Comic-Con: CD Andrea Romano Gives Voice to Superheroes
More than likely, Andrea Romano is responsible for some of your fondest childhood memories -- even though you've probably never heard of her or seen her face. Her impressive list of voiceover casting and directing credits reads like the 1980s and '90s inductees of a hypothetical Saturday morning cartoon Hall of Fame.
Romano has worked behind the scenes as a voiceover casting director and voice director for hit animated fare as varied as Hanna-Barbera cartoons, The Smurfs, Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Boondocks, and more. In a career spanning 25 years, Romano has 33 Emmy nominations and seven wins. Most recently, Romano has cast and directed the voiceover work for Warner Bros.' series of successful direct-to-video titles based on popular DC Comics superhero properties, including Batman and Wonder Woman.
The latest, Green Lantern: First Flight, will be released July 28 and features the voice talents of Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Victor Garber (Alias, Milk) as hero Hal Jordan and villain Sinestro, respectively, as well as Michael Madsen, John Larroquette, and Kurtwood Smith. (A Wonder Woman DVD, released earlier this year, stars Keri Russell as the titular heroine, with Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, and Virginia Madsen rounding out the cast).
Romano is currently attending the annual Comic-Con International: San Diego, where she will host panels and present screenings of Green Lantern: First Flight, as well as a special all-musical episode of the new WB animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (with Neil Patrick Harris providing the voice of the villain the "Musical Meister").
Blog Stage had the chance to speak with Romano before her appearances at Comic-Con. Read the Blog Stage Q&A with Romano below:
Blog Stage: What do you look forward to at Comic-Con?
Andrea Romano: Bruce Timm [creator of Batman: The Animated Series and other DC Universe animation] and I joke about how this is our rock star moment, where we're truly treated like celebrities. We are really behind-the-scenes people. Only recently have people stated doing DVD extras and entertainment shows where Bruce and I have been on camera, so people actually know what we look like and what we do. So people follow us around, and they ask to meet us, and they come to our panels, and they ask us questions, and it's remarkable the way they treat us. It's very rewarding, and sometimes a little bit scary.
I am in the unique position of being able to offer people work. People want to get to me because they want to get their demos to me, they want to get work from me, and so I have to be a little bit careful of keeping my distance. I'm a small person – I am only five feet tall. Sometimes I get in large crowds, and I get scared because I am afraid I am going to get trampled. But I love Comic-Con!
You're dealing with rabid fans when it comes to comic book properties like Batman and Superman. Do you get a lot of feedback (positive or negative) from fans about your casting and voice decisions?
The audiences at Comic-Con and the audiences that watch my cartoon are my real bosses. Those are the people that I am truly working for. I have to please the audience. I like knowing what they like and don’t like. I will answer their questions [at Comic-Con panels], and then I will ask the entire group as a whole, "What do you guys think? Do you prefer this over that? Did you like this Batman over that Batman? What is your feeling?"
I get a lot of information from that, but it can be intimidating and it can be a little bit scary, because some of the fans are obsessed. I am a fan myself of so many things, and so I understand fandom obsession.
I've learned as I went. But I also was very aware of how much I didn’t know, and wasn’t afraid to ask. For example, I just recorded an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that has the Flash in different incarnations, and I wasn’t really aware of all the different Flashes that have existed. So I had to do my research and find out who is this guy, and how old is this guy, and what’s his back story, and how did he come to be, and where is he now in his development?
The first Batman series I did was Batman: The Animated Series, where I began a whole journey into the DC universe and have never looked back. Here I am 20 years later still working in that universe and loving it, and still learning.
How do you find a voice that is a balance between the heroic in-costume character, and also their mild-mannered alter ego?
There are [projects] that we have to decide, "How different are we playing Bruce Wayne from Batman, vocally? Do we want to be able to tell that it is the same guy, or do we want the voice to be so disguised that we can’t possibly tell it’s the same guy?" That has always been one of those funny things. Now, Batman wears a cape and cowl, so at least he’s got that disguise to help him separate. I have always found it fascinating that all the smart people that surround Superman and Clark Kent don’t recognize him simply because he puts some glasses on.
Sometimes there will be a piece where we never see Batman as Bruce Wayne, and we only ever see him as Batman. For example, in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the series that we are doing right now, we never see Bruce Wayne throughout the entire series. But when we hear Batman thinking – which is a technique we use quite often – when we hear the voiceover and hear him thinking, it’s the voice of Bruce Wayne we hear, because the character really is Bruce Wayne. He just puts on the Batman persona.
Do you ever hear any backlash or criticism from voiceover actors who think celebrities are stealing their jobs?
Sure, I often hear it from actors that they look at their jobs as being taken away by celebrities. But I fight for the right actor for the job. If there is clearly a rank-and-file actor who is better than the celebrity that the company wants to go for, I will fight for that actor. I like working with celebrities, but in a lot of ways it’s very difficult. Their schedule is bad and I have to find some way to wedge everything together with everyone's availability. There is often an entourage involved. Often when we use celebrities, the company wants press, so there are cameras and makeup. I like to use celebrities in a much more casual situation, and I don’t want them to have to be on camera.
Even when there's a celebrity or two in a piece, they are surrounded with rank-and-file actors. And those are the guys that are carrying the heavy weight, and are doing three roles, and have to sound completely different and separate. I love voiceover actors. I find them the least neurotic of all the actors that you might have to work with. They aren’t being rejected because they aren’t tall enough or pretty enough or young enough. Either they can do the voice, or they can’t do the voice.
Do you think celebrity voiceovers are more common or in-demand now than they were in the era of Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoons?
Absolutely. I can remember back in Hanna-Barbera cartoons maybe only one or two celebrity voices being used. There was Tony Curtis, who played "Stoney Curtis" on The Flintstones, and Ann-Margret as "Ann-Margrock." And other than that, I don’t really remember many celebrities doing cartoon voices.
Celebrities didn’t want anything to do with commercials or voiceover or cartoons. Now they are begging their agents, "Find me a commercial campaign." "Get me on Spongebob Squarepants." "Please, I would love to be a part of the Batman series. My kid is a huge fan of Batman and if I show up on a Batman episode I will be the hero of my household." It doesn’t matter how many great movies they have done, or how many great TV shows, if their small children can’t watch their work.
It’s also for the fun. You often get cast in a role that you wouldn’t get cast for on camera, because you may not look like that character. You may be too tall or too blonde. You may not be fat enough, but you can make your voice sound that way. And in animation, you get to be so broad. Much bigger and much broader than you would [normally act on screen].
So it’s almost theatrical?
Very much so. I have discovered over the years that theater actors make the transition to voiceover acting for animation easier, smoother, and faster than feature film actors. Because feature film actors are used to working very small, where the camera captures everything. Many performances are barely more than a whisper in on-camera acting, but in animation it’s got to be bigger and broader. Stage actors are used to that slightly larger energy and so they seem to make that transition very well.
You've previously mentioned the physical traits of a voice – such as Superman having big shoulders and a broad chest, for example. Does physicality play as big of a role as the voice itself when you're casting someone like Christopher Meloni as the Green Lantern?
Christopher Meloni, coincidentally, is very physically similar to Green Lantern. But I don’t care what the actor looks like, and I don’t care if they are a celebrity or rank and file voice over actor. It’s about finding the right voice for the character. If they are the right guy for the character, I will petition and fight for that actor.
If we are depicting a skinny little character, we want to try to make the voice sound like what the character looks like. Now sometimes it’s fun to play opposites; sometimes you want to have a voice that is very thin and reedy to play a big, huge character. But more often than not, you want a voice that fits what the physical design is going to be.
Christopher Meloni and Victor Garber read their lines together when recording the new DVD Green Lantern: First Flight. Do you usually record each actor's voice separately, or together as if on set?
Only for the direct-to-home videos that have so many celebrity voices in them do we record actors separately. I am always trying to book what is called an ensemble record. I much prefer the actors being given the chance to react to each others' performances than for me to have to read them in and out of their lines, because that way if you record each actor individually then you have to remember what the guy before him did and the guy after him did, or imagine what the guy before him did if he hasn’t been recorded yet. That requires many, many more takes than if you have them actually react to the real person in the room.
How much guidance do you typically have to give to celebrity actors -- like Christopher Meloni, Michael Madsen, and Keri Russell -- who have less experience acting with just their voices?
Most of those celebrities are cast because we have seen their acting work. We are familiar with how good they are as actors, and that’s number one. I can teach microphone technique, I can teach an actor how not to pop, I can teach them how to get rid of the wind sounds of breathing, and I can teach them how not to turn pages on their dialogue lines so they don’t get paper noise under it. I can’t, in a four-hour recording session, teach them how to act. One can be taught acting, I believe – I just don’t think you can do it in a four-hour session.
I bring in those actors because I know that they are strong, good actors, and then I teach them the specifics in voiceover and the specifics of animation. The kinds of things that I may have to tell them: "You are running during this scene, so you have to give me that kind of running energy. You can’t just speak it as if you and I are on the couch having a conversation." I can teach them, technically, to do impacts – the sound of them getting punched in the stomach, the sound of them throwing a punch, the sound of them slipping and falling.
They also have to be willing to make an absolute fool of themselves. In recording sessions, I deliberately make myself as goofy, as large, and as silly as I can so that no matter what the actor has to do, they are going to look less silly than I am. I put them at ease by being silly, and not being afraid to make my face contort and look ridiculous, because they need to use their physicality while they are acting with their voices. If they just stand there like a stick, you can tell. If they are moving around and doing the physical action and moving their faces, that will read. It’s tricks like those that I can easily turn the actor onto.
Do you think part of the reason that voiceover work can be fun and goofy is because there is the safety blanket of not being on camera?
Absolutely. The actors can come in in their pajamas for all I care. I want them to come in comfortably dressed. They don’t have to have any makeup on, as long as their voices are warmed up and they are ready to go. I want it to be a beautiful and comfortable environment for them to just make a complete fool of themselves and break free and discover things about their acting that even they didn’t know they could do.
What advice do you have for aspiring voice actors?
I encourage everybody to pursue this. Take acting classes – regular, good old-fashioned acting classes. The number one thing about voiceover acting is the acting. You can learn how to do voices, but you can’t learn how to act unless you’ve had the training. Then take voiceover classes specifically geared towards voiceover, towards animation, towards trailers, towards commercials. It’s all different.
You don’t necessarily have to learn how to do different voices. For example, Ben Stein is really only a one-voice guy, but he uses it so well. Whenever I need that kind of voice, I am going to go to Ben Stein. So if you only have one voice, that’s fine, but you need to really hone your skills so that you are the best at that voice. And then there are the versatile voiceover actors, the actors that at the drop of a hat can do the crying baby, the maitre d' at the restaurant, and the 90-year-old evil sorcerer all in the same session, and sound like three distinctly different people.
Do you ever hold open calls for voiceover work?
Years ago, when I was on staff at Hanna-Barbera, I used do yearly general auditions. That was because we had our own recording facility in the building. This was also a time when there were actual seasons that we would record animation in. There was a casting season, a recording season, and a post-production season. And then there was a down time, and during that down time I would do general auditions because the studio wasn’t being used to record. It was keeping people employed, and it was a great way to use that time.
Now there is no free time, no free studios, and I miss [open calls]. I wish I could still do them, because it is a great way to find new talent. Now I have to rely on agents to tell me about new actors that they find, and teachers to tell me new actors they have found and sent to agents. But I am always on the lookout for new actors… and I track them down and give them a shot.
-- Daniel Lehman