CATWOMAN: HUNTED Producer Ethan Spaulding Talks Selina Kyle's First Feature And Anime Influence (Exclusive)

CATWOMAN: HUNTED Producer Ethan Spaulding Talks Selina Kyle's First Feature And Anime Influence (Exclusive)

Catwoman: Hunted producer Ethan Spaulding talks about giving Selina Kyle the spotlight in her own movie, the staying power of the character, assembling the cast and creative team, Mortal Kombat, and more!

In the all-new original Catwoman: Hunted, Selina Kyle's attempt to steal a priceless jewel puts her squarely in the crosshairs of both a powerful consortium of villains and the ever-resourceful Interpol, not to mention Batwoman. It might just be enough to contain her. Or not. The latest movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is an absolute riot, and a great start to 2022 for DC Animation.

Earlier this week, we caught up with producer Ethan Spaulding to talk about Catwoman's first full-length animated feature. He's a veteran in the world of animation, and as well as helming Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge and Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, Spaulding directed Son of BatmanBatman: Assault on Arkham, and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.

Of course, we're sure you'll also know Ethan's work on franchises like Avatar: The Last Airbender and ThunderCats, and he had plenty of interesting stories to share about working on this project.

As well as sharing an update on a possible third instalment of the Mortal Kombat franchise, the producer talks about the anime approach to this story, why now was the right time to give Selina Kyle the spotlight, and breaks down a key romance sequence featuring Catwoman and Batwoman. Providing a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, we think you'll enjoy this as much as the movie!

Catwoman: Hunted is set for release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and Digital on February 8, 2022.
 

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To start with, why do you think now is the right time for Catwoman to finally get her first, full-length animated movie?

I think it’s always been time, actually [Laughs]. She’s a great character. I think everyone loves Catwoman. I know I do and there’s not enough of her. She’s always a guest or someone making a cameo appearance in other people’s films, and I think finding out more about her is a great thing.

By now, I think a lot of fans are used to the DC animated movies looking a certain way, so where did the idea to take things in a different direction in terms of the animation style come from for Catwoman: Hunted?

It’s been a popular idea for a while, but for this particular film, it came from the need for DC to branch out. They did Batman: Ninja a few years ago and that got the ball rolling, and Warner Bros. had done some co-productions with Batman and Studio 4C before. It’s always been there on the side, and I think everyone at the studio is a fan of animation and it’s a great thing to see what an anime version of a DC character would look like. 

Elizabeth Gillies, Stephanie Beatriz, and Lauren Cohan are three huge, immensely talented actors, but what would you say made them the right choices for the iconic roles they inhabit in this movie?

What made them a great choice besides their actual acting chops (which is always good) is that they liked the material too and it shows. They inhabited these characters really well, Elizabeth especially. I now couldn’t picture anyone doing these roles besides them, so I think we were lucky to have them on board. 

I do think this movie has probably the best ensemble cast of any of these recent DC animated features, but in terms of putting that together, where do you come in as a producer and how long does the process take to get everyone on board?

It takes a few weeks actually depending on the actor’s schedule. They’re all busy with their own schedule, so there’s a list that’s made like a wishlist. We then go down from there and if you can’t have this actor, you can choose another. It’s kind of tricky because you have the actors you’re wishing will work on the film and you think would fit the personalities of the characters, but fate then kind of dictates who’s available at what time and then with a little bit of luck dictates what happens. It’s a few weeks I’d say for it all to come together. 

You’ve got an incredible team behind the scenes too with Greg Weisman and Shinsuke Terasawa; what made them the right choice of writer and director to tell this particular story in your eyes?

Greg, in particular, is a huge wealth of information and a big DC fan. He’s perfect because he likes to insert Easter Eggs and references that branch out to other DC characters. It’s great for fans of Greg’s to watch anything he writes because they can see what he puts into it. If you’re a big comic book fan, it’s an especially great thing for you. And Shinsuke, he’s a veteran of anime. He was an action director early on in the 1980s with made for video anime, but if you look him up and see his credit list online…I think I grew up watching most of his shows. We were blessed to have him on the crew working on this as well. He wanted a chance to work on a DC character as it’s not often they get to play with superheroes from the West. 

I loved seeing Catwoman take centre stage in this movie without being a supporting character to Batman - did you ever consider including him given his popularity or was it always important to focus more on Selina?

I think focusing on Catwoman was the most important thing. However, there is talk of Batman and he’s alluded to in the script a few times, so his presence is there even though we don’t see him. He’s an important presence in Gotham City, and his relationship with Catwoman is particularly important. He’s there in spirit in this one, but I agree with you that this is unique because, at the end of the day, it is a female story. This feels like the first time we’re seeing female heroes through the whole movie and they’re not side characters, so it’s a great film in that respect. 
 

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This movie takes some very bold and exciting creative decisions, particularly with the romantic tension between Catwoman and Batwoman; where did that idea come from and did you ever have any reservations about exploring that dynamic when it isn’t necessarily something fans will have seen in the comics?

Right. The relationship with Batwoman and Catwoman was something we wanted to play with in the story. I think it’s a smart move because it teases the past history of these two characters and we do have a romantic, seductive, and playful scene between them. That was something we had to think a lot about as it was a case of asking, ‘What can we show? What should we show?’ The animation team in Japan had reservations too because they know about American censorship laws regarding animation, so we pushed that as far as we could with innuendo and implying certain things. It was fun and I’m glad it’s in there too as it’s a hallmark of Japanese animation as well. 

I know there’s always so much going on in the DC Universe with movies and TV shows, so is there anything ever off limits with projects like this one or do you get a lot of freedom when it comes to the characters you can use and the stories you’re able to tell?

Yeah, because it’s animation, and in certain instances like this because it’s an anime, we get a little more freedom to create our own storylines that aren’t necessarily from a graphic novel or comic books. That makes this unique. I enjoy these types of stories where we can explore in animation the sort of stuff that didn’t happen in the comics, but still adheres to the rules that have been set up in the source material.

Between this movie and The Batman, it feels like 2022 is the year of Selina Kyle; what is about her do you think makes Catwoman such a beloved and iconic character in this world of superheroes?

I think for me, what makes Catwoman so unique compared to other DC characters is that she’s an anti-hero. She’s a survivor, but has a playful side, and those tend to be the most interesting characters. Deep down, she’s good at heart, and she’s very practical in some sense where she does what she needs to survive, whether that’s playing both sides or being romantically involved with certain characters at certain times to get to her objective. She’s multifaceted and that’s why she’s interesting. It’s not just black and white in terms of her intentions. 

For you personally, what was your first exposure to the Catwoman character and what made you a fan?

For me, it was reruns of Batman ‘66. Julie Newmar’s Catwoman stayed with me since I was a kid. There were all the others that followed, of course, but that one stayed with me. Since then, with all the incarnations that have followed, I think you remember her. The Tim Burton films, for example, show that everyone does their own version and it feels correct for that movie. She’s like Batman; Catwoman is open to interpretation by her creators and always rings true. 

You’ve directed DC animated films like this one in the past, so do you feel that experience is a big part of what you bring to the table as a producer on a movie like this one?

I hope so [Laughs]. Having some understanding of what Shinsuke go through definitely helps, but being a producer is a little bit different. It’s overseeing things and spinning all the plates. It’s kind of an overview in a lot of senses. With most of this movie handled overseas like the storyboard and designs (with a brilliant character designer, Eriko Okada, who was a fan of DC Comics), but we lucked out. To answer your question, I think it does help, but everything helps in your trajectory. If you directed first and are then producing, it all feeds into the next thing.

On another note, you’re obviously coming off the back of two very successful Mortal Kombat movies, so are you hoping you might be back for a third chapter in that trilogy and have you had any thoughts about what that might look like?

I hope there’s more. I don’t know if they’ve been announced. Those were fun to work on and, again, Mortal Kombat’s lore being explored in animation is a great avenue to explore that world. These direct to video animated films are a great opportunity to explore these franchises and characters and develop more. 

I know you’ve worked on a lot of different DC characters as a director and animator, but are there any you’re still hoping to maybe take a crack at after delivering this first solo animated movie for Catwoman?

Catwoman was the big one. Cheetah too, so I’m glad I get to cross that one off the list. There’s too many, but I like the obscure ones. They’re fun for me. I don’t think I can mention any right now [Laughs] because I don’t want to start any rumours. There are tonnes. Tonnes! 
 

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