Crisis on Infinite Earths Batman is a Cautionary Tale
Kevin Conroy tells us about the version of Bruce Wayne, and the legacy of Batman, on Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Crisis on Infinite Earths is going to bring surprises on a cosmic scale. When the tagline is “worlds will live, worlds will die, and nothing will ever be the same,” it’s a safe bet that nothing will be done as half measures. The Arrowverse crossover event will span episodes of Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, and its multiverse-spanning story allows for DC fans of several generations to indulge in some of their fondest fan service wishes. Whether it’s the return of Smallville stars Tom Welling and Erica Durance as the Clark Kent and Lois of a parallel world, John Wesley Shipp once again reprising his role as the Barry Allen of Earth-90, or Brandon Routh putting on the red-and-blue of the Man of Steel for the first time since Superman Returns, Crisis isn’t messing around. And these are just the BIG ones, there are bound to be more, as well as surprises that haven’t even been made public yet.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was the reveal that Kevin Conroy would appear as Batman. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising, as no actor is as associated with Batman as Conroy, who voiced Bruce Wayne on the legendary and beloved Batman: The Animated Series, a much older version for the futuristic Batman Beyond, and again for numerous standalone animated films. But the idea of Conroy playing Bruce Wayne in live action rather than merely providing a voice is something of a novelty. And when the earliest photos of his interpretation of Bruce Wayne called back to Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ apocalyptic superhero magnum opus Kingdom Come, interest in what was already an intriguing proposition deepened.
In a conversation several days before his appearance on the Batwoman chapter of Crisis on Infinite Earths is set to air, Conroy was certainly in no position to talk spoilers. But he did tell us a little about what led to how this world’s version fo Batman ended up in the situation he was in, what it was like working with Batwoman star Ruby Rose, and some bat-philosophy of his own.
Den of Geek: Crisis on Infinite Earths was announced a year ago, and fans have known this was coming for a long time and it’s a massive production. At what point did they approach you to do Bruce Wayne in live action?
Kevin Conroy: That’s a good question. It was pretty late in the process. It was just a couple of months ago. The producer, Marc Guggenheim, was having a meeting with Tom Burke who heads casting for Warner Brothers now. And Tom happens to be a friend of mine from New York. We’ve known each other for 40 years. I knew him from when he worked at my agency. We used to work together. They were talking about casting and he put it out in the room and he said, “Well, who are we going to get to do Batman? Who’s Batman?” And someone threw my name out, and Marc said he wasn’t that familiar with me, but he asked Tom, “Does he do on camera? Is he a stage actor?” And Tom said, “That is what he is. Doing voice was the segue.” So, that’s how it happened. Tom knew me from New York theater world and that was it.
So, when they approached you, what was that pitch to you about the kind of Batman you were playing, and doing this live and everything else?
Well, it was pretty vague at first because I’m not as much of a TV junkie as a lot of other people, so I hadn’t seen a lot of the CW shows. And they had said it was going to be an older Bruce Wayne. And so I immediately was thinking of Batman Beyond. I was supposed to meet Marc, the executive producer, at San Diego Comic-Con. We had never met and he wanted to meet me.
Well, Comic-Con in San Diego is a zoo and it’s insane. We both were supposed to meet there and it didn’t happen. We were both running from one thing to another. So, on the flight back, I get a text message from him saying, “I’m so sorry we missed each other. I really wanted to meet you.” And I said, “Well, I wanted you to meet me because if you think you’re casting old Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond, I want you to see, I don’t look 80. I mean, I’m not 30 anymore, but I certainly don’t look 80.” And he said, “Oh, no, no, no. We know what you look like. That’s not what we’re doing.” So, I was very vague on just where Bruce Wayne was in the world they were creating.
I ended up using a lot of Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond, just vocally. The age, the weight of the voice, but he’s not that old. There was a kind of an evolution to [the casting process]. They did call, they wanted to have a meeting. We didn’t ever get the meeting, so we ended up having the meeting over the phone, and the offer was made. It’s weird.
It’s not the Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond, but there are similarities though to a version of Bruce Wayne from the comics, specifically that visual similarity to the one from Kingdom Come. Were you familiar with that story at all? Or did you go back to the comics at any point?
I had to come up to speed on a lot of the backstory. I was not familiar. And the cast again was very helpful in all that. Ruby Rose is really great to work with.
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And ultimately, it’s a human story. You’re telling the story. Acting is storytelling and it’s really about the interaction between characters. So, educating yourself on backstory is important, but what’s truly important is what happens on the set, on camera, in the chemistry between the actors. And what was happening on that set was really wonderful. Ruby is incredibly generous and so is Melissa [Benoist]. They were just so great to work with. What I’m saying is there’s only so much… Homework feeds your performance, but it doesn’t make your performance. Your performance is made on the set with the actors in that moment. And we had some wonderful moments.
You’re kind of like the elder statesman of the DC Universe in a lot of ways now. You’re the actor probably most associated with any superhero who’s around these days. So, what was it like talking to Ruby, who’s new to this superhero world? I mean, did you have advice for her about what it’s like taking on a role that’s so much bigger than an actor ordinarily is? I’m curious to know how that went because she’s the new generation, and you’re “the legend.”
She’s the new generation, but it’s her show. When you’re the guest actor on a show, you’re coming on to someone else’s territory. When I was doing Batman: The Animated Series, I was the constant throughout all the episodes. It was sort of my world. So, all these wonderful character actors would come in to do a performance, and I saw it as kind of my job to make them feel comfortable, to make everyone feel that they were safe to play, to take chances. I could sense Ruby is kind of assuming that role on this show. She was making me feel very comfortable. She was being very gracious to me. It wasn’t up to me to teach her anything. She was allowing me to perform in her space, and she was very generous about it.
But what was interesting is that… no one ever sees themselves the age that they are. I still think I look like I’m 26, right? I get scared when I look in the mirror. I’m like, who is that guy? But so I’m acting with these beautiful young women, and I’m acting and I’m acting and I’m acting. And then suddenly I see a photo of us together, and I’m thinking, who is that old man with those beautiful young women? Because I was just relating to them as other actors that I was working with, that we’re all the same age. Well, surprise, we’re not all the same age. I don’t know, I always get shocked when I see myself.
What was it like putting that exoskeleton thing on? What was that like?
Confining. A little bit like a suit of armor. It’s the kind of thing that… Well, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. You put it on and you don’t realize how much it’s digging into you until about a half an hour later. And then after a couple of hours of it, you’re thinking, get me out of this thing. When it initially goes on, it’s not so bad. After a couple of hours, it’s quite uncomfortable.
Is it safe to say that wasn’t quite what you were expecting when they first pitched you playing Batman in live action?
I had no idea. That came out of left field. I had no idea what that was about. So, that was part of my education, of coming up to speed. No, I didn’t. I did not know that. I really was anticipating doing sort of Batman from Batman Beyond. And it turned out that that was not at all what they were doing. I was surprised they cast me because I was thinking if they’re going to do Batman from Batman Beyond, maybe they’ll go with an older actor. But that was not what they ended up doing.
Well, it’s kind of good that you keep coming back to the idea that no, this is not the Bruce Wayne of Batman Beyond, this is not the Batman of Batman: the Animated Series. Because you have such a good handle on who Bruce Wayne is, and this is a different Bruce Wayne at a different point in his life than you’ve ever played him before. What was that like?
This is Bruce Wayne after giving and giving and giving and giving of himself his entire life to try and heal the world, and never getting anything back personally that replenished that well. It’s what happens if Bruce never finds love. And the Bruce I had always played was one who was always toying with finding love. Whether it was Andrea Beaumont, or Selina Kyle, or various people. But this is what happens if he’s never ever gotten anything to replenish his soul. I’d never played that.
Is that Bruce’s choice? Is this because this is a Bruce who just got too deep into his work, and didn’t make the time to find love?
Well, I think that his [this Bruce] fate was not to find love. It was certainly presented to him throughout his life. He was incapable, I think, of allowing someone to love him, and he just couldn’t let them in. He was so damaged by what happened to his parents as a child.
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I mean, think about what it would take to transform yourself into this avenging angel, and spending your life and your fortune doing it, because of watching your parents get murdered as a child. I mean, what a transformation he went through. What a mental crisis he would have to have gone through to do that. So, to go from that to being able to have an intimate relationship, a fulfilling relationship, it just wasn’t in the cards for him in this version.
With the world kind of being the way it is these days, and with all of the different interpretations of Batman that there’ve been through the years, and that there have been since you first took on the role, what do you think are the most important and positive lessons that people should be taking from this character? Because it sounds like this Bruce in particular might be something of a cautionary tale.
Yes. This Bruce is a cautionary tale. I think the lesson that Bruce learned in Mask of the Phantasm is the lesson I would love people to take from Batman. That when he discovers love with Andrea Beaumont, and he realized that is what life is about. It’s about sharing. It’s about giving and receiving. Bruce is a giver. He gives and gives and gives and gives and gives. He’s really incapable of receiving, which is part of why he does it all anonymously. He can’t accept thanks. He really can’t even accept recognition. There’s a nobility about that, and we like that about him. But at the same time, that well ultimately runs dry and that’s where he is in this.
So, the lesson I’ve learned from playing Bruce all these years is to never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up, and to give and to give and to give and to give. But also the cautionary tale of playing Bruce is, you have to allow people in. You have to allow people to love you and it’s not easy to let someone love you, because you’re making yourself vulnerable. To really allow yourself to be loved, you’re naked and they can hurt you. Not everyone can do that, but that’s the cautionary tale to me with playing Bruce, is to never give up on giving. But never give up on allowing yourself to receive either.
Kevin Conroy will appear as Bruce Wayne in this week’s episode of Batwoman, airing on Monday, Dec. 9, the second chapter of Crisis on Infinite Earths on the CW.
Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.