Troy Baker is no stranger Batman’s greatest villain The Joker, having voiced the Clown Prince of Crime in various media over the years including video games and animation. Baker is once again playing The Joker in Batman: The Long Halloween, an animated adaptation of the acclaimed miniseries from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, and just like the source material the Joker is a supporting player in the larger story rather than the primary antagonist.
Ahead of the release of Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2 on Blu-ray, The Beat had the chance to chat with Baker about what distinguishes this portrayal of The Joker from previous iterations, his admiration for other performers in the role, and much more.
Taimur Dar: As a fan I love whenever actors get to voice the same character but in different continuity and and seeing whatever different spin they bring to it, whether it’s Tara Strong as Harley Quinn or Mark Hamill as Joker. People will notice his Joker in the Arkham Asylum is different performance than the way he played the character in the classic ‘90s Batman cartoon. You’ve played The Joker in the past like the Batman Unlimited series aimed at young kids, so what distinguishes this Joker in The Long Halloween from your previous portrayals?
Troy Baker: Great question, and a very popular one. The temptation with Joker is he can come in and fill up the frame. If we were telling a Joker story, great. [It’s] easy to do. Plug him in, wind him up, and let him go. The fact is we’re not really telling the Joker story. He has a purpose in our story but he’s not the central figure. In a lot of ways neither is Batman. It is about the city and how it is responding to this new threat and this new hero.
So we get to find Batman not in the origin story or the first time he puts on the cowl. But when the city is finally getting used to the fact that it has this hero, what’s the relationship between he and Gordon? It’s still tenuous and trusting. You have this relationship with Harvey Dent. When you throw in The Joker it could easily tip the whole thing over and now it’s the Joker show. The Joker casts a very long shadow.
So the challenge [is] for not only myself as the actor but it starts way upstream with the writers. Fortunately this was there in the source material but you always have to make sure you’re careful in the adaptation of that. You have to make sure the second you appear to laugh it’s all that you hear and all that you see. The beauty of this is that the Joker [goes], “At first I feel a little offended that I’m not the focal point but what an amazing opportunity for chaos.” And to sit back and have some fun and see this as an opportunity. That to me was a unique thing that you don’t get in Arkham Origins. He’s the focal point in Arkham Origins. He’s the focal point in all of the Arkham games really. It’s a beautiful twist. The thing that I love most about these characters and this IP and this world in general is that over 80 years now we’ve been able to find out how much we can bend this before it breaks. And it’s never, ever, ever been broken.
Dar: There’s one specific line delivery from you in Part 1 that I love, when Joker gives Carmine Falcone his card and you say it in an Italian accent. I’m really curious if that was your idea or if you were given that direction, but also in general given the nature of the character much room there was for improvising?
Baker: They always want you to come in and make it your own. At the same time it’s so skillfully and carefully crafted on the page. But we were always encouraged, “What does that mean to you?” It was never like, “You say it like this.” That specific line, I leaned into more than I probably would have left to my own devices and we just kept it. Because everyone is so carefully revering, whenever you’re adapting source material like this just so we get it right, sometimes we forget to be able to just have fun with it. That was one of those great moments where we can kick back every once in awhile. But you don’t necessarily want to go vamping when you’re on a roller coaster.
Dar: Your music background is very well known. It’s not a complete surprise that the people who excel in the voice industry have musical backgrounds since they’re using their bodies as an instrument which obviously entails a lot of physicality. I know in the past you’ve discussed how physically demanding voicing The Joker can be for you, so is that still the case?
Baker: Yeah, man! I’d love to report to you that, “No, no that was just beginning and now I’ve gotten better.” It still is a challenge. It’s still hard. I still sweat. I still get exhausted quick. To me that is such a testament to someone like Mark Hamill who is seemingly effortless. He just may be a little bit more stoic about his exhaustion than I am.
Mark will always be my Joker. Because I first heard him, that is the voice I had in my head when I read The Killing Joke. That is the voice when I read any of the graphic novels. That was The Joker to me. This is the perfect representation of it. There have been paragons of the industry [that have played] this role. The same thing can be said as Batman as well. We’ve had Bruce Greenwood and Jason O’Mara come in since Kevin [Conroy] even though Kevin is my [voice] print.
I was nervous stepping into Joker, and I’ve done the gig before. Someone like Jensen [Ackles] coming in and going, “Holy shit, man! I’ve got my work cut out for me!” I really applaud him. He stepped into this role fearlessly and he delivered with excellence. It’s easier to pull of Batman. It’s paint by numbers with Batman to certain extent. It’s dark and menacing. But no one ever wrote the manual for Bruce [Wayne]. So every time you’re wandering around this boxing ring [going], “I don’t know what to do with this.” Because you don’t want to sound like a completely different person. You have to believe that it’s the same person. The fact in Part 1 the first line goes to Bruce is to me a very strong statement about how unique this story is. Jensen just knocked it out of the park. He threw the full brunt of his experience, passion, and talent behind this. I give him major props for how he delivered on this role.
Dar: One of the themes in Long Halloween that affected me deeply is the theme of fatherhood. I remember during the press round table at SDCC for LEGO Batman: Family Matters you talked how much you related as a father to that project. So did Long Halloween also resonate with you as a father?
Baker: I feel like in every story, and maybe it’s just me extrapolating it, that throughout the Batman mythos there is an overlying element of father and son. Bruce’s father is still lingering somewhere and he’s always trying to measure up to what his father wanted him to be. There’s other stories too where Batman is a father. The notion of fatherhood and that theme and also being a son is always prevalent throughout Batman stories.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2 is available now on Digital and Blu-ray.