Batchat with Batman: Arkham Origin’s Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith

Smith and Baker

Saturday at the October MCM London Comic-Con saw two fantastic actors come to the stage and leave the audience with a ton of fun experiences, showcasing brilliant range. Those actors were Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith.

Brought together with their voice acting roles on the latest Batman video game Batman: Arkham Origins as The Joker and Batman respectively, Baker and Smith were called upon to answer many an insightful question and speak in many an entertaining voice.

The panel opened up with a trailer for the video game, giving the audience a taste of Baker and Smith’s work, and then the panel went right into things. The first discussion was about just how big a role Batman and the Joker are to play as actors, to which Smith described how he felt that the relationship between the two characters was “probably one of the most critical relationships, not only to the franchise, to Batman, but really just any kind of literary or entertainment forum. This is such a defining relationship between two incredibly complex characters.”

Baker added that they both shared joy and anxiety to a degree with their earning of their roles down to the fact they were suddenly given so much pressure due to the weight of those characters. They also had big shoes to fill, as acknowledged by the fact that they had to follow Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s portrayals of Batman and Joker in the Batman Arkham video game universe.

batmanWhile Origins is, as mentioned in the title, an origin story, Baker told the audience that while they could take things in the direction they wanted to with their portrayals, they had to pay homage to what people knew those characters to be. “What Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy have done is king,” said Baker. “You can’t fill those shoes. That’s not the way to approach it at all.”

The origin story also meant that they could afford to play around with a less defined version of their characters, giving them room to experiment and make the characters their own. “A little darker, a little unhinged.” 

In terms of a favourite portrayal of the Joker, Baker straight-up said that Mark Hamill is his Joker, to much applause from the audience. He recalled how he would rush home from school to make sure he could catch whatever episode of Batman: The Animated Series was on. Hamill’s Joker was noted as the first real Joker – especially animated – that “literally leapt out of the pages of the graphic novel. The first time we had really ‘heard’ the Joker. We had seen the Joker in Jack Nicholson but it was the first time we really got that iconic voice that really captured who that character was,” Baker described.

Baker then went on to explain that Mark Hamill’s voice was the one he had in his head when he read Batman graphic novels such as The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum. Baker said he could easily do an impression of Hamill’s voice, but the real key to playing the Joker was innovation through emulation.

Smith was then asked who his favourite Batman was, and while acknowledging that the opinion was rather polarising, he said that he preferred Christian Bale’s Batman, growl and all. He explained that to him that’s what made sense for Bruce Wayne to try and use to disguise his voice while as Batman.

The audition process was discussed for their roles as Batman and Joker, and they were both left rather cold and in the dark to begin with. Baker recalled how he went in to read for a character called “Jack”, but he soon realised that the lines he was reading were cut straight from The Killing Joke and Batman video games and other media. His palms immediately began to sweat as he got terrified by the notion. Those feelings felt, Baker still went on and performed part of The Killing Joke for his audition, since there was the fanboy inside of him who had never seen it performed in any form before so he just closed his eyes and went for it.

In regards to the actual production process for the game and its voice acting, Smith and Baker described how they worked very closely with the game director and the voice director in such a way to churn out performances they needed for the game they were making. The actor’s facial expressions were something sought after in the production, and the production of Arkham Origins was one that blended together Smith and Baker’s voice work and facial expressions together with the work of motion capture actors in order to create a brilliant combination of elements.

The two didn’t actually have many face-to-face sessions together when recording for Bats and Joker, though when they did they had a lot of fun and messed around, but Smith did fondly describe how he worked with the voice of Alfred while in production, also teasing of how the relationship between Batman and Alfred develops across Arkham Origins. 

Batman: Arkham Origins wasn’t the only game discussed on stage. It was inevitable that with two talented actors involved in such a diverse selection of games there would be mentions of their past work, such as Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us. The Last of Us’ development sounded particularly interesting: Baker described how they would film him and the other actors like a movie – with no markers or anything – and the production team at Naughty Dog would use that footage as reference and go one-to-one, translating any small details into their later animation.

Bioshock: Infinite was also rather different. Because Baker’s voice was all that was really needed while his co-star was filmed for all manner of reference, Baker just had to do a lot of hand and gesture acting due to the first-person nature of his role. He also joked about some of the content in the game, such as where his character’s nourishment and sustenance generally came from in Bioshock.

Throughout the panel the two actors showcased such a wonderful chemistry, constantly playing around with each other and showing off their respective vocal chops. One very memorable moment came after being asked whom they would get to voice themselves in a video game based on them but couldn’t be their respective selves. This led into the two of them almost pitch perfectly doing each other’s voices on stage.

Many other questions were asked, including what some of their favourite video games were. Baker listed his top ones to include (in no particular order) Saints Row IV, Grand Theft Auto V, Bioshock: Infinite, and The Last of Us. He also said that he buys all the games he stars in and he buys them brand new, and he just cannot wait to play Batman: Arkham Origins.

Smith explained that all of the roles he plays are very cathartic for him. He notes that whether it’s Sonic the Hedgehog or Batman, the process is very cathartic and brings different things out of himself. Batman, he noted, is rather more angry a character, and his role is very cathartic in bringing out that side.

Baker quoted fellow actor Travis Willingham in regards to playing roles such as Joel in The Last of Us, saying, “You have to do the things that make you tremble.” The complexity of the characters one can play and the fear of getting lost in a character like a Joel or a Joker is of a very rich and prosperous note.

JokerThere was one particular shadow rested over the entire panel – Baker’s phenomenal live-reading of The Joker’s monologue from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke at the New York Comic-Con. Smith referenced it a few times for comedic effect while discussing one of his favourite Batman lines in the game (“I’m the reason the criminals breathe easier when the sun rises”) and Baker shied away from a reprisal, instead saying the line from the trailer: “I present to you the death of the Batman” which the crowd just loved.

Well, he shied for a moment.

Because Baker explained that New York was a special moment for him, but he didn’t want to completely sidestep quoting The Killing Joke in London so he made a compromise: He didn’t read the lines The Joker said beforehand, so he would read those.

To begin with.

For having already slipped into reading mode, Baker said, “Oh sod it all, let’s do it” and leapt right into finishing the entire passage which brought down the roof. 

Again. 

And that didn’t even end the panel. There were many other great moments, such as a Joker cosplayer that really got into the role and initiated a nice back and forth with the two actors on stage, as well was Roger Craig Smith reading Chris Redfield lines from Resident Evil as Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog lines as Chris Redfield.

All in all it was a very insightful panel in regards to learning more about the production of Batman: Arkham Origins with the two actors’ acting and collaboration. Plus it was very entertaining and engaging, with all of the impressions and tomfoolery, not to mention that monologue.

For an hour the MCM London Comic-Con turned into a stage for Batman to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. And it was a glorious sight and sound to behold.

 

Photo by Kay Ibrahim.

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph Kerr says:

    I am that Joker cosplayer ^^ and yes IT WAS AWESOME!! I mean the laughter, the voices XD Haha! They both are so amazing!

    They played along so wonderful! XD

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