Conroy Talks Dark Knight Role In Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
It happens in some unusual places. A number of years ago, I was in the Hollywood Post Office parking lot. I left everything in the car, because I was just going straight to the mail drop with the envelope. This guy, who was sitting on the curb, obviously homeless, says to me “Hey, buddy, have you got a quarter?” And I said, “I'm so sorry. I literally don't. I have nothing.” He said, “You're Kevin Conroy!” I got really nervous – you just assume that your job is anonymous working on animation, so I asked him how he knew that and he said, “Oh, everybody knows who's Batman.” I said, “No, believe me, everyone doesn't know who's Batman.” He said, “Oh, please--please--please--please do the voice.” He said, “Just say it … I am vengeance.” He knew the lines. I said, “I am vengeance.” He said, “Oh, my God. Batman's here! Batman's here!” He said, “Say it: I am the night.” I said, “I am the night.” He said, “Go! Go! Finish! Finish!” And I said “I am Batman!” So the two of us are there screaming “I am Batman!” in the parking lot, and he started clapping and clapping, yelling “I can't believe I have Batman in the parking lot.”
He went on to explain to me that all television monitors at the Circuit City on Hollywood Blvd. showed Batman every day, and he would stand outside and watch the show. So I said, “Wait, just a second,” and I went running back to the car for some cash. He said, “Oh, I can't take Batman's money.” I told him he was going to take Batman's money so he wouldn’t tell anyone that Batman is cheap (he laughs). That whole scene was wild, though – the last place you'd expect for someone to recognize a voice actor is in the parking lot of the post office.
You’re a classically trained actor and a graduate of Juilliard. Did you receive any instruction at Julliard that prepared you for voiceover work?
At that time, Juilliard was the new hot place to go if you wanted to be an actor, My classmates were people like Robin Williams, Kelsey Grammer, Frannie Conroy. We were all kids. Robin and I were roommates for two years, stealing food from each other when the other wasn’t looking. We were starving students.
Robin was brilliant at the one thing that is perhaps what best prepared me for what I do now, voicework. There was a famous teacher named Pierre LeFevre who ran the mask program at Juilliard. French masks conceal just the upper part of the face. This is classical French theatre, and it's all part of a very classical education. You put on these masks and they completely neutralize who you are. You become a different person. You can't use the expressions on your face – you can only use your body and your voice. Robin lived in those mask classes – he would put on these masks and just become these unbelievable characters. Pierre practically adopted Robin. There was some really inspired stuff going on. The point is that in that class, all you could use was your voice. It really made you focus on that – especially on characterization in your voice.
Did you have any clue that would lead you somewhere?
It’s like that old expression – life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. I made all these plans to be a classical actor, and you can't make a living in the theatre anymore. There are no more classical actors. Everyone who survives in the theatre does it by doing TV and film … or voice work.
I had no idea that this is what I would end up doing, but it certainly prepared me for it. I get that question a lot from people. How do you get into this business? How do I get into voice work? And I always say, “Well, you go to Juilliard for four years …” (he laughs) That’s the thing – everyone's route is unique.
Did you have much voiceover success before Batman?
Actually, I started doing voice work in the early '80s, and the very first voice job I did was the first commercial I auditioned for. Remember Paco Rabanne cologne? The hook line was “What is remembered is up to you.” That was me. And over the next couple years, it paid me $25,000 for those few words. It paid for a lot of theatre acting.