In the current landscape of Hollywood blockbusters cashing in in beloved comic book superheroes, being cast in a starring role can be a blessing and a curse. Audiences and hardcore fans are quick to forget the negativity and skepticism that preceded acclaimed - if unorthodox - performances, meaning that any casting decision truly worthy of note or discussion brings with it serious criticism and nay-saying. And such is the case with Ben Affleck's casting as Bruce Wayne in Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Despite being the most well-known and award winning American actor to put in the cape and cowl, Affleck has seen a veritable torrent of doubt. Where Jared Leto is forced to compete with the version of The Joker famous in the comics AND Heath Ledger's take in The Dark Knight, Affleck and Snyder are giving audiences an older, rougher, and angrier take on Batman than they've yet seen on film. But according to one seasoned Bat-actor, a greying, grizzled Batman isn't entirely new.
While mainstream comic fans may believe that the mantle of Batman passes from one actor to another every few years, Kevin Conroy is one major exception. Having voiced the superhero in animated TV, film, and video games for over two decades, he offers a unique perspective on the role, and the public's perception of superhero casting in general. When speaking with Conroy recently, we couldn't pass up the chance to ask him about his view of Snyder's upcoming take, and the fan investment in any changes to the usual mythology.
Unlike any other, you've had the chance to play Batman at the same time as several film actors. Did you ever feel like you or your projects were competing with others, or that there was some form of 'stepping on toes' as some fans tend to think? The notion that only one person can play him at once?
Kevin Conroy: No, not at all. I think that different actors bring different qualities to the character. It’s such a wonderful mantle to put on that I think it’s a lot of fun for different actors to see how they play it. I think it was kind of brilliant that Warner Brothers had different actors do the live action Batman for each version, because their take on the character was so different. That happens with all characters.
I thought Mark Hamill defined The Joker. He was just, to me, the ultimate Joker. And then I saw Heath Ledger’s Joker, which was absolutely inspired and brilliant in another way. And then there have been subsequent people doing the voice of the joker. Different actors just bring different qualities to a character. No one owns a character. So I like seeing what other people do with Batman. I think it’s fun.
So when Zack Snyder comes out and says, “We’re going to do an older, angrier, more no nonsense Batman than you’ve ever seen before,” are you sitting there thinking, “Oh, thank god!” just for the change of pace?
Kevin Conroy: [laughs] Yep! You got that!
Is there any jealousy that another actor gets to take such a new take on Batman, playing an older, darker...
Kevin Conroy: Well I’ve done that, because I did… remember, in Batman Beyond I did 80 year old Bruce Wayne. So I have done the older, and darker, and grittier Batman. I’ve done that. I did it for a few years. Zack Snyder should go and look at the Batman Beyond shows.
Although Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck may not be going for quite so grey and grizzled a take on Batman, fans of Batman Beyond know that any director taking some cues from the futuristic TV series would be good news. Although Conroy is clearly offering some lighthearted advice, it's not the first time that the idea of a film based (at least in part) on Beyond has been brought up. And regardless of what Justice League plans Zack Snyder or Warner Bros. may have for Affleck and co., introducing a markedly older Batman opens doors that have never been close to open.
Assuming everything goes perfectly according to plan, and a decade from now the notion of a Batman aging out of active duty is commonly accepted... would Beyond be feasible? If movie audiences have gotten as used to Batman as animation fans were by 1999, could the idea of Affleck taking on a mentor role to a younger vigilante be more exciting than worrying? Only time will tell.
Would you be on board with the live-action Batman universe tackling the tale of Terry McGinnis? Or do you doubt that anyone other than Bruce Wayne will wear the cape and cowl on film? Sound off in the comments, and stay tuned for more from our interview with Kevin Conroy.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman on June 23rd, 2017; Justice League on November 17th, 2017; The Flash on March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman on July 27th, 2018; Shazam on April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14th, 2019; Cyborg on April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern Corps on June 19th, 2020.