Before Batman: The Killing Joke premiered at Comic-Con in Ballroom 20 on Friday night, the cast attended a press junket for the animated film across the street at the Bayfront Hilton earlier in the day. On hand were voice talent Tara Strong (Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), and writer Brian Azzarello. Kevin Conroy (Batman) executive producer Bruce Timm, and the director Sam Liu were also in attendance, but didn’t have time to be rotated to my press table. The press room was massive, with what felt like hundreds of other reporters and journalists crammed into the dimly lit space.
First to our table was Strong, who has been doing the voice for Barbara Gordon in one form or another for almost 20 years. When asked what it was like stepping into the role again during such a tragic time in the character’s history, she said it was an emotional rollercoaster. “It was so exciting to have the opportunity to play Batgirl in her earlier years, and then now as a woman in the The Killing Joke, which is such an incredible story. It’s a story that the fans have wanted to see and hear for so long, so there was pressure to do it right, and to do it well. And really exciting because it certainly goes places Batgirl has never gone before, and done things she’s never done before because she’s a woman, and there’s all these crazy things that happen to her. I saw it for the first time earlier this week and I literally cried. It’s so good! And I tweeted, because it’s true, that it was my favorite Batman-anything that I’ve ever seen, it’s just so good.”
She was then asked what it was like getting into the headspace of such a traumatic version of Batgirl. “It’s funny, because Barbara Gordon is pretty much the only thing I’ve done in my career where it’s my own voice. [Laughter] So in terms of preparing vocally, it’s not challenging. In terms of preparing for the story, it’s challenging in the way that with some shows, you can just go in and not have read the script and do a brilliant job. But in this particular case you really want to be authentic to the story, so there was a bit more prep in terms of reading it, learning about the story, learning about all the things that she goes through, that all of the characters go through, and then once you’re in the studio, I know everyone has their own way of performing, but I imagine all the moments in my head. So if you ever see behind-the-scenes, there will be moments where I’ll be tearing-up, or I’ll be really going through the emotional moments with that character.”
When asked if she had to flex different acting muscles because of the darker tone, she replied that indeed she did. “For sure as Batgirl. A lot of what I do can be comedic, and even the serious stuff isn’t quite this dark. So I would say it’s the darkest that I’ve ever gone in animation.”
Newcomer to the DC Animated Universe, Wise wasted no time explaining who Commissioner Gordon was, and how he operated in the movie. “I play Commissioner Gordon. A man of great morality, a man with extreme integrity, who believes in doing things the right way, doing them by the book, doesn’t go off on tangents which Batman has a way of doing. Gotta reign him in from time-to-time, and remind him to do things by the book.”
Known for playing more sinister roles than heroic ones, he was asked what it was like transitioning to playing a character like Gordon, and if it was enjoyable. “Yeah, it was! It was great, it was refreshing, it opened up a whole new door in my mind that I can enjoy playing these kinds of characters. And in this piece you see him be the good father to his daughter, and you see a little bit of the police commissioner come out, and you hear a lot of grunts and groans. He goes through a pretty tortuous process with the Joker. It was kind of an emotionally draining experience, because when you’re doing voice acting, you’re trying to do everything you can to make your voice sound just right at any particular moment. So that necessitates to a lot of the physical actions standing in front of the microphone, so I’m just beating the hell out of myself! I want it to be as real as possible, I guess that’s the old method actor in me. But it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’d do it again in a second.”
The discussion then shifted towards how Wise came to find Gordon’s voice for this interpretation of the police commissioner. “I used the same vague process that I use on every character. [Laughs] No, I read the material, I was a fan of the graphic novel, and I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was 8 or 10 years old, and for my money Kevin [Conroy] will always be my Batman. He’s everything I’ve ever imagined. All he has to do is open up his mouth and say a couple of words, and wow, that’s Batman for me. So I was a fan of that and then I read this script, and it’s just a great script. It’s a great story. It’s dark, it’s the R-rated Batman, it’s like a 1940’s film noir, with the great detective murder story kind of thing, with some modern day twists and R-flavor. I saw it a couple of days ago, and I loved it. And I’m not an animation aficionado; this blew me away. I really enjoyed it.”
And finally, Azzarello, who clearly wanted to be elsewhere. When asked if he felt adapting the comic to animation was a daunting experience, he answered it wasn’t. “No, I loved doing it. The source material is so good, it was not daunting. What was a bit daunting was creating scenes that aren’t in the source material, that feel like they’re in the source material.”
When asked if he agreed to write the adaptation right away, or had to think about it, he explained the choice was a no-brainer. “I said ‘Yes.’ It’s funny because if they were to ask me—the way I felt about it, if they said, ‘Look, we want you to adapt something,’ I would have said ‘The Killing Joke.’ So when they came to me and asked if I wanted to do The Killing Joke, I said ‘Yeah!’”
This might not be the last comic we see Azzarello adapt for animation, for he had another comic in mind, one that he wrote specifically. “I wrote a graphic novel called Joker that I’d like to adapt for animation.” When asked if he was worried about fan reaction to the iconic storyline, he shrugged. “No, I think they’re going to love it and they’re going to hate it.”
Decide for yourself whether you love it or hate it. The Killing Joke will be available on DVD and Blu-ray August 2, 2016 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.