Mark Hamill was the voice behind the Joker in the first two Arkham games developed by Rocksteady. However, he and Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman, would not be returning to voice the iconic caped crusader and villain in the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins video game. The first title in the series not to be developed by Rocksteady, and is instead being headed by Warner Bros. Montreal.
Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker will take on the roles of Batman and the Joker respectively in the prequel. Smith’s most notable roles include voicing Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed series and Chris Redfield from the Resident Evil franchise.
Baker voiced the protagonists in recent blockbuster games like BioShock: Infinite, Saints Row IV and The Last of Us.
Members of the press, myself included, were able to ask Baker a couple of questions during a closed roundtable session at New York Comic Con last Saturday. He talked about his enthusiasm regarding voicing the Joker, what it meant to him, and how he is trying to honor the legacy that Hamill and countless others forged before him.
Did you enjoy taking over the role from Mark Hamill?
It’s terrible, awful, and horrible. Of course! Are you kidding me? There’s a twelve year old in me that’s screaming. I feel like I’m doing a Wheaties commercial. There is very much of a child that’s inside of me. I used to rush home 4:30 every day to make sure that I watch Batman: The Animated Series and it didn’t matter, honestly, what episode it was. I wanted to hear the intro theme and I wanted to watch the end credits. Kevin Conroy [name featured on the end credits] that’s Batman, then Mark Hamill? That’s Luke Skywalker. That’s got to be a different Mark Hamill.
This is a twenty-five year process of me wanting to do this. Not just the Joker, but be an actor [involved] in the Batman universe. I was just telling Eric Holmes, our creative director, that [Batman: Year Three] was the first comic book I ever bought. I was going through my iPad; I have a lot of digital comics. I was re-reading Death in the Family and so I get to the end of it that says ‘continue reading.’ I turn the page and I’m face to face with something I haven’t seen since ’89. It was the cover of Batman: Year Three and I was like ‘oh my God!’
For a moment like that to be happening two weeks from the time this game is coming out. It was pretty cool. I’m through the moon, not even over it but through it.
Which interpretation of the Joker are you a fan of the most? Hamill, Nicholson, or Ledger?
I think it’s a really good way of putting it too in terms of the interpretation of it. It’s not like we’ve done versions of the character. It’s the same character, just showing different sides. First of all, [The Joker] is one of the most complex, interesting, and intriguing characters, not just villains, but characters in any visual medium.
When Tim Burton’s Batman came out, I was like: ‘Jack Nicholson, what amazing Joker.’ Before that, it was just Cesar Romero. So we have Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill who holds that mantle for twenty five years, then we have Heath Ledger, John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Troy Baker?
What am I going to do that’s new, fresh, and like ‘oh my God, I never thought about that?’ Nothing, absolutely nothing. All I can do is honor the legacy of that character. Show people the Joker. I don’t have to dress it up in any way. It’s already good.
Let me tell you a funny story. My wife has been starving herself for six months getting ready for our wedding. This was over a year ago. All she wanted was pasta. She was making the sauce all day long and her friend comes by the last minute and says: ‘You know what really helps? A teaspoon of cinnamon.’ [My wife] dumps it into the sauce. Don’t ever put cinnamon in pasta sauce. It absolutely ruined it.
I don’t want to be the cinnamon in the sauce. [The Joker] is good as it is. Sometimes people just want something that’s good, so don’t try to dress that up.
The most iconic part of the voice of Joker is the laugh. Did you ever have to sit for days trying to come up with different types of ‘laugh’ to get your distinctive Joker laugh?
I didn’t, but I will say the laughing thing was something I was most scared about. I suck at laughing. Mark is brilliant at it and John DiMaggio is. He can just laugh for days. I actually got fired one time because I couldn’t laugh. It was for Full Metal Alchemist and I was going to be the original Greed. First line ever of his appearance was 30 seconds of maniacal laughter. Darling, let me tell you, it ended up sounding like a dolphin having an asthma attack. It was horrible.
When I found out that [The Joker’s] role has been offered to me, I was like: ‘No, thank you though! Check please!’ I was scared. It was a character near and dear to me. There’s this insecure actor inside of me going: ‘How are you going to laugh bro?’ and not just laugh, but laugh a lot, laugh well, and laugh good.
You can train all you want, but at the end of the day, I just have to sell it and I just have to go and do it. If that means that I have to cough, choke, and lose my voice, then that’s what you do. That was my process if anyone wants to know. Every laugh I gave was potentially the last laugh I was going to give for the day. Hopefully, that commitment to it is what shows up on October 25th.
In terms of research from the comics, was there one you looked at more than the others?
The Killing Joke was the most clear cut slice of who the Joker is that we’ve ever seen. It was actually one of the later books that I’ve read.
When I heard they were making Arkham Asylum, I was like how do you make that game? It was a dark and twisted story. Batman drove a shard of broken mirror through his hand just to keep himself from going crazy. You’re going to make a game about that?
But I really have to say that the Killing Joke even from the cover, that’s Joker right there especially when you find out what that cover actually is. Oh, it’s Joker with a camera! But why?
So that’s something I always look back to and refer to a lot when we were doing the game. Just never losing sight of who that guy is.
Since this is a prequel, how would you describe a young Joker?
He’s a fire hose. When you it on, it sprays and it’s powerful. It has aggression and passion, but it’s not focused. The Joker that we see in The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Batman: The Animated series even is this honed laser focused version of the Joker.
It’s still the same amount of power that’s just been manipulated into a powerful beam of energy.
In this version, is this Joker more sadistic?
I think the sadism is always there. It’s just more ‘I don’t know why I do the things I do, but I do them.’ I think that’s more of the mentality. It’s just someone who doesn’t understand himself yet.
Has he developed a hatred for Batman yet?
Play the game, my friend.
What do you do to get into the character of the Joker?
I think you have to understand him first. The second that I try to go ‘what would Joker think, what would Joker do?’ You start trying to trick yourself into this performance.
Mickey Rourke put it best when he said: ‘The dialogue is the last thing I worry myself with because if I understand who the character is and the script is written well, it should just flow and if it doesn’t then we’ve got a different problem.’
So getting into character, a lot of times, I think can be very false. I think all you have to do is simply understand the character, your story and make sure you know where you fit in that.
The role that the Joker has in the Batman story is so critical and important that it doesn’t have to be anything else. It’s about looking back at the Arkham series, understanding who that Joker was, how Mark was playing him so that I have a really deep well to draw from, and just being honest to the character.
You’ve been in two blockbusters video games this year namely Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us. Now, you are in Batman: Arkham Origins. What’s it like going from blockbuster to blockbuster?
You feel like you’re on top of a wave and you’re just waiting for it to come crashing into shore. Fortunately, it hasn’t yet and I hope that whatever it is I’m doing is resonating within game developers. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I really believe in this medium.
I don’t look at it as a stepping stone because I really want to do television and film. I love this space so much and I’ll die for games because I believe it’s the most innovative medium that we have right now to tell stories and to be an experience. I think developers are excited about that and they want to be in partnership with someone like that.
I might not be the best actor, but I’ve been very fortunate enough to partner up with really cool teams and create some cool content. We’ll find out if Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us are contenders for ‘Game of the Year,’ and we’ll find out what people thought of Batman: Arkham Origins on October 25th.