The majority of DC animated original films for the past few years have typically oscillated between either a solo feature starring Batman or Superman or a Justice League ensemble film. It’s not too surprising considering those are the marquee characters of DC Comics. So you can imagine the surprise for many fans when a Catwoman: Hunted anime style was announced.

Ahead of the film’s release, The Beat had the chance to chat with the film’s producer Ethan Spaulding as well as screenwriter Greg Weisman. For the past decade, Spaulding has spent his career at Warner Bros. Animation helming not only fan-favorite DC animated films but other beloved WB properties as well including Scooby-Doo. Weisman meanwhile has established himself as a titan in the industry as a writer and producer for acclaimed and cult favorite cartoons such as Disney’s Gargoyles and The Spectacular Spider-Man. His best known project from the past decade though is without a doubt the Young Justice animated series where Weisman continuously demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge of DC Comics.

The filmmakers revealed the genesis of the project, the influences on the film’s story aesthetics, depicting Catwoman’s bisexuality in animation, and much more!

Taimur Dar: I think fans were a bit surprised but also excited when this film was announced not just because of the anime style but the fact that it’s the first time Catwoman is headlining one of these DC animated films. How did this project come about?  

Ethan Spaulding: There was a Batman: Ninja anime. WB wanted to do another one and this one would be 2D animation. It’s another chance to explore a well-known DC character in anime form. Thankfully they chose Catwoman. I’ve wanted to work on a project with that character for many years so it all came together just naturally.

Dar: You have Greg Weisman as the screenwriter for Catwoman: Hunted. Obviously he’s no stranger to the DC Universe and is best known right now for co-creating the hit Young Justice animated series. How did he get involved?

Spaulding: I think Greg came with this project. [Laughs]. He was there from the beginning. He probably knows the most about DC characters. All his little asides and Easter eggs that he puts in the scripts are here as well and the fans will have fun with those. And I think he has a good handle on the characters for sure. The fun of this heist film, I think he’s perfect for it.

Dar: On that note, the basic heist premise coupled with the visuals and the jazz score definitely gave me a Lupin III vibe. Am I correct in assuming Lupin III was an influence? What else inspired the film?

Ethan Spaulding: You can’t avoid those as a reference point for sure. James Bond as well [and] the globetrotting aspect. We’re in Spain, France, Shanghai, and we’re in England at the end. I think that flavor dictates that kind of film. It just feels right for a jewel thief to be on a global scale so I think that’s inherent in this. And I think it’s fun for the animators and the viewers to have one of these global adventures where it’s not just taking place in Gotham City.

Dar: The look of Catwoman in the film seems to based on Darwyn Cooke’s iconic design. If so, what was it about Cooke’s depiction of Catwoman that made it perfect for the film?

Ethan Spaulding: Right, we did go with a classic Darwyn Cooke jumpsuit with the goggles. The practicality of that is appealing. Catwoman is super sexy in some incarnations. She’s sexy in this but practically speaking outfit-wise, I think Darwyn’s [version] is good with the combat boots. It’s not super skintight and I assume that it’s made of Kevlar. It always looks good. I’m not complaining about Catwoman’s outfit. But I think Darwyn’s was classic and that was mentioned at the very beginning when I got onto the project. The character designer in Japan, Erika Okada, was a fan of DC Comics and she knew exactly which way to go with that once we mentioned Darwyn.

Dar: As you said earlier, Warner Bros. has collaborated in the past with Japanese animation studios on past DC projects. For Catwoman: Hunted, you’re working with OLM who are probably best known for the Pokémon anime. How did you end up choosing them for this project and what did they bring to the table?

Spaulding: I think they were just on the radar of WB Animation because of Pokémon and Yo-kai Watch. And they have a strong digital component in their 2D animation. It was just a chance to work with another great anime studio.

Dar: I’ve always been fascinated about these anime collaborations, since you have the studio in Japan doing their thing but at the same time, there are still people stateside like Milo Neuman working on storyboards. What exactly does the collaboration process with the animation entail?

Ethan Spaulding: I can explain that process. It’s all storyboarded by OLM in Japan. I have a small crew of board artists on WB’s side so we do some amendments to the board, if you will, like if we need to change something for the script. So it’s kind of a co-production. Both studios work on the storyboards and come to a resolution of what best serves the story. But we try to keep the anime flavor 100%, of course.

Dar: Catwoman: Hunted features an original song “Thief in the Night” by Yutaka Yamada and Brian E.S. Jones. Previous DC animated films don’t usually include original songs but I loved this one. I really hope “Thief in the Night” becomes available for purchase so people can listen to it themselves, but how did this original song come about?

Spaulding: I hope it also becomes available as well. I love it too. Brian Jones, an executive on this project, is a big anime fan as well. We talked about how a lot of the anime we love there are songs either in the title or end sequence or even in the body of the film. In our attempt to make this 100% anime, let’s try to get a song in there. Our great composer for this, Yamada-san, had some lyrics and Brian had some lyrics. So we did a kind of bilingual song which is a hallmark of a lot of the classic Japanese films where there will be certain verses or words in English and the rest is Japanese. It was just our fanboy attempt to make this seem like a real anime. It was fun!

Dar: As you mentioned, Greg Weisman has an encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe. There are definitely some deep cut villains even I had look up like Mr. Yakuza, Dr. Tzin, or Bruno Manheim’s father Boss Moxie. I didn’t even know he had a father!

Spaulding: [Laughs] I didn’t either! I’m the same! Greg is a madman because his references are so far flung. He dove deep for these villains and I had to look them up as well. Their scenes are short but there is a back history with them and we try to honor them as best we can. I think it’s a great aspect of this film that you do get to see some of the more obscure DC villains.

Dar: The costume party scene is a smorgasbord of great Easter eggs for DC Comics fans. How detailed was it in the script or what was the process of deciding what superheroes and villains would be dressed up by characters?

Spaulding: Pretty much the ones that you see are the ones that we put in. There weren’t any that we couldn’t use. There’s one in particular, I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll just tell you the idea is that these aren’t superhero body types wearing these costumes. These are regular people wearing these costumes and these attendees are just having fun. The audience can spot their favorite DC Comics character in there.

Catwoman Hunted animated
CATWOMAN: HUNTED © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. CATWOMAN and all related characters and elements TM & © DC.

Dar: Finally, any other upcoming projects you can tease?

Spaulding: I wish I could, but we gotta keep it under wraps. So just keep watching!

Taimur Dar: Obviously, you’ve been busy working on Young Justice for the last few years so how did you become involved in this Catwoman: Hunted project

Greg Weisman: I pitched this movie between Season 3 and Season 4 of Young Justice, after we finished production on Season 3 but before we had a pickup for Season 4. So I had a bit of downtime in between the two seasons. I pitched this movie and they said, “Yes.” [Laughs]. It came at the perfect moment between my YJ work.

CATWOMAN: HUNTED © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. CATWOMAN and all related characters and elements TM & © DC.

Dar: Fans will recognize voice actors from previous animated shows you’ve worked on including some reprising their roles from Young Justice such as Kelly Hu as Chesire and Zehra Fazal as Talia al Ghul. It’s not surprising since casting/voice director Jamie Thomason is involved in this film and you’ve worked with him on many previous projects. While writing the script, did you have specific actors in mind for the roles? 

Weisman: I definitely had Kelly and Zehra in mind for Chesire and Talia because they’re great! [Laughs]. I didn’t have a ton of preconceived notions for most of the characters. Most of the characters are characters although I’m very familiar with I hadn’t used before. I had some very specific ideas about the type of actor I was looking for. I obviously suggested to Jamie using Kelly and Zehra. A bunch of us including [publicist] Gary [Miereanu] and Ethan [Spaulding] sat in a room and talked about casting. The casting process was sort of begun pre-pandemic but the recording was completed during the pandemic. Unfortunately, as much as I would’ve loved to I didn’t get to go to any of the recording sessions for this movie because of the pandemic. That was kind of a bummer to be perfectly honest but I can’t complain. I just think the performances in this turned out really great. I’m pretty thrilled with the cast and what they built for us character-wise for this film.

Dar: Much like James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad film, Catwoman: Hunted boasts some obscure villains that I and most likely a lot of fans had to look up. You famously have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe so I’m curious how you found and selected some of the villains for the criminal organization Leviathan like Mr. Yakuza, Dr. Tzin, and so forth?  

Greg Weisman: I was looking to make Leviathan international in flavor. I wanted to make the movie international in flavor. So ok, we’re going to borrow La Dama from Blue Beetle comics, we’re going to borrow Dr. Tzin from old Batman comics, we’re going to get Mr. Yakuza from old Outsiders comics, and even bring in things from [Jack] Kirby’s days. The great thing about the DC Universe is that it’s got this breadth and depth to it so it allows you to make some choices that the audience hasn’t necessarily seen before. And yet it’s still told from the canon without having to create something brand new.

Whether you view them as Easter eggs or just good pulls, I don’t know. It allows you to create a richness and variety. For some of the more important villains in the piece I really was interested in the whole cat motif and bat motif for obvious reasons. So using Lady Barbara Minerva, Chesire, and Nosferata came out of that idea of paralleling our “heroes” with our “villains.”

Dar: I’m a fan of Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale DC collaborations such as Catwoman: When in Rome miniseries. The film definitely reminded me of it, such as the Barbara Minerva/Catwoman confrontation. I’m curious if that influenced you on the film.

Weisman: I don’t think I read that. I’ve got something like 50 years of DC continuity floating in my head but there are holes. If I read it, it’s not coming to mind. I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

CATWOMAN: HUNTED © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. CATWOMAN and all related characters and elements TM & © DC.

Dar: Selina Kyle was established as bisexual in DC Comics a few years ago. I’m fairly certain. but I probably have to look to make sure, but I think this is the first time her bisexuality has been depicted in media outside of comics. In the past, bisexuality was often a joke or punchline but over the last few years we’ve seen better representation in media. As the writer, how did you aim to better portray bisexuality in Catwoman: Hunted?

Greg Weisman: I think that the basic idea here is that Selina has a lot of tools in her tool chest. And one of those tools which she doesn’t use lightly but she isn’t afraid or shy to use is seduction. She is capable of using that on anyone. She does a little bit of seduction to her purpose up to a point with Black Mask. She does it a little bit to serve a purpose in the short-term with Batwoman. That just seemed natural. I asked myself for the Batwoman scenes specifically, “If she were dealing with a male superhero, what would she do differently?” Nothing, basically. Batman specifically is something else. But if it had been Superman or Barry Allen or whatever, I think she would have pulled the same crap on them that she does on Batwoman in this film. To solve a very specific problem that’s one of the tools she drew from her toolbox.

Catwoman: Hunted arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray and Digital on February 8, 2022.