We hit the red carpet and screening of this new DC Universe Animated Original Movie
The renowned Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles is certainly on a nice little superhero streak. I recently covered an event there for the new Planet Hulk DVD and Blu-ray release and, while it was quite a night for the new Marvel Entertainment film, last week it was DC's turn to celebrate. A new group of comic book fans gathered at the Paley Center for the premiere of the new DC Universe Animated Original Movie, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, which will be released on DVD, two-disc special edition DVD and Blu-ray on February 23.
This brand new animated film boasts and incredible cast of characters from the DC universe, and also an incredible cast of voice actors portraying them. Among the star-studded cast are Mark Harmon (Superman), Daniel Baldwin (Batman), Alyssa Milano (Aimee Brenner), James Woods (Owlman), Chris Noth (Lex Luthor), Gina Torres (Super Woman), Gary Cole (Spectre), Josh Keaton (The Flash), Bruce Davison (President Slade Wilson), Vanessa Marshall (Wonder Woman), Cedric Yarborough (Firestorm) and Carlos Alzraqui (Breakdance). While, sadly, we didn't get to talk to this entire, amazing voice cast, we did hit the red carpet where we were able to speak with Gina Torres, Josh Keaton and Vanessa Marshall, along with co-directors Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu, screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie and casting director and dialogue director Andrea Romano before the film.
First up on the red carpet was Andrea Romano, an animation legend who has served as both a casting director and voice director on animated projects for the past twenty years. As you can tell from the cast I mentioned earlier, she had quite a group of actors to work with in this film. Here's what she had to say.
I heard you say earlier that you had these "wish lists" for these roles. This cast is pretty amazing. How many of these actors did you land on your first try?
Andrea Romano: Oh, very good question. Sometimes we nailed the first one. Sometimes we'd go through our entire wish list and nobody could do it because they're not available or have a conflict. It's always hit and miss. We dive in just going, 'OK, let's just get ready and see how we do.' Then we also have to look at, 'OK, this person accepted. Is that the best choice, with our first choice for that character?' We have to look at the whole thing and see how they work together.
With all these choices, were there any surprises that you saw, from people who might not have been your first choice?
Andrea Romano: No, they were all really, really good. There wasn't one of them that was weak, or gave us a performance that we couldn't use, or that just didn't get it. It was a dream project.
You have a voice in the film yourself (as the Watchtower Computer). Is that always fun to go in and do?
Andrea Romano: I like it, I like it. I like it because the fans like it. I, myself, when I listen to commercials or The Simpsons or whatever, I'm always going, 'Who is that?' Who is that voice?' I like that the fans are doing that in these and they know I'll show up somewhere. Oftentimes too, in these action projects, if a female celebrity has a lot of action scenes and can't do the ADR, I'll often go in and do the "oof's" and "ah's" and strains, so I'm all over these pieces.
Can you just talk a bit about what your job as the voice director entails?
Andrea Romano: There's a lot of prep to it. I try to make sure that I do a tremendous amount of preparation so that by the time I walk in the recording studio, it's easy. That's a big part of why I have so much prep. I make sure the actor has the script ahead of time, I make sure I know who's going to record with whom, make sure all their scenes that will work well together are good, rehearse them as much as I can. I really think a lot of it is about the prep that I do before I go in there, because I want that recording session to be a really pleasant experience for everybody, including me. If we're not having a good time making cartoons, we're doing something wrong. A big part of my job is making that safe, comfortable environment, where the actor feels comfortable to create, so they feel that they're welcome to bring their ideas to it. They don't just have to read the words that are written, they don't just have to give the performance that I'm thinking. Every time I prep a script, I hear it in my head, but I have to keep my mind open so that when an actor does something different than that, I can think, 'Well, that wasn't what I had in mind, but it works. Let's go with that.' That's why you hire actors and not technicians to do voiceovers, because someone who will creatively bring something to the party.
I read an interview with (producer) Bruce Timm and he said that when the whole thing was cut together, it seemed like there was chemistry between these guys, even though they recorded their parts all separately. What was that like just to hear and see all of that come together?
Andrea Romano: It was remarkable because, the truth was, when we recorded James Woods as Owlman, his performance was very low-key. You can play a villain big and broad, and that's very easy to do, but he played this one very close to the vest. I thought, 'Hmm, I hope that works with Gina," and when she came in, it absolutely worked. It's not until much later when you hear it all cut together that you go, 'My God, that did work!' You never know. You take a chance. Why be safe all the time?
Is that part of the fun of it to? You cast these roles and you don't know until much later if they all actually do work?
Andrea Romano: Absolutely. There is kind of a thrill and a scare to that. It's riding a roller-coaster, "Am I going to puke or am I going to laugh all the way?' You never know. This worked out so perfectly. It was such a beautiful cast. I was so lucky with this. I mean, Chris Noth, Mark Harmon, Gina Torres, James Woods - I got to direct these people. It's remarkable. My life is blessed.
Next up we got to talk to voice actor Josh Keaton, who played the rather comical role of The Flash, who provides for a lot of the film's comic relief. Here's what Keaton had to say.
First of all, what does it feel like just to be here tonight, before this big DVD release?
Josh Keaton: It feels awesome and I'm extremely excited to be here tonight because I haven't seen this yet. I've had the DVD sitting on my table for two weeks now and it's been the hardest thing for me just to not pop it in and watch it. I wanted to see it on a big screen, with full-on surround sound, so I'm extremely excited to see it.
That's got to be torturous.
Josh Keaton: Extremely torturous.
Can you talk about what it was like to work with Andrea?
Josh Keaton: Andrea is fantastic. I've actually worked with Andrea on a few other things, like Starcraft 2, which is going to be coming out, among other things, but she really is an actor's director. Especially in video games, there isn't a lot of focus on acting directions, so a lot of times you'll go in and you'll have your lines on a paper with no context, none of the other character's lines, none of the stage directions. You'd have no idea what's going on and you just have to find meaning in these words. Andrea is a huge proponent of getting people the script ahead of time so they actually have time to read it. I mean, we're acting with our voices, but at the end of the day, we're actors. I do on-camera stuff as well, most voice actors do, and she's a huge proponent of getting actors what they need, trying to schedule sessions where as many people can be together as possible, so that there is that actor give-and-take and she really does a great job of explaining motivation. If you don't know what's going on, she'll do her best to help you out. For other things, being a geek and knowing a lot of the character histories and previous continuities from other things, also helps out a lot.
You've done a number of other superhero voices in the past. Where does The Flash fit in with all of the rest?
Josh Keaton: Honestly, he's kind of, at least in attitude, he's kind of like an extreme Spider-Man. Spider-Man is very glib and Spider-Man gets under his rogue's skins with some of the stuff he says. Flash pretty much says what everybody else is thinking and doesn't have the best timing, depending on how you look at it. From a comedic standpoint, his timing is impeccable. From an appropriateness standpoint, it's probably not the best, and I honestly love that, probably because in a sense, I am that guy. I don't necessarily think about what I'm going to say before I say it and sometimes it just comes out.
Are you saying The Flash wasn't much of a stretch for you then?
Josh Keaton: It really was not, no (Laughs).
Is there anything that you're working on or developing that you can tell us about?
Josh Keaton: There are two projects. One is a Bruce Timm project, the other is not, but neither I'm at liberty to discuss. The two projects that I'm working on are probably going to be announced soon. I just can't say anything. I wish I could, because it's awesome. It's epic in scale.
We'll be hearing about those soon then?
Josh Keaton: Yes, definitely. Very soon, one in particular you'll hear about this summer, because it's a fall thing.
Vanessa Marshall, who plays the iconic Wonder Woman, was next down the line, and we learn that Marshall was actually up for a different Wonder Woman role in another project before landing this role. Here's what she had to say.
Can you first just talk about how you came onto this project?
Vanessa Marshall: Well, I had auditioned for Wonder Woman for the cartoons that Warner Bros. had put out, and I was running neck and neck with the woman who eventually booked it. Andrea Romano, who directed both the DVD and the cartoon, had remembered me and I think she really wanted to give me a shot at that. The failure, initially, gave way to success, in this case.
It's the light at the end of the tunnel.
Vanessa Marshall: Yeah, maybe. Don't give up, I guess.
Did you go into a lot of research with all of the other things that have been done with Wonder Woman? Did you delve into a lot of the past stuff?
Vanessa Marshall: Well, I had been fairly aware of the past stuff, so I guess I just reminded myself of certain things. I wanted to make sure that I honored her. I mean, Lynda Carter was awesome, so in a weird way I wanted to approach that level of perfection.
You had worked with Andrea Romano before. What was it like to work with her again for this project?
Vanessa Marshall: She's brilliant. She's so concise and she's like a surgeon. She knows exactly what's wrong and knows exactly how to fix it. She gives you feedback that could be seen as rudeness, but when you're in that room and want to get it perfect, it's a gift.
Is there anything you're signed onto now or that you're developing for the future?
Vanessa Marshall: No. I have my own writing that I'm working on, but in terms of voiceovers, I'm involved with The Avengers, which won't come out for some time, which is a bit frustrating, but I'm grateful to be a part of that as well. I just finished working on the next Metal Gear Solid game, the next version of that. I play Doctor Strangelove, a fascinating lesbian. When I showed up, they said, 'Oh, by the way, she has an English accent.' It's like, 'OK, well we're halfway through the script,' so we went back and redid the whole thing with an English accent. Just a little minor detail.
Next up was screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie, who is no stranger to this Justice League universe at all. McDuffie was a writer-producer on the Justice League animated TV series that ran from 2001 to 2006. Here's what McDuffie had to say.
Can you talk a bit about how you came on board with this project?
Dwayne McDuffie: I was a writer-producer on the Justice League animated series. We were planning a sequel series and the plan was to do a movie that would bridge the old series and the new series. I wrote it about five years ago and we didn't have the staff to do the TV series and the movie at the same time, so we kind of put it on the shelf. Executive producer Bruce Timm never gave up on it, kept trying to get it going and gave me a call a couple of years ago and said, 'Hey, we can do this movie if we could rewrite it so it's based on the comics instead of the TV continuity," and I jumped at it. That's pretty much it.
How do you think the fans will react to this film?
Dwayne McDuffie: Oh, I think they're going to have a great time. it's one of the biggest Justice League adventures ever. I think that the directors and the storyboard guys have taken animated action to an entirely new level. I thought we had gone as far as we could've possibly gone with Justice League, but this is a quantum leap past that. You've never seen fights like this before.
This cast is really amazing. What was it like watch this with all these voice actors coming on for the roles you had written?
Dwayne McDuffie: That's always my favorite part. The actors make the characters real. I don't care what I write, they bring something to it that I didn't see and they delivered in spades this time. It's always really exciting when you see the animation for me. It's like, 'Oh, they really did it.' Because I'm never quite convinced, so that's always a big moment. The first screening is always really exciting because you can see what work and what didn't work in a way that you can only guess when you're sitting there with a piece of paper.
Is there anything that you're working on right now that you can tell us about?
Dwayne McDuffie: I'm finishing up the series finale of Ben 10: Alien Force and almost immediately after that, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, a sequel to that show.
Co-director Lauren Montgomery was next on the red carpet line after McDuffie and here's what she had to say about this film, working with fellow director and friend Sam Liu and more.
How do you think the fans will react to this film?
Lauren Montgomery: I hope they react well, because it's one of the best ones we've done, I feel. I feel that we've remained true to the characters, the action is amazing and it looks great. I mean, you can never please everyone, but I think that the majority will like it.
Can you talk about working with (co-director) Sam (Liu) and how you both worked together directing this?
Lauren Montgomery: Sam and I, we were lucky enough to be friends before we had to work together, so we tried to use this as kind of a learning experience. We both have very different ways of working, there are things that I'm really strong at and there's thing that he's really strong at and we tried to learn from each other and complement each other. I think we really did because I think this is one of our strongest films. I think the action is really amazing in this one. We had an awesome crew of storyboard guys who really know how to do good action. We had amazing animation on this one, better than our past ones. We just kept getting blown away by the animation that kept coming back from the animation studio. It just looked so good.
There's a short film for The Spectre on the DVD. Did you guys work on that as well?
Lauren Montgomery: I did not work on it, but the guy who did, Joaquim dos Santos, is an incredibly talented person. I've worked with him before and it looks really great.
Montgomery's other co-director, Sam Liu, talked to us next, and here's what he had to say.
We just talked to Lauren a bit ago. Can you talk about your process working with her and directing this thing together?
Sam Liu: It was a lot of fun. I think we have different ways of directing and it didn't overlap a whole lot. I don't know if we're going to do this again in the future, because it's not really a timesaver, but we just cleared the boards together and made decisions together. I think it's a better product because of it.
Is it like a checks and balances kind of thing?
Sam Liu: I think so. It's like, we go through these things so fast that a lot of times you're flying by the seat of your pants and you're making decisions as best you can. I think just with two sets of bodies, you catch a whole lot more.
You're really blessed with quite a cast here. Does that take any pressure off of your job, with a cast like this?
Sam Liu: It's a really complex thing, animation. There are so many parts to it that can make it or break it and obviously the voices are a huge, huge thing. It breathes life into the characters. A dull line could kill a scene, but a line that is genuinely funny or genuinely sincere can make a scene. That's the best thing about it and there was a lot of that in this movie. You read it and you say, 'OK, I see kind of how that works," but once you hear it, it's like, 'Oh, that sold it.'
Last but certainly not least, we were able to speak with the lovely Gina Torres, who fanboys have come to know and love from her roles on Cleopatra 2525 and as Zoe Washburne in Joss Whedon's cult classic TV series Firefly and the film version Serenity. Torres had also even worked on the previous Justice League series, voicing Vixen as well. She voices the villainous Super Woman in this film and here's what she had to say.
What made you want to be a part of this project?
Gina Torres: Well, it gives me great stepmom cred and status. It also gives me great wife cred and status. My husband is a huge comic book fan, so that was part of it.
Which character do you like better, Vixen or Super Woman?
Gina Torres: Well, Vixen is a good girl, with an edge, but Super Woman is just straight-up bad, with curves (Laughs). It was fun playing bad though.
Did you perform as an ensemble or individually?
Gina Torres: Individually, which was hard at first but it's sort of what I've gotten used to doing.
Do they play playbacks of the other actors' dialogue?
Gina Torres: Some things, yeah, towards the end. We did the first run of the dialogue and as they get closer with the animation we actually get to see what they've created.
It seems to have something to do with your past work. How does it feel to be a part of that sort of elite group...
Gina Torres: Of warrior women? (Laughs) I think it's fantastic. It's wonderful that I am filling part of this need to have strong and capable, fantastic women there. The fact that I'm doing a good job, since they continue to ask me to play these parts, is great. I'm up for it.
What else is on the horizon for you?
Gina Torres: Right now, you can look for me on FlashForward and I've got an indie movie coming out called Don't Let Me Drown. There are a couple of things on the video shelves that didn't quite make it to theaters.
Joss just announced he's doing a documentary on Comic-Con. Would you be involved in that at all?
Gina Torres: I would have to be in something that's at Comic-Con, so yeah, I don't know. He'll have to call me. Call me, Joss.
With that, we all headed inside to watch the film, and damn was it a good one. The filmmakers were certainly right about the action in this wonderful animated film and Dwayne McDuffie's script is deftly crafted with some great bits of humor woven throughout this very clever storyline. Make sure you look on our Reviews section for my full DVD review of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths in the very near future. Until then, that's all I've got from this wonderful Paley Center event. Peace in. Gallagher out!