The Beat‘s interview coverage with the voice cast of the Injustice animated adaptation continues, as we had the chance to chat with Brian T. Delaney, the voice of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Derek Phillips, the voice of Dick Grayson/Nightwing. Though a relatively small role in the film, Delaney found the opportunity to shine as the Green Lantern. Likewise, Phillips actually auditioned for Dick Grayson for live-action years before Injustice, so he’s coming full circle.
Taimur Dar: Video game players most likely know you from your work on the Halo and Fallout franchises. I was looking at a past interview where you discussed playing the Fallout game when it was released. So I’m curious if you’re a video game player in general and if you were familiar with the Injustice property before this animated adaptation?
Brian T. Delaney: I can’t say that I am a video game player. I am not a gamer per se. When Fallout and Halo came out in 2015, I did re-up and did buy video game consoles for the first time in 25 years. I played Fallout 4 because I wanted to see the finished work of what I worked on for the previous two years. I played some other games like the Spider-Man game. Other than that, I do play video games consistently but video games from 2002 and 2004 because I turned my kids onto playing the Star War: Battlefront game from 2004. I’ll still play that from time to time, to be honest. I had not played the Injustice video game and I hadn’t even known about the plot of that video game. So it was a complete surprise for me when I read the Injustice script and it blew me away.
Green Lantern is pretty major for a DC Comics character, so I’m curious if you already had a passing familiarity with GL prior to Injustice?
Delaney: To be honest with you, I never had comics. I was never into the whole comic book culture. Let me put it to you this way; many years ago I auditioned for an on-camera commercial with a whole battery of other guys. We were all lined up and they were asking us a bunch of questions. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine just came onto the scene for the first or second X-Men movie. I referred to his skeleton as titanium! That’s how much I didn’t follow comics. As we were leaving one of the other actors said, “Excuse me, it’s adamnatium!”
So I telegraphed I did not know comics from my youth. I didn’t read Green Lantern comics or anything like that. My first exposure to doing anything close to the Green Lantern was this film. What was interesting about Green Lantern in this film was the role he plays and where he ended up. There were kind of three factions in the middle murky Act II of this picture with the Superman contingent, the Batman contingent, and then there’s the “I’m out” contingent as I like to call it. There were only a few scenes Hal is present throughout the arc of the story that we see but I thought it was interesting the parts that you did see.
Dar: As you pointed out, Hal mostly serves in a supporting capacity for Injustice. I never got a leading role in my middle and high school plays and at the time I somewhat resented being part of the ensemble. It was when I got older when I finally understood the adage, “there are no small parts, only small actors.” You have one major scene where you really get a chance to shine when Hal Jordan tries to plead with Superman not to give in to his dark instincts. Was that an opportunity that you were able to relish as a performer?
Delaney: What you just said, yes! When I watched the film I was like, “Oh my God, they captured it.” First of all, it’s well written. I always defer to the author. What’s on the page informs everything else. I did relish that moment that captured that last-ditch plea of, “Please don’t do something you’re going to regret for the rest of your life.” Don’t you fall victim to our petty rages. That scene is a nice moment to shine.
I’m going to say this, I relate to when [you were in] your school productions. I had the same feeling until you see the freedom in those supporting roles. As I left college when I was doing theater, some of my favorite experiences were those one-off scenes where you had such freedom to play. When you have the depth of that line, and I’m going to say it again, I relished it! You can really mine beats when you have that one line and plea. Superman and the voice actor who plays him have an entire objective and arc of a story whereas you don’t necessarily have the freedom of smaller parts. I love those small supporting characters.
My favorite example is The Big Lebowski. That movie is chock-full of big parts that no one will ever forget like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Brandt. Jesus Quintana, Maude Lebowski. Every small part in that movie is unforgettable. That’s the joy when you can harness that. I was jealous of Plastic Man. I thought all of his little beats were so funny!
Dar: Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t inquire about voicing Peter Quill in the What If…? animated series!
Delaney: It was fun and surreal. To be honest when I watch the scenes I’m like, “Holy crap!” Being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was really, really cool. Even though we recorded separately I’m like, “Holy crap, I’m kind of acting with Kurt Russell and Chadwick Boseman who’s no longer with us.” This is kinda rad man.
Taimur Dar: For some actors, being part of these comic book projects can be a bit daunting. For instance, it’s possible that a person who doesn’t read comics might not even know that Nightwing is actually the first Robin, Dick Grayson. What was your knowledge and familiarity in general of DC Comics and Injustice franchise?
Derek Phillips: I was pretty familiar with a lot of it. I didn’t know the storyline of Injustice backward and forwards. Obviously, I knew Dick Grayson. I remember when they were looking to cast the original live-action Robin with Chris O’Donnell. They were looking for a Robin and I auditioned for it. I grew up reading Batman so I’m pretty familiar with a lot of Batman storylines but I wouldn’t say all. The real comic book guys would destroy me in a knowledge fest. [Laughs].
Dar: I think it’s safe to say would say Dick Grayson’s strongest relationship, aside from Batman, is with Robin, Damian Wayne, not just in Injustice but in the comics and in general. I’ve heard from other actors whenever they play these older sibling-type characters, it’s a fine line before they across as too naggy or like a parent. How did go about conveying Dick Grayson as an older brother to Damian?
Phillips: I’ve got one older brother and two younger brothers. I think that just naturally comes. I’m 14 years older than my youngest brother. That’s a weird relationship because that’s a very similar relationship that Dick Grayson has with Damian. My youngest brother is also my half-brother. There’s that age gap and difference in moms and on top of it you’re an older brother and you’ve seen more. There’s also the part of you that doesn’t want to be a dad. So I’m cool but you’re making mistakes and there are things I know because of life experiences that you don’t want to do it that way. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk as a brother. I feel like that’s the same relationship that Dick Grayson has with Damian. He’s been down that road before and he knows where it leads. Frankly, he’s the only person on the planet that knows what Damian’s going through.
Dar: You also voice Aquaman in Injustice. It’s a fairly small role compared to Nightwing with only a few lines. But I didn’t even realize while watching that the same actor voiced both Nightwing and Aquaman. I know sometimes when actors did get those additional roles it’s usually when the voice director, in this case, Wes Gleason, asks them out of the blue in the middle of recording. Is that how it happened for you?
Phillips: That is exactly how it happened actually. We were in the booth and Wes Gleason said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have you read a couple of other lines for one of the characters.” And then they pop up Aquaman on the screen and I go, “You want me to read Aquaman? Yeah! Of course!” I was thrilled to have that opportunity. Then we spent about 10-15 minutes just trying to figure out what he sounds like. You’re in that position where you’re playing Nightwing so I have to make sure they don’t sound alike and we’re not pulling the audience out even though it’s only a few lines.
The big thing that I think we came down for this particular version of Aquaman is we wanted to play up the fact that’s he a king and leader and there’s a certain amount of stateliness to him and a regality to him that is different than what we see in Nightwing. The decisions that Nightwing makes are decisions that affect Nightwing. The decisions that Aquaman makes affect everyone in Atlantis. Because of that nature, there’s a certain amount of statesman to Aquaman that you wouldn’t see in Nightwing. That’s a huge compliment that you didn’t notice it was the same actor.
Dar: By nature of the character, Nightwing is a much more optimistic and comedic character than Batman. How did you go about performing a lighthearted character given some of the grim things Dick Grayson endures through the film?
Phillips: I think that’s something that’s real interesting about Dick Grayson in general. When you think about all the horrific things this guy must have seen as a child growing up, not to get too deep with it but I think the sarcasm is a form of a coping mechanism. He has to be light because there is no other option in some respects. I think he finds a way to bring levity to everything. I said earlier to someone that he is probably a psychologist’s dream.
I think that’s where it comes from. Some of the funniest people I know have some of the biggest demons. That would be something I would love to explore if we ever went forward with another Nightwing [project]. The tears of a clown in some respect!
Dar: You’re no stranger to video game voiceover work. From what I’ve heard, I just assume voiceover in animation is easier than or at least not as grueling as in video games. How do the experiences contrast?
Phillips: When you’re doing a video game, they have this thing that we do called “efforts.” If you’ve played video games you know there’s a million and one ways to die. You’re screaming [because you’re] falling off a mountain, you’re screaming because you’re on fire, [and so on]. Those sessions can be extremely stressful on your voice. One of the joys about animation is you may die but you’re only going to die once. You don’t have to do a thousand efforts so that aspect is just a little better. But I’ve really enjoyed both as an artistic form to express yourself. You get to play characters that you probably never get to play in real life. The reality is I’m 45 years old. My phone’s not ringing anytime soon for me to come play Aquaman or Nightwing.
Dar: Since the pandemic, voice recording has been done remotely. I’m curious if you were already set up before the pandemic with your own home studio or if that’ something you had to learn on the fly?
Phillips: I was originally set up remotely to do it. The space that I had before was a closet that I had converted and soundproofed. When the pandemic hit I was like, “You know what? It looks like I’m going to be doing a lot more of this.” Everything is on tape now for more live-action stuff so I basically converted a spare bedroom that is completely and totally soundproof now. It’s not just for voiceover work but for live-action stuff as well. I’ve got lighting equipment and cameras and microphones coming out of everywhere! The one thing with this pandemic is it’s pivot or die. We all had to pivot and find ways to continue a make a living. Thank God I had the finances to be able to do it. Now I’ve got a fully functional studio in my place. Don’t let anyone know because I don’t anyone to use, so just keep it between us!
Dar: My lips are sealed!
Injustice is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD