You’ve probably heard Roger Craig Smith’s voice. He’s been part of such a wide variety of projects, from films like Wreck-it Ralph and Planes, to animated series like Regular Show and Avengers Assemble, to video games like Assassin’s Creed, plus voice narration in TV shows and commercials.
Smith was recently cast as the voice of one of the most iconic character of all time, Batman, in Batman: Arkham Origins and it’s follow-up DLC Cold, Cold Heart. Smith took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about what it’s like to play the Dark Knight.
Be sure to check back tomorrow when we’ll share the second part of our interview, with Smith telling us about play Sonic the Hedgehog in the upcoming Sonic Boom video game and animated series.
Did you know about Cold, Cold Heart when you were working on Origins?
No, I think towards the tail end of us, for lack of a better term, with principal record, I think toward the tail end they mentioned “Hey, we’ll probably be hitting you up in a few months for some DLC.” Sometimes that’s anticipated, sometimes it’s not, and it just depends on the project. I actually wasn’t anticipating it, because I knew that this was sort of an “origin story” game, I wasn’t sure the likelihood of any DLC coming out after it. So I was pleasantly surprised.
Batman is a pretty big role to step into. Was it easier coming back to record Cold, Cold Heart after Origins than it was to step into the role initially?
In some ways it felt like maybe the pressure was off, which was kind of nice, but not necessarily any easier. Anytime you’re going to take the reins of a role like that, I think it’s just a given that the pressure is on. So many of us that get to work in this business and are such fans of the video games and the animation projects and all of that, it’s not lost on us what it means to get to voice one of the big guys.
Anytime you’re going to step in and voice a character as iconic as Batman, there is an element of pressure because you want to do justice to what an honor it is to play a character like that, but you always want to do justice to the fans because you’re a fan yourself. So you want to make sure. It’s like, gosh, I hope everybody likes this version. I hope everybody likes what I’m doing. So sometimes you’re trying hard not to think about that stuff, but I think it’s always there that there’s a lot of pressure to make sure you get hat character right.
The second time, after having done it with Origins and doing it for Cold, Cold Heart, it was nice to be able step back in and be kind of like, okay, I remember this guy, and now let’s see what they’ve got in store for him with this little version of the story.
Now that the game is out, how has the reaction from fans been? Has your performance been received warmly, or have you gotten a lot of cries of “you’re not my Batman!?”
You’re never going to satisfy anybody who has, in their mind, a set individual as “that’s their Batman.” So right of the bat, if somebody’s like “you’re not my Batman,” I’m like, okay, you’re right, I’m not. There’s nothing I can do to become “your” Batman. You have your version of Batman.
Thankfully, some of the greatest responses that I’ve seen out there, and they’re fair, and they’re exactly what I would have hoped for, because it’s not lost on me what it means, especially in the Arkham series of games , to have someone else don the cape and cowl, as they say, or to take on the role of the Joker, like with what Troy [Baker] was dealing with. It’s not lost on us what that means, because there are such diehard fans, myself included, of those previous two games.
Some of the greatest responses that I’ve seen, that I feel are fair and massively complimentary, are the ones where they basically say “he does a great job of what we could perceive a younger version of Kevin Conroy’s Batman would sound like.” That’s testimony to the work that guys like Eric Holmes and Amanda Wyatt, our voice director, put into making sure that what we were doing was staying the vein of what people know as those two versions of those two character, but also kind of saying we need to explore where a less refined, a more unhinged Batman, or at least Bruce Wayne, would be, and his relationships with Alfred and with Gordon and with the other criminals, how he handles the problems and all that.
Even approaching the Mr. Freeze element, I’m sure there were times when it’s like, “Who’s going to play Mr. Freeze? Because Arnold Schwarzenegger is my Mr. Freeze! How dare you ever replace Arnold Scwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze?” How do you compete with somebody like that?
To use that term “haters,” there’s always going to be haters out there for any project I’m involved with. Arguably, I received a lot of that stuff with the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise as well. It’s just kind of part of it. When people understand and give it a chance and understand that what you’re doing and what creatively and collectively everybody involved with the project is going for, I think they’ll find out that it’s like, hey, we understand the honor that it is to take the reins on a project like this and we want to knock it out of the park for you.
I always laugh when people are like, “What do they think they’re doing? Ben Affleck!?! Oh, no!” Everybody freaks out about these things and, you know, give it a chance. Let us see what their creative, collective vision is going to be. I don’t think anybody ever steps into any sort of a role that’s been done previously by someone else and says, “Man, I cannot wait to ruin this character for everyone.” We all approach it as, we’re going to do our absolute best to portray the character as true as we can to the character and to pay homage to the honor of being part of it. That’s what we did. So when fans get it and they say, “This is great, it sounds like a younger Kevin Conroy’s Batman,” it’s the ultimate compliment. That’s what I like hearing.
For the most part, there’s always going to be…what the old saying? “You can please some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.” So, you do the best you can’t.
For the record, I think you pretty much nailed the younger Kevin Conroy Batman.
Thank you, that’s what we were going for, thank you.
You were cast as Batman at the same time that Troy Baker came in to replace Mark Hamill as the Joker. Do you think that both of you being in these roles for the first time made the experience easier or more difficult than if you had been playing opposite of Hamill, who had been playing the role for so long?
I don’t really know. I can sit here and say, if anything, when I heard what Troy was doing and I heard how chillingly awesome it was, I thought, “Oh, crap” [laughs]. Now I’m under the gun just as much! But I knew that he was hitting it out of the park, so I thought, uh oh, what if people are going to go, “Well, Troy nails it, but Roger, meh!”
But I don’t really know. I think, thankfully, since it was an origin story and we were coming in it from a different perspective and from a different time, that kind of lessened the blow of people going, “What!? Who do you have doing this!?” Because they understood that what we were trying to do was visit these characters at a younger time in their lives. And it’s not to say that all of sudden they’re going to sound prepubescent, we were just trying a little something different with this. So I think, thankfully, they kind of eased people into understanding, okay, so we’re visiting these characters at a little bit of a younger time, so we’ll unfold our arms and maybe pick up a game controller and see what’s what. “He’s not my Batman! That’s not my Joker!” You know, but I think once people pick up the controller and realize the work that everybody did, the writers, the producers, the voice director, everybody involved they’ll see, “Okay, we were in good hands here.”
When you came back to do Cold, Cold Heart after Arkham Origins, were there any tweaks or changes you wanted to make to the voice performance?
I don’t know that we were trying to do anything different other than trying to make sure that we stayed consistent, as far as where the timeline would be, what version of Batman we left off with. It wasn’t as if we were all of a sudden going to say, “Well, we learned a couple of things with Origins, let’s suddenly give Batman a Turkish accent.” It was more just about trying to make sure that we stayed in the right vein of where we left the character in the timeline, and the sequence of events taking place within Origins. So no, I don’t think so, especially from the character standpoint, especially from my standpoint. I don’t think we were trying to do anything vastly different.
You also voice Captain America in Avengers Assemble. Do you find there are similarities in playing those characters, or does one come more naturally to you than the other? Is there more pressure involved in playing one character or the other?
No, I don’t think there’s any greater sense of pressure from one to the other, because both are so iconic in their own right that there’s always the pressure there.
As far as difficulty in voicing, they’re both challenging. Batman’s a challenging guy to voice because he’s very, very, sort of reserved, and he kind of lived in this tight little box of where you can take that character before it starts to feel too silly, or this is too emotional, or too unhinged. And it’s difficult to work in your lower register, because he’s so dark and brooding, and still find sort of musical notes to kind of hit to keep it kind of alive and at least have it bring some life to the performance. And it’s difficult to do that for four hours in a video game session.
Captain America has his own set of challenges just because he’s a lot more action-packed. Having a military background, he tends to be a lot louder and he throws that darn shield in just about every single episode, over and over and over again, so I’m constantly grunting, and yelling, and screaming for Captain America. So that’s also taxing on the voice, in a lot of ways.
As far as one being more challenging than the other, it’s kind of a 50-50 split, and the pressure to do a great job with each of these character…I will say, with a character like Captain America, I’m an American so, you know, I kind of have to get it right or they might kick me out [laughs]! But Batman’s no different, I still cannot believe that I’ve had chance to voice both of these characters. Both of them, they’re just so equally iconic, it’s kind of unreal. It’s very surreal to get a chance to be a part of one of these, let alone both.
You’ve voiced Batman as he’s gone up against two of his most iconic villains in the Joker and Mr. Freeze. If the tables were turned and you had the opportunity to voice one of the bad guys, who would you like to have a shot at?
Huh, I don’t really know. Maybe the Riddler? That’s interesting, I don’t really know. The Joker’s so deliciously evil, but once Mark Hamill and Troy Baker have set a bar where they’ve set it, the notion of trying to do something like that would be ridiculous. I couldn’t’ even reach that. But maybe the Riddler, he’d be kind of a fun one to do, he’s kind of a goofball and unhinged and that definitely describes me as an individual. That’s interesting, I never really thought about that. Maybe the Riddler. Penguin’s a lot of fun too, but, again, you’ve got Nolan North kicking so much butt in that role.
Has there been any talk of you returning to voice Batman again? Maybe in another game set during his early years?
It’s a very funny thing about our business, but it’s absolutely true: I would have no idea. Until those ducks are all in a row, usually the voice cast is one of the last group of individuals to find out. There are so many things that go into this, so many decisions that get made that don’t involve me, and for good reason.
There’s a lot of things to consider when it comes to selecting a voice cast. I was exceptionally honored to get to do Origins and Cold, Cold Heart, and would, of course, jump at the chance, but I treat every single job I go to as, hey, this could be the only time I do this character, or at any moment you could get swapped out or replaced with someone else. I spent three years working on Disney Planes, and every single time I came in to do the voice of Ripslinger I would knock on all the wood at the studio and the director, Klay Hall, would laugh and say, “You’re still in it.” And I would say, “I know, but I know how this business works, and who knows who this Roger Craig Smith guy is? They could get a celebrity to come in and replace his entire performance. Why don’t we do that?”
And I get it, it doesn’t offend me. At the end of the day there are a lot of people who are investing a lot of time and money into making these things happen, and so they have to decide all of those decisions, and it’s an unfun thing to experience, but my job is just to go in and give it the best I can. To have Origins and Cold, Cold Heart come to fruition is awesome and an exceptional honor and a victory all around for me. To think of anybody giving me the chance to do it again is like, wow, okay, yes, in a heartbeat, but are you sure? I think I was kind of baffled when it happened the first time, with Origins. I was like, “Really? Really, me? Like, you’ve seen me right? You sure I’m the guy you want to go with?” So, even thinking about it beyond this is really difficult to do. You just can’t believe you got the chance to do it once, let alone twice with some DLC, and to think that there might be something else with it would just be incredible.
So honestly, I have no idea. They don’t mention that kind of stuff, and for good reason, because next thing you know somebody goes, “Hey man, yeah, we’re going to do another game with you,” and then whoever that guy was gets fired and another company takes over, or another guy come in says, “No, I don’t like Roger. He’s not my Batman” [laughs], and they go with somebody else. You never know. I always just treat every job like I cannot believe I’m here, and I can’t believe I’m over a voiceover microphone for a job, and boy oh boy I’m going to do the best I can because it can all come crashing to a halt tomorrow.