Interview with the new Batman from Batman: Arkham Origins, Roger Craig Smith

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Roger Craig Smith photo by Richard Wright Photography

We’ve recently chatted with Roger Craig Smith about his roles in Wreck-It Ralph, Assassin’s Creed, and Planes. With the highly-anticipated Batman: Arkham Origins hitting store shelves soon in October, Nerd Reactor and Smith collide once again to talk about his role as the dark knight, the world’s greatest detective…the Batman. He discusses how it’s like following up on Kevin Conroy’s Batman, Intellivision, next-gen graphics, Ben Affleck as Batman, and favorite superheroes.

Roger Craig Smith: Hey, John.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): Hey Roger, how’s it going?

Roger Craig Smith: Long time, dude.

Nerd Reactor: I know! It’s been maybe a couple of months?

Roger Craig Smith: Yeah. So much has changed, man!

Nerd Reactor: I know! So much! Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, I don’t know!

Roger Craig Smith: You heard about this whole twerking thing? Holy cow!

Nerd Reactor: Yeah!

Roger Craig Smith: Batfleck? My God, it’s pandemonium.

Nerd Reactor: You recently went to the 1337 Lounge Live studio. It’s a cool place and it has an awesome arcade emulator with a lot of cool games. What’s your favorite game to play on there?

Roger Craig Smith: You know what? Astrosmash goes back to like me being maybe, I think 7 or 8 years old the first time played that thing – I can’t remember, I might have been younger than that, I think I might have been six. But I can remember Christmas Day my dad got an Intellivision for everybody, and we all just sat around. I think we played Astrosmash on Intellivision for ten hours straight. And so any time I go back to that – I still have an actual original Intellivision console somewhere in my garage. It’s not in working condition or anything like that. It’s just such a weird thing to go back and look at how something as intangible as an 8-bit video game, or that experience can bring you back to being a kid again. So any of the old Intellivision stuff. But I would say Astrosmash just ’cause it’s such a big part of my family’s youth.

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Nerd Reactor: Now fast forward into the future and you have graphics like the new games we have out now; for example, Batman: Arkham Origins.

Roger Craig Smith: Yup. It’s insane. It’s a fascinating time to be in this industry. It makes you go, “Where are we going to be in 20 years?” I can’t even imagine.

Nerd Reactor: Just imagine, I guess in 20 years, characters can look exactly like the voice actors, and maybe you won’t even be able to tell the difference between them.

Roger Craig Smith: They’re already stepping into that right now. I mean they’re already getting not just the vocal but the physical, and the aesthetic embodiment of these characters is identical to the actors that are portraying them. I think it’s incredible. I just wonder, obviously games are going to go 3D and they already are, now. And you figure in 20 years, are we going have that that hologram chess game that you saw in Star Wars that you thought was so cool. Are we going to be doing that with video games somehow? It’s going to be really incredible to see where we’re at.

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Nerd Reactor: Another good example of some of the new games with impressive facial performance would be Infamous: Second Son for the PS4 starring Troy Baker. The animation for that, I think it looks amazing.

Roger Smith: Yeah, and it’s him. Like, that’s his face. It’s like, you see that, and go, “Oh, there’s Troy. What a trip.” We’re already there, you know?

Nerd Reactor: I was wondering, were you able to do that for the new Batman game with the motion capture, or is it strictly just voicing?

Roger Craig Smith: Oh, no. Don’t you think I look exactly like that guy? I mean, that’s me. No, to my best knowledge I honestly don’t know for sure if they did use any of the – ’cause I think there was a camera present when we were recording some of the dialogue, but I don’t recall if that was used to see how my mouth was moving or anything I was doing with my face. I don’t think specifically they were using that for any sort of motion capture, but I could be wrong. I was more focused on delivering a vocal performance at the time but we’ve done some facial motion capture for Assassin’s Creed in the past. Both of the Resident Evil games involved facial motion capture, but no, I don’t know for certain with Batman if they bothered. I know they did not use my face for any sort of rendering of the character though.

Nerd Reactor: Well, you never know, ’cause it’s the bottom half of his face.

Roger Craig Smith: True! I mean I saw somebody already do some fan photo stuff with Ben Affleck. Someone took a dark-looking picture of Ben Affleck and put the cowl over him and I was like, “It actually looks a lot like Batman,” so everybody is going “Oh, maybe it’ll work now!”

Nerd Reactor: Speaking of Ben Affleck, what are your thoughts on him being the new live-action Batman?

Roger Craig Smith: I don’t understand why everybody’s flipping out. I mean it’s one of the things where we get some of the most nonsensical responses. Do you remember when we heard Heath Ledger was going to be the Joker? People were flipping out about that, and he turned in arguably one of the best performances of the Joker that we’ve ever seen. At least in the live-action versions of the series, he’s just incredible in that role. Who would have thought, right? I hope we all have bigger problems in life than to worry so much about what actor has been cast in what role. And I think Affleck, very likely, could wind up doing an unbelievable job for all we know. But what’s the point in flipping out about it until we see what version of Batman they’re going to do with the next installment? I really don’t have any opinion either way because it’s like, “Well, why don’t we just wait and see?”

Nerd Reactor: It’s funny. It even went to the point where upset fans posted a petition on the White House site to make it illegal for Ben Affleck to be Batman. The White House took it down, of course.

Roger Craig Smith: Let’s inundate our government with, “Um, excuse me, Mr. President, but this cannot happen. I cannot have a very talented, highly accomplished actor and director and writer portraying a beloved character of a superhero that is completely fictitious. I cannot have this. I know you’re busy with foreign affairs and all that, but could you please step in and fix this for us?”

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, ’cause this is some serious business.

Roger Craig Smith: It is serious stuff. I mean I don’t know what the president’s working on right now, but I think someone needs to get on Batfleck. We have no problems in life as a country if this is the stuff that we’re going to hopefully bother our president with.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, our priorities are…

Roger Craig Smith: A little outta whack.

Nerd Reactor: Just a little.

Roger Craig Smith: Oh no! Twerking! Oh no! Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber peeing in a bucket. Oh! The world is coming to an end.

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Nerd Reactor: So how did you get the role of Batman? Did Warner Bros. contact you, or did you actively seek for the role?

Roger Craig Smith: No, like any job I really have ever been a part of, you get a phone call from your agency. They say “Hey, so-and-so wants you down at whatever location for an audition.” And you show up and you audition. It’s not glamorous, it’s not exciting. Granted, you might know of a casting director that you’ve worked with previously. But at the end of the day, it’s still up to you to go in and take the copy that they put in front of you and do something with it, enough to hopefully have a callback. And then from there, you start tweaking your performance more to what they’re looking for and then hopefully you land the role. And even then from there, you’re going to go in and you’ll still do other different things with the roles and develop it from that point going forward as well. So it is very much a collaborative effort. Once you landed the role, you’re working really close with the director, producer, creative director, writers and all sorts of people to sort of come up with the character. But as far as landing the role it was just a good old fashioned audition and call-back and then the landing the role and moving on.

Nerd Reactor: Were you nervous trying to follow up on Kevin Conroy’s Batman?

Roger Craig Smith: You know, I guess yes and no. I mean I definitely wasn’t approaching this from “I’m going to follow up on somebody’s performance.” Both Troy and I kind of laughed, saying when we had gotten the calls and landed the roles, it was like one of those moments where you go, “Oh, sweet! I got this role!” and then he went, “Oh, no, I got this role.” You know? We’ve got work to do. For one, it can go either way. It’s sort of like, you go in, you do your vocal performance and then hand it over to a number of people who can take it and do anything with it. And you don’t know what the final product’s going to be, so in its own right, that is always sort of a nerve-wracking thing to be a part of. But when it came time to get to work on this, I wasn’t nervous about whether or not people were going to respond to my version in comparison to a previous actor’s at all. It didn’t weigh in on me when I was in the booth. That’s not something I want to burden myself with. If anything, I just try to focus very simply on doing what the director is asking of me and making sure that the people on the other side of the glass are very happy with what they’re hearing – because they very likely have a far greater understanding of the scope of the project, the universe that all these characters are interacting with one another in.

It’s stuff that if I tried to have all of that knowledge, then I’m not gonna be focusing on doing my job and I’m gonna maybe deliver something that’s distracted. I tend to sit there and go, “OK, so what do you guys trying to work with? OK, how does this sound? No? You want to try it like this? OK, how about we try it like that? No? OK, how about this?” See, you sort of collaboratively come up with the character. I have yet to do a job where I have been able as a voice actor – and I wouldn’t want this – where I walk in and say, “This is the version of the character I’m going to do for you, and this is what you will accept.” It doesn’t work that way. You walk in and you start throwing stuff against the wall vocally and see if it sticks. That’s up to the directors and the producers and the writers and everybody that’s involved. Then at that, it’s like I’m just delivering a vocal performance. They go in and make it the character and all that kind of stuff.

So really, when it comes to the Kevin Conroy version and whether or not I was trying to emulate or impersonate, never once. I mean I had played the previous games and was aware of that version of Batman, but because we were doing a prequel, we were sort of thinking of a fresher perspective, a different perspective and wanting to make sure we paid homage to the character, not a prior performance, and that we weren’t doing something that was so out of character that people would go, “God this is so – !” We were very aware that there are versions of Batman that people have come to accept as being Batman. But I don’t think George Clooney looked at Michael Keaton and said, “I need to do Keaton’s Batman and make sure that that’s completely similar. And I don’t think Christian Bale look at Clooney’s Batman and said, “I need to do Clooney’s Batman.”

Nerd Reactor: Yeah. Judging from the trailer I think you and Troy did a great job with Batman and Joker, respectively.

Roger Craig Smith: Thank you.

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Nerd Reactor: It looks like the fans shouldn’t have anything to worry about for the final game.

Roger Craig Smith: I certainly hope so. I’m always amazed at people who – and it’s no different with the Ben Affleck thing. I mean who could ever think that collectively, people would go, “Yeah, OK. He’ll do a great job.” We don’t know. So when it comes to somebody like Troy or me taking on a role that’s iconic, that’s been done by other actors in the past and those versions are beloved by the fans, it’s not as if we take on the role and then go, “Sweet, I can’t wait to just completely destroy this character and ruin it for everybody.” We want to take the opportunity that’s been given to us to play an iconic character, so we want to do the best that we can for that character. At the end of the day that is the job. I want to make sure that what I am doing is being true to this character. And it’s no different than what Troy has done in the Lego Batman movie where he played Batman. I guarantee you he wasn’t sitting there thinking “Oh, I want this to be silly and goofy and this is the performance I’m going to give them and they’ll just sit there and take it.” No, he was working with people who were saying, “This is what we’re doing with this version of this character,” and it’s very funny. Everybody who was involved with that project delivered great performances of their characters. That’s what we want to do. So hopefully people will play the game, hopefully everything is going to come out and they’ll be very, very excited with this version of all of these characters that are involved in that game. And hopefully they’ll see that it’s like, “OK. We’re going treat it with just as much respect as anybody else would, given this opportunity.” I’m excited, man. I cannot for October 25th.

Nerd Reactor: Batman has a human side and a superhero side. In the previous games, we didn’t really get a chance to him as Bruce Wayne (Arkham City had it briefly). So I was wondering if we’ll be able to see more Bruce Wayne in Arkham Origins?

Roger Craig Smith: You know, I don’t know. I think we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we? I would love to be able to tell you either way but why bother ruining any sort of surprises if there are to be any? So, no. And again, I would be totally honest in saying that there are times where I don’t honestly know what version of whatever it is that I might be doing, ’cause sometimes I think they want to keep that stuff from me as well, within the game. But you know, I could give you any sort of different answer right now but really it all comes down to playing the game and experiencing it and you wouldn’t want any sort of spoilers or anything like that at this stage.

Nerd Reactor: So I’ve heard that your favorite villains are Joker and Harley. Do you have a favorite superhero character in general? Either Marvel or DC?

Roger Craig Smith: You know what? I kind of go back and forth. I love Iron Man; I think Iron Man’s really cool obviously. And the notion of Marvel vs DC to me, and people who are like, “No, I’m Marvel only” “Oh, I’m DC only.” It’s like, “Why? This is a big world with a lot of really creative people out there who are really seeing some incredible characters brought to life. But honestly I think Robert Downey Jr’s performance and even Christian Bale in Batman, they did such awesome jobs with those roles, which is why I think we’ve seen the movies have massive success. I don’t know man. To try to sit there and pick an absolute favorite is a bit tough. I think the little boy in me always goes back to Superman ’cause I think that was one of my first introductions to a superhero. He was the first but as an adult, which is ironic saying, “Well, as an adult, my favorite superhero is this…” But I don’t know. I guess it would be a toss-up between both Iron or Batman, and it’s based solely on the film versions that have been done recently, which is another reason why it’s really exciting and a huge opportunity for Ben Affleck to hit one out of the park with his version of it. So it’ll be fascinating to see what happens with the character with a new actor in the role.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, let’s say for one of those live-action superhero movies, if they were to call you up to perform as the male lead, would you take it?

Roger Craig Smith: I would have to assume that either Ashton Kutcher or Howie Mandel was on other other end of the phone when that phone call came in. ‘Cause I can only imagine how sad it would be to watch me just butcher and ruin everybody’s idea of what the character would look like if I were ever given an opportunity so, one of the greatest things about my job is just that I get a chance to, as a gentleman of shorter stature and thinning and graying hair, to sit there and say “I can vocally give something to some animators and they can take it and make it seem like you’re some big buff badass dude – and that’s B-A-D and not B-A-T-ass dude – that you’re some hardcore musclebound crime fighter and that’s not me at all in real life. If they were to offer me an on-camera role as either Batman or Captain America or anything like that, my performance would have to be so unbelievably bad that whatever actor they were to actually bring into the role after that could do nothing but hit a home run with it. You know, it would be a strategic move on their part. And if they paid me well, I’d be willing to do it. If they said, “Hey! You’re going to destroy this character and it’s by design because the public is not ready to see a short little dude in this role. But we think you’re going to be great in it and we know it’s going to destroy the character for everyone and that way when we bring in, you know, Seth Green to play Batman right after you, everybody’s just going to be chomping at the bit to see Seth Green play Batman. I’d go, “OK, cool. It makes sense to me! I’ll take one for the team. Sure thing!”

Check out Roger Craig Smith as Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins when it comes out on October 25, 2013.

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