2021 marks the 25th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series, and to celebrate, the entire show arrived on Blu-ray for the first time ever earlier this week (remastered, of course). The series starred Tim Daly as Kal-El/Superman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, and received nominations for 11 Daytime Emmys between 1997 and 2000, winning two of them.
It's quite rightly considered a classic, and the Blu-ray box set includes all 54 episodes, a new featurette titled "Superman: Timeless Icon," and audio commentary on a number of classic instalments.
Andrea Romano is an absolute legend in the world of voice directing and casting, and is responsible for enlisting Tim Daly to play Superman, Kevin Conroy to lend his voice to Batman, and even Mark Hamill in one of his most iconic roles as The Joker. That barely scratches the surface of her incredible career, though, as Andrea has worked on plenty of massive franchises outside of DC including Hanna-Barbera, Animaniacs, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ben 10, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
In this interview, we learn more about casting the Man of Steel and get Andrea's thoughts on the legacy of Superman: The Animated Series. She also reflects on some of her favourite guest stars, explaining how a cameo for Hamill led to him becoming DC's most beloved Clown Prince of Crime.
For our readers who may not understand the importance of a voice director on an animated project like Superman: The Animated Series, can you talk about what that role entails and why it is so crucial?
There are two directors involved in any animated project. One is the voice director and one is the animation director. They have very specific, different jobs. Most important I think is that the voice director actually gets their hand on the project even before the animation director does meaning, in production, the voice track is recorded first. So, anything we do in the voice track will determine what a great deal of the animation is. We may go in after the fact and after it’s animated to do some of the fight wala, but we establish the animation by creating a voice track. I was a big fan of ensemble recording and bringing all the actors in and having them all in the same room at the same time, so they could act and react to each other. It makes an enormous difference in how the voice track comes out; a large part of acting is reacting, and if you don’t have the person who has the line in front of you there, then you don’t really know what to react to. I always like that.
Also, when I prepped a script, got it ready for recording, and determined what things the actors needed to be told to affect their performance, I would hear the whole performance in my head. However, I always liked to keep an open mind and let the actors contribute what they thought the right performance was. I knew what I wanted and or needed, but you hire actors rather than technicians to do voices because they have ideas and because they have this wonderful sense of, ‘I think it might go this way.’ Oftentimes, they would have a better idea than I did or we would get my idea and their idea and let the animation director or producer decide which one they wanted to use. It’s crucial we get that part of it right because everything else that follows is determined by what was done with the voice recording.
Tim Daly’s Superman has become as iconic as Kevin Conroy’s Batman in this voice acting realm, but what about them do you think made them such perfect choices to play these iconic characters?
It’s so interesting because they actually knew each other. I think it was Kevin that told me that when Wings, the on camera series that arguably made Tim Daly famous, was being made, they were both in the running for that on camera role. Tim got it, and it just so happened we went into Batman: The Animated Series soon after that Kevin got. Then, we were doing masses of auditions for these characters, whether it’s Superman or Batman because they’re both huge, iconic characters. You have to do a major search. You have to really see what’s out there and who would be the best voice for these characters.
I remember, it happened to be right about this time of year or maybe a little later as we’d done a bunch of auditions and we had a couple of actors who were okay and we could use them, but I don’t remember who specifically suggested Tim - it could have been the agent or somebody on production - but he came in right before Thanksgiving. I try to make the actors feel comfortable when they’re there auditioning and I don’t think Tim had had a tremendous amount of experience doing this work yet. So, when actors come in not feeling like they’re on solid ground, I always try to make them feel comfortable, so I was joking with Tim about how many pounds per person of turkey should I serve and those kinds of things. We loosened him up a little bit and he gave a performance that was so natural…even though I know this isn’t specifically Tim’s personality, he has a voice - and I mean no negative thing by this - that has kind of a boy scout quality that we needed in our Clark Kent and Superman. I mean no negative thing when I say boy scout; I mean that he needs to sound like a good guy. Like a man who will always make the right ethical choice. An alien with ethics.
Tim was just the right actor at the right time, and I can’t deny that because he was a known on camera actor, that didn’t hurt for things like publicity. I watched Tim grow during the series and learn in those ensemble recording sessions. He learned from the established voiceover actors I surrounded him with and he learned how to do this thing. He began to have more and more fun doing it and at this point, he’s just stellar at it. I’m still so shocked it’s 25 years since we produced this series. It’s just amazing it’s been a quarter-century.
You have worked on so many iconic projects over the years, but are you surprised by the longevity that both this show and Batman: The Animated Series have had with fans?
It’s so rewarding. One might say, ‘Well, I remember Superman…’ and personally I haven’t watched any episodes recently until I was getting ready for these interviews and caught up with around 20 episodes. They’re excellent! They’re very, very good. Some of them are stunningly animated. Granted, people might have been looking for the darker animation we were doing in Batman, but this lighter, brighter, but still so quality cartoon should have longevity. You have excellent scripts by some writers who I’ve known for a million years who have gone on to do other wonderful things, beautiful producing, excellent animation and directing, beautiful voice acting. It all came together to make a series that should have longevity, so now that I’ve been watching it again, I’m not the least bit surprised.
Now, I have to ask as I know you’re the one responsible for casting Mark Hamill as The Joker, a version of the character everyone just adores, what about the actor who was best known as Luke Skywalker at the time made him this pitch-perfect actor for that villain?
It was a series of circumstances that came one upon the other that created this whirlwind that then became Mark Hamill’s Joker. A new producer came on to the series, didn’t care for The Joker we had cast, and asked us to re-cast it. The problem was, we’d already made six or seven episodes which meant that whoever was going to get the job as the replacement voice was going to have to ADR and match the timing of the previous actor. Simultaneously, just before this, Mark’s agent had reached out and said, ‘Mark is an enormous comic book fans, a huge fan of Batman, and would love to be part of the series.’
So, I brought him in as a guest and did a great job, telling all sorts of fabulous stories to everybody in the room and was wonderful in the role. He pulled me aside after the session and said, ‘Thank you for this gig, Andrea, but I really want to be a part of Batman.’ The auditions for The Joker replacement came up, we gave him a shot, and he was stunning! Absolutely remarkable. His timing was right on, he came up with this terrifying voice and an iconic laugh and I think that’s the voice everybody hears when they think of The Joker. Even when they’re seeing on camera performances, they can’t help but reference Mark Hamill in their minds.
Something I think people forget is how many amazing actors appeared in the show in supporting roles like James Marsden, Ron Perlman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, for example; do you recall any favourite guest stars?
I looked at the huge list of names that we hired and certainly, you can’t let it go by without mentioning Ed Asner’s performance as Granny Goodness. I’ve been playing this game with myself where I play an episode and don’t look at the end credits until the very end and see if I can identify the voices of the guests. I’m watching going, ‘I think that’s…it could be…?’ It was Brian Cox! Brian Cox, who is now seeing such huge success on Succession, and he was fantastic on this. David Warner came into play. This series had a three-part pilot and the actors in that pilot are so remarkable. It’s Christopher McDonald…we introduced so many characters in that three-part miniseries and everybody is so good.
If you watch the series now, it’s not every episode, but every other episode ends up in a warehouse with large wooden crates all over it. I was working with the marvellous Joe Bologna who did some of Joanna Cassidy’s Maggie Sawyer ADR. Again, these actors don’t have a lot of experience doing fight wala or impacts and I was having a hard time with Joe getting the sound of her being punched and knocked into a crate. I said, ‘The second sound is when you knock into the crate,’ and he responded with the strangest thing an actor has ever said: ‘What’s a crate?’ Wow, it is early in the morning! [Laughs] As I rewatched the series, I realised that so many episodes have stacks of crates in them, but we all had a good laugh about that. He went, ‘Oh, the big wooden boxes. Fine.’ He then gave me a good ‘Oof,’ and it was perfect. What funny things people say.