Adam West interview: on being Batman

The iconic 60s Batman series is coming to Blu-ray now, so Brendon had a quick chat about it with the man himself...

I’m a long time fan of the 1960s Batman TV show and its unforgettable spin-off movie. For me, the man of the match was probably Lorenzo Semple Jr., the sneaky, slyly funny screenwriter, but maybe that’s because I’m a kind of “behind the camera guy.” As far as the onscreen talent goes, and even with the amazing cavalcade of multicoloured supporting players, it’s obvious that Batman really was the Adam West show. He’s hilarious.

On the occasion of the whole of West’s Batman being released, finally, on Blu-ray, DVD and download, I got a chance to speak to the man himself. I do hope you forgive me, though, for starting my line of questioning with a little something about Semple.

How important was Lorenzo to the show? How much of Batman was him?

That’s easy. He was absolutely key. A brilliant screenwriter, and he said that Batman was the best thing he ever wrote. Now, if somebody has that attitude and understood what we were all about and the intent of the show as well as he did, how can you fail?

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When I read the pilot script that he wrote I fell down laughing. I said “Yes, I want to do this.”

Was he, in any sense, the boss? Was there somebody else who was your point man on this? And who did you consult with when you were putting together your idea of Bruce Wayne?

I was probably talking to myself. As an actor… we all have our own methods and approaches to creating a character, whether thats from the inside going in or vice versa. I spoke, mainly, to the executive producer Bill Dozier. We got along very well and we really shared the same ideas about the show, what it could and should be. We knew to play it on several levels – something that could be lasting for the children but also with funny, social satire for the adults.

So did you ever think you were wandering too far one way or the other on that line? Did you ever think “This bit isn’t going to play to the kids” or “This won’t play so well with the adults?”

It was a constant effort to walk a tight wire, to be seemingly serious and very dynamic for the children, but to give the adults the laughs without winking at the camera.

And the villains were great, the guest stars, they were almost Shakespearian. Look at the costumes, the delivery, the personalities they created.

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How do you think it holds up now? I feel just the same way about it that I did thirty-odd years ago when I first saw it.

Yes, I feel it holds up very well. This is what fans tell me – they love it and they watch it over and over, and their kids watch it with them. I guess there was something really human and vulnerable in there, because if people have some kind of affection for the lead character, that’s when a series will have some kind of longevity.

It doesn’t seem to be that anybody adapts superheroes in anything like the same way anymore. Every single film takes them so seriously, and there’s a level on which that baffles me. Can’t anybody see the absurdity to be mined here? Does it seem strange to you how seriously they’re taken now?

Yes, in a way. I stopped feeling that way about superheroes when I was about twelve years old.

Today it seems to be a large adult audience going to see these films. They seem to be aimed mainly at adults.

Uh-huh. Well, you know, I’m not sure how adult they are. All I know is that my fans have been really wonderful and affectionate.

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How long have you known that this set was coming? They’ve done a lot of work tidying this up and making the supplements. Were you keeping this secret for a long time?

I did. I was asked over and over for years. “When? When is the DVD coming out in the right way, so we can buy all 120 episodes and the movie.” Sure enough, Warners have done it, with Blu-ray, digital high definition, now you can watch it on your phone.

How did you feel having to keep the secret?

Well, I wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement.

But, yes, I knew that Warners, Fox and the others would get it together eventually. They’re bright people and they sensed the kind of success it would be. When you take the temperature, you find out that people have been asking for this for years and there’s a certain build up of excitement.

Have you watched any of the episodes recently?

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Not for a couple of months, and then usually inadvertently, by accident when they’re playing somewhere. I’ll tell you one thing that I am looking forward to watching is the Blu-ray… or DVD, or the digital thing. I’ve seen a little bit and it’s my understanding, and my observation, that they look incredible.

They certainly never looked this good in their day.

It was the first show twice a week in colour. Now you can really see it the way we meant it to be seen.

How does it feel to watch yourself?

Well, I’m a little amazed and somewhat confused about who that young boy was. But it’s fun, I get a laugh out of it.

Do you remember the time well and have a lot of memories?

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Oh, I remember. As you and I talk about it now, I begin to remember it well and very fondly. But I don’t normally think about it much.

So what does keep you busy on the day to day, these days?

I’m doing quite a bit of work. I’m very lucky. I do voiceovers, Family Guy on and on, and quite frankly, I’m one of the luckiest actors in the world. I was able to create a character who became iconic.

Thank you Adam West.

Batman: The Complete TV series is available on DVD and Blu-ray now. At last!

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