Tim Daly Talks the Man of Steel with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

The actor talks about voicing Superman in this brand new animated DVD

Tim Daly is an actor who is well-versed in both live-action and animated work. After providing the voice of the Man of Steel for the animated Superman TV series, Daly branched out into live-action work with roles in such hits as Joe Hackett on Wings and his current TV gig as Dr. Pete Weber on Private Practice. Weber has returned to his animated roots, though, providing the voice for Superman once again with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, which just hit the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray today, September 29. We were provided with a new interview session that Daly conducted and here's what he had to say about this new film and voicing Superman in general.

Can you recall your initial audition for Superman?

Tim Daly: Yes, I remember it very well. The wife of one of the writers on Wings knew Andrea (Romano, casting/dialogue director), and, I guess they had been having trouble casting (Superman) for some reason. I don't really know why. She suggested me and I came in and read for them, and they sort of hired me in the room. I was just shocked, but I was thrilled, because it was Superman. And, you know, if someone's got to keep America safe for democracy, it might as well be me (he laughs).

What are the challenges to voicing Superman?

Tim Daly: Superman is a real boy scout, a real straight arrow, and yet he does have certain moments of kind of ironic humor. The challenge is not to tip him into cynicism because he is not a cynical guy. He is truth, justice and the American way. He is about trying to do the right thing and trying to be earnest about his goodness. What makes him fun are those little moments where he reveals that he actually does have a sense of humor. Also, Superman has always gotten the crap kicked out of him by various laser beams, electrical force fields, bombs, kryptonite and new weapons - so there's a lot of grunting and straining and screaming noises that you have to do. There is so much punching and fighting that I find myself standing in front of the music stand and the microphone, pinching myself and torque-ing my body around as if I'm getting punched or straining against someone or grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck. The key is to push out of your mind the embarrassment of what it would look like if someone actually saw you do that in your shorts and flip-flops when you're supposed to be the Man of Steel. I think probably the most fun I have as Superman was in the episodes with Superman and Bizarro, where he changes into this sort of idiot Superman and his whole demeanor sort of changes. He's not really deviously bad, or not consciously bad, but he does a lot of bad things because he can be manipulated - of course, by Lex Luthor.

What do you bring to Superman?

Tim Daly: I guess the actual embodiment of that character (he laughs) - no, I'm kidding. I ain't no Superman (laughs). I guess I bring whatever little quirks make him more real. I like to think that this is my wheelhouse Superman. Whenever you reprise something, you hopefully reinvent it a little bit. If I had portrayed Superman as a live action person, I would really have wanted to know that there was a new spin on the ball.

You've been away from the role for a while - did recording Public Superman/Batman: Public Enemies present any new revelations about the character and doing the voice?

Tim Daly: The most surprising thing about it was that I missed it. I found that I really had missed doing Superman. I thought that particular script was really good. For those of us who are interested and aware of new certain things in our world and our country, I think that it presents a very kind of subtle social commentary which I think is cool and relatively bold for something that's a DVD release of a Superman animated project.

How did recording with Kevin Conroy influence your performance?

Tim Daly: Voicing animation is always interesting because you don't have to all be in the room together. It can be done separately. But it's always better when you're in the room because then you're responding to someone else. Kevin is such a good Batman and, unlike Superman, Batman is pretty cynical. He's of darker character. When you have those two flavors playing off each other in real time, there's a lot more sizzle to it. You're not in a vacuum. So being in the studio together is definitely helpful.

True or false - did you beat out Kevin Conroy for the role of Joe Hackett in Wings?

Tim Daly: All I know is that we both screen-tested for the part on the same day. The screen test was odd because I was there, and we were sort of observing each other. We both screen-tested with Steve Webber, who apparently had the role (of Brian). What I remember the most about the aftermath of that is Webber coming up to me as we were shooting the pilot and saying, "Hey, Tim, great to meet you. I could've sworn I was going to be working with Kevin Conroy." I was like, "Oh, well, thanks, buddy boy. It's going to be a great eight years." And I still can't get rid of him. I had dinner with him two nights ago. The sad part is I think he was serious. I think he was telling me that he thought I was not going to get the part. He was like, "Hi. You know what? I really thought you sucked in the screen test. I'm so surprised you're here."

Did you enjoy the "buddy cop" aspect of the film?

Tim Daly: Superman and Batman have a good flavor to them, much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in the 48 HRS movies. They're sort of thrown into a situation where they have got to respond to a dilemma and they have very different points of view about how to deal with it, but ultimately they bond as a team. And it's funny having these two guys who are so different working for the same cause.

When you were first cast as Superman, did you understand the importance of the character to the world, and were you surprised by the fan reaction?

Tim Daly: I admit to my own shame that I took it just on a lark. I thought, "Oh, this would be fun." And then I started to realize that Superman actually meant a lot to a lot of people. I feel badly that I didn't take a moment to understand that I actually have a greater responsibility than I thought I did. I understand that now, and I enjoy my responsibility and have more of a profound sense of it. Every once in a while, someone comes up to me and says, "Excuse me, are you Tim Daly?" And I say yes and they say "I have to tell you, I am such a huge fan of yours, and my favorite work of yours is the voice of Superman." I'm always sort of surprised when that happens - I used to think that it was all about the kids watching those animated shows, and who did the voices didn't really enter their consciousness. But there are people that it means a lot to and I'm always a little bit taken aback by that. And I'm thrilled when that happens.

Which character do you gravitate toward: Batman or Superman? And why?

Tim Daly: I like Superman better. Not just because I play him, but I think because I'm a little bit of an idealist and Superman is, too. He's a little bit more pure. He's about saying that good can win, that you can have goodness be the order of the day. Batman is somewhat more realistic in terms of the human psyche because he's a little more tortured - he's darker, more cynical and more street savvy than this strange guy that landed in a cornfield in Kansas. But for the purposes of having a super hero, I think having someone be good is more satisfying for me.

Is there something you consciously do to put that sense of trust in your voice as Superman?

Tim Daly: It's acting 101. I see what Superman is supposed to say, and then I say it as truthfully and straightforward as I possibly can. It's always more fun to play villains and there's a lot more latitude, but it's way more difficult to play the good guy - especially someone as squeaky clean and straightforward and All-American as Superman. You really have to commit to the idea that this guy believes in his mission, that he's telling the truth and that he's looking somebody in the eye and giving it to him straight. It's surprisingly difficult to do.

You may not be Superman in real life, but you do act as a super hero in representing The Creative Coalition, right?

Tim Daly: I'm not Superman. No, I'm just me. One of the great things about cartoons is that they're not real - you're not watching real people and it engages your imagination. One of the cornerstones of America is that we are creative thinkers. We're innovators. And in order to continue to be innovators, we need to train the creative minds of our children. The Creative Coalition is a non-profit, non-partisan arts advocacy group. It's made up of people who have attained a high level of visibility in the entertainment world, and we have two essential missions. Our core mission is to promote federal funding for arts and public education and freedom of speech. The other thing that we do is we use in a responsible way this notoriety that we've gained to focus attention on issues of public importance that affect everybody, issues that otherwise might have a little more difficulty getting the attention they deserve. I personally became involved because I believe that it is vital to the survival of our culture to have arts be part of the public school curriculum. I could spew tons of boring data - but the bottom line is that when you're teaching a child, you have to teach the entire child. Kids that study the arts are better mathematicians and scientists and politicians ... and voice actors. They're not just better artists.

In conjunction with everything else you've done as Superman, can you envision how the fans will embrace this film?

Tim Daly: I think that, interestingly enough, this particular film will work on a pure light entertainment level because there's all the fighting and characters and technological things involved. But there's also this subtle social commentary that I think that people who are more thoughtful or sort of discerning about that the progress of Superman over the years will be very interested in. I think that a lot of people will love it. Other people might be a little discomforted by it, which I think is great to stir things up a little bit.

And finally - I've heard that you not only like Bugs Bunny, but regularly quote him. True?

Tim Daly: You cannot go wrong with Bugs Bunny. He's the coolest cartoon character ever. I quote him all the time. There's a hotel in New York - Le Parker Meridien - and they used to have old Bugs Bunny cartoons playing on the TV in the elevator, and I would find myself staring at the cartoons. My floor would get there and I would just push a different button so I could finish - I'd just go up 20 more floors so I could finish watching the Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Make sure you check out Tim Daly's rendition of Superman in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray shelves everywhere today.