talks about racism with Starfire, and it just got to me. That’s the beauty of what I do period.
Kari: I think people are drawn to strength and being able to overcome your obstacles. I think we love the fantasy of living up to our full potential. I think there’s part of us that hopes that good will win at the end of the day.
Josh: I think we’re always looking for that person who can face the impossible without fear. Or even if they have fear, they overcome it. And LEGO DC Comics movies especially have been so well-written that, while there’s plenty of stuff there for kids, a lot of jokes go right over their heads and are meant for the adults. It’s an experience to enjoy with your kids. And even if you don’t have kids, it’s about superheroes!
Yuri: I love playing any superhero at all, mostly because I grew up reading comic books and watching cartoons. So it’s a treat any time I get to play a hero I know from before. Plus I got to steal this one away from Will Wheaton. When we used to do Legion of Superheroes, I was Superman and he was Cosmic Boy. So now I get to call him up and laugh.
Jim Krieg: I think that I’m astonishingly childish. I never grew up, so I like jokes and toys and superheroes. And I like action stories. I have kids too, so they really like it too. It helps keep me young, I think.
Brandon Vietti (Producer): I love this world. I grew up reading comics and was always exposed to the DC universe, so I grew up loving these characters. It’s amazing to me that I get to make movies for them. And LEGO such a unique way to explore the DC Comics universe. We’re always looking for a different angle, and with LEGO it’s a fresh take with every movie we make. We also weave in geeky stuff for the hardcore fans and parents. We always want something to make the adult fans just as happy as their kids.
TH: If you had to be a different member of the Justice League or Legion of Superheroes, who would you be and why?
James: Probably Green Lantern. Josh Keaton plays Green Lantern, and he does a great job. Flash and he have a fun rivalry going on. He’s one of my favorite heroes. I’ve also played Guy Gardner, who is a Green Lantern, before so I’ve done a little bit of that.
Khary: I play another character in Young Justice, Aqualad. I had never used that voice before. I looked at his picture and read the copy, and that’s the voice I came up with. It’s not a voice I can stick on just anything else, you know? And I miss him.
Kari: Wonder Woman! Actually, I’ve been on a big Supergirl kick recently. I’ve been reading some of the graphic novel. Wonder Woman’s been my childhood icon and I love her, but if I were going to be a superhero? I’d pick Supergirl.
Andy: To play, I’d love to play Batman. He’s awesome. To be? He’s a miserable human, so instead I’d want to be one of the legion. They get to be themselves in the future, and don’t have to hide behind their secret identity. Probably I’d be Cosmic Boy.
Josh: I’d probably steal Braniac’s role.
Yuri: Anyone playing Batman, I’d steal their role. My voice doesn’t tend towards the Batman voice so much, but every time there’s an audition for Batman I always go for it. Someday!
Jim Krieg (Writer): I’ve never thought of that. Which LEGO DC Comics superhero? The Flash makes me laugh, but I’m sorry, I think I would be Superman. He’s sweet and innocent.
Brandon: That is so hard. It’s probably the cliché answer, but I’ve always loved Batman. My favorite comics were Detective Comics and Batman, and I was inspired by his straight-edge character because he was all about achieving your maximum potential. Even more than the awesome adventures and cave and gadgets, it was how he lived his life that I could relate to.
Rick Morales (Director): This is probably the typical answer, but I’d go with Superman. He’s amazing, and you know what? He’s a good guy. He does the right thing.
TH: When playing iconic characters, do you like to pay homage to the voices that have come before or try to put your own spin on it?
James: That’s a great question. I actually do try to put my own spin on it, as much as I can. They always change it up. Every time they do one, it’s a different director, it’s a different writer. They have a different idea for the character, so you kind of try to stay in their world. But when you’re playing a character like the Flash, and you’re all existing in the same space, it’s kind of hard to not borrow a little of what you love from others.
Yuri: If there’s a previous iteration that I loved, then I can’t help but steal a little bit from them. Like [for Cosmic Boy], I did steal a lot from Will. I just extrapolated and did my version from there. But I generally try not to do the same thing, because the fun thing about getting so many different versions of a character is getting to do something new with them.
TH: What do you carry with you in your performance, considering you’ve played different versions of the same characters?
Khary: They’re all me. You know, it’s just me in a different mood. Cyborg was my first voiceover audition, so I went in there and was just having fun being myself. So it’s probably the character that’s closest to my own personality. He’s obviously a little louder, but I’m loud. My wife’s always telling me, ‘Khary, you’re being too loud.’ But I gotta be heard.
Kari: Both Saturn Girls are pretty similar. The big difference is that with LEGO, there’s more comedy. She’s definitely a little goofier and funnier than she was before.
Josh: A lot of Hal’s cockiness, bravado and self-assurance is directly carried over. However, in the LEGO DC Comics world, everything’s lighter. He can be funnier and enjoy himself more.
TH: Would you be a part of Young Justice if it was revived, and what do fans need to do to make it happen?
James: I think with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu… It would be great if they took the time to see that there’s a huge audience. I know it’s playing on Netflix right now, so if everybody got together and bombarded them, and said ‘Hey, give us at least a movie! A season on Netflix or something.” That would be great. I would hope the fanbase could come together and let everybody, like Netflix, know they want more.
Khary: Absolutely I would! I think watch a lot of Netflix. Watch Young Justice on Netflix, and then maybe they’ll do some more.
TH: How is writing an animated film different from a live-action one?
Jim: A lot of people start writing animation and think, ‘Well, anything can happen in animation.’ And it can. There should be a reason it’s an animated film – it should never just be talking. So the characters can be really fantastical and huge things can happen: you can go in space, you can go in other dimensions. But on the other hand, you can’t just write anything you want. Especially with CG, everything they make is a model, which takes money and time. So you still have to reign yourself in. They can only make so many locations and so many sets. Then writing for LEGO animation has its own challenges. For example: the characters don’t have thumbs, so they can’t give you a thumbs up. If they eat, they can’t put anything in their mouths because their faces are just stickers. There are objects that exist in the LEGO world that don’t exist in ours, and some things don’t look like anything. Tuna sandwiches don’t look like anything in LEGO world but a chicken leg does. These are the things you have to think of.
Rick: I never expected to go into animation. I actually wanted to write comic books. It was the Image days, in the early nineties, and everyone wanted to be the next Jim Lee. And then somewhere along the way, I just kind of fell into it. Animation is kind of like a comic book story, but even better, I get to see it onscreen. There’s something really rewarding about seeing it come to life. It also pays a lot better.
TH: How early on in the process does the writer start working with animators and directors?
Jim: Right away. In all of these projects, I’ve worked with Brandon Vietti, my producer. We put the story together and make a lot of story decisions, which hopefully dovetail with what’s possible for the animators.
Brandon: [As a producer], I’m there from day one. The animators and writers work very closely LEGO and DC Comics. What I liken it to is when you’re with your friends as kids – everybody brings their toys and kind of invests stories. Honestly, that’s how we do it. It’s so much fun. I’m with it from day one, from starting the story to the final day of production, adding sound effects and stuff.
Rick: There’s not a lot of difference [between the artistic and directing side] for me. You’re still on the art side of it. As a director, I oversee the storyboards and work with the animators from day one. For this movie, I had a great crew, which made my job a lot easier.
Tatiana Hullender is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter:@MyrcellasEar