There are few works of sixties television that can match the enduring popularity of William Shatner and the original ‘Star Trek’. In fact, if someone asked you to name one, it’s likely that the first (perhaps only) thing that would come to mind would be the similarly iconic series ‘Batman’, which of course starred Adam West and Burt Ward. Now, after fifty years, the two sixties icons are coming together for the first time ‘Batman vs Two-Face’, the latest feature from DC Animation. The film sees the return of West and Ward to their familiar roles with Shatner joining them as the titular villain. Speaking at New York Comic Con, Mr. Shatner told us about his approach to Two-Face, his relationship with Adam West, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about the experience of working on ‘Batman vs Two-Face’?
It was a double character, they’re always fun to play. I attempted to do it all at once rather than laying down one track, putting down another track. I tried to do it, however, you call it. Internally.
You’ve said in the past that you never watched ‘Star Trek’ because you don’t like watching yourself act. Did you ever watch ‘Batman’ at the time, when it was first on?
No, I would watch the news rather than watch either one of them. [laughs] “Kapow” and “bang” wasn’t my style, exactly.
Were you ever approached to appear as a guest villain back in the day?
I don’t think so. But my affinity towards Batman was the comic books. When I was a kid I was reading them, and I vaguely remember having the covers over my head with a flashlight. I was supposed to be asleep, but reading a comic book.
How did you come up with the voice for Two-Face?
Great training. [laughs] It’s part of the process, I guess. You could do it… I thought that the challenge would be to allow the evil spirit to emerge as though it were really happening. It’s Jekyll and Hyde, really, isn’t it? And what are those… We’re going too far afield, but if you think of the psyche emerging, like the guy shooting the window out [in Las Vegas]… What was he doing? What was that meek little guy doing? How’d that evil person come out? There are many voices in us. But I’m going too far afield for a five minute interview. [laughs]
Were you familiar with the Two-Face character beforehand?
You know, I was, vaguely. The producer had called me and asked what would I do if I had the role, and it just came out that I would try and do the voices… To try and find the good guy and the bad guy all at once as it emerged. And the most vivid part of this that I can recall, as I’m recording with a script in my hand, was that they played video of the – whatever you call it – of the encroaching algae in Two-Face. I watched it on screen as a little pimple emerged and it got bigger and bigger. So I thought I would do the voice alone in the booth and as the green got bigger and bigger, the voice got bigger and bigger. So I played with that. That was the most vivid and challenging part that I can remember of doing the voice.
So there are various incarnations of Batman, ranging from the camp of Adam West to the darker versions we see today. Likewise, there are different versions of Two-Face. How would you characterize your version on that spectrum?
Probably more comic book, it being in the genre, being in the flow of the type of thing that was happening. It would be interesting to do Two-Face real. To do Two-Face with as much humanity as you can, and him wrestling with… Not to put too big a deal on this whole wonderfully amusing story, but… My mind keeps going back to that meek, mild-mannered guy who brought twenty guns up to that room and what was he thinking when he shot out that window and he’s mowing down people? Is he laughing hysterically? Is he sad? Is he happy? What’s he thinking? What is that monster that’s inside Steven Paddock doing? He had to have been mild-mannered Harvey Dent somewhere in his life, his brother said that he never saw anything that came out, but there was something monstrous in him. Wouldn’t that be an interesting character to play as he’s fighting his conscience?
Is there any one thing about your version of Two-Face that you’d say sets him apart from what we might’ve seen before?
Well, it comes out of me. [laughs] That would be the difference. And that’s the difference in playing Hamlet. Every actor who takes a shot at Hamlet says the same words. But what’s intrinsically them is what nobody else can do because that’s them.
Did you talk with Adam West at all through any of this process?
No, I didn’t. I saw Adam at a comic con some time ago. We had a lovely, nodding friendship. He was a lovely man, a lovely, sophisticated, charming, amusing guy. He was lovely and I enjoyed his company. And we, in passing, would try and top each other with a funny line. But he was great. It’s ironic that this movie’s coming out and he’s not here.
You two worked together on ‘Alexander the Great’, right?
A long time ago I did a pilot on Alexander. Before ‘Batman’ and before ‘Star Trek’. I played Alexander and he was one of the guys in the club. I was into horses even then, so I was riding around bareback and I don’t know what the other guys were doing, but they couldn’t have been doing what I was. Because that was dangerous.
You’ve already talked a little about the isolation of working in a booth in animation. How does that compare to the live action films and TV where you’re more part of a big team.
Well, you’re right, the word “isolation” is there, and I never understood. I was having a conversation with the gentleman who produced this film, and I kept asking, and I never got a reasonable answer to the question, why aren’t more of us against being alone in the booth, especially if there’s a give and take [with other actors] in a scene? If you say hello… [gestures]
Hello! I can’t answer you back unless you said hello, and then I can be amusing. So the ping-pong game that’s supposed to be there in dialogue isn’t there. You’re playing against a backboard.
Since the publicist isn’t looking, have you watched ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and what do you think?
[laughs] I was invited to the premiere and forgot why I agreed to go. [laughs] But I went and it’s very fun. I think I went because there was a lot of publicity and I have a lot of things I’m doing. So I saw both episodes in a big theater in California, and it’s fun. It’s great fun. I think the audience will take to it.
‘Batman vs Two-Face’ will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD on October 17, 2017. In addition to Adam West, Burt Ward, and William Shatner, the film’s cast includes Julie Newmar, Steven Webber, Maurice LaMarche, and Lee Meriwether. Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘Batman vs Two-Face’ as its release approaches!