Diedrich Bader is no stranger to the world of the Dark Knight, having voiced Batman for three seasons on the 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold,' arguably the most underrated screen version of the pop culture icon. Now he's (vocally) suiting up as the Caped Crusader once more, this time in the adult-oriented 'Harley Quinn' animated series arriving this fall on DC Universe. Diedrich recently sat down with us to discuss returning as Batman, improv-ing with his castmates, and his own love of comic books...
It’s amazing that in 'Harley Quinn' you’re playing a character you once played in a show for all ages. Yet your performance still works in a show very much aimed at adults.
At big kids! [Laughs.] Yeah, just everything about it is different, and that’s what’s cool about it. It’s kind of a reimagining of the whole world. I think it’s a really good opportunity for comedy. What are these people’s lives really like? Wait until you see. The stuff with me and Christopher Meloni [who voices Commissioner Gordon]...
Did you guys improv your dialogue?
Yeah, we were brought in together a lot, which was really fun. The sessions are incredibly fun. For the pilot, I even worked with Alan Tudyk, who plays the Joker. That was mostly what we recorded together. But for the rest of them, it was mostly me and Chris. He’s really great. He’s a great improviser, and he’s really fun to work with. I think we went into some really interesting areas. Yeah, the idea [behind this show] is sort of about blowing up the DC Universe in a weird way.
'Harley Quinn' really features a murderers' row of voice talent. How's it achieved this pedigree?
It’s the opportunity to play these characters, and then on top of that, they schedule around you. When I was recording in the fall, I had 'American Housewife,' 'Veep,' and 'Better Things' all shooting at the same time. And then, to do this as well, the schedule was tight, but they made it work. As they do for Alan, who’s a genuine movie star, and really super busy. It gets complicated, but that’s the beauty of animation, that you can squeeze it in. I could go during lunch, for example. Seriously. I went during lunch, recorded, and went back to 'Housewife.' So one of the glories of animation is that you can do it during the time that you’d normally be taking a nap. [Laughs.]
Your performance as Batman in 'The Brave and the Bold' is beloved by fans. What are your favorite episodes of the show?
"Chill of the Night!," definitely. "Menace of the Music Meister!," I really loved. I also really loved the one where Blue Beetle met Huntress. Yeah. I thought that Will Friedle [as Blue Beetle] did a great job with that. I think Will all the way through did an excellent job. I loved the two-parter with John DiMaggio where he was a mercenary working for Starro. Yeah, the Starro storyline, I really like that a lot. I also liked Equinox in "The Fate of Equinox!"). I really liked all of those episodes, because they were sort of mind-blowing. And of course there’s one where my son is in it [as Robin]. That’s a soft spot.
'Brave and the Bold' also has one of the best TV series finales of all time in "Mitefall!"
That’s a great episode of television. That’s the one that got Kevin Smith into the whole thing. He didn’t know if we would be too jokey, too little-kid-oriented, but then he watched the last episode and it really touched him, especially the last speech. I hear that a lot from a lot of fans. That speech took me many takes to get through, because I knew it was the last lines that I would say as Batman on that show. I didn’t know on that show that I would be Batman again on 'Harley Quinn.' So I thought it was the last time I could ever play Batman. It was so well-written, so beautiful. The sentiment was so perfect, that I could barely get through it, because it was just so perfect, so sweet and lovely and deep and everything that I wanted the character to be... It’s really fascinating, doing a series. Because sometimes, when you do a movie, you really get the character at the end of your shooting time. You’re like, "Oh, that’s what I should have done the whole time." You don’t get the opportunity to go back and shoot it again. Well, rarely, anyway. But with a series, because it evolves, you get to go deeper and deeper into a character until you feel like you really know him, like in "Chill of the Night!" The fact that he was able to speak to his parents’ killer, it was just a beautiful thing. Paul Dini’s script was great in both of those episodes.
What can you say about the direction the relationship between Batman and Harley takes throughout the first season of 'Harley Quinn'?
They do have an arc that I’m not supposed to get too into. Suffice it to say that Batman feels she’s capable of redemption, and sees her making the same mistakes over and over again. She has a girlfriend, but if she has a psychiatrist, it’s Batman. That’s pretty much all I can tease.
So you get to do something a little different with Batman this time.
He’s more of a listener. For him, it’s not just about... With Joker, for example, I’m just going put him in Arkham Asylum. That’s really it. It's not my job to hear out what the Joker thinks about whatever. Because he is beyond the help of Batman, but he sees in Harley Quinn an opportunity to save somebody. It’s a nice arc through the show, because he really believes that Harley is capable of getting out of the rut she’s in, capable of redemption. It’s lovely they wrote that in. Writers on a series have to juggle so many different things, and the fact that they were able to keep that storyline active and alive is great. It's fun for me too.
To a certain extent, you have the toughest job of any actor in 'Harley Quinn' -- because Batman is unflappable, yet you still have to use your comic timing to make him funny.
Every show is its own world. How does he fit in this world? To make Batman fit in this world, you have to tweak him just a little bit. But, of all of the characters, he’s the hardest to do that to because he is so iconic, and also, if you mess with him too much, he’s not Batman. We toyed around a lot with where we were going to go with 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold,' and I think we found a sweet spot. Just like this show, that show focused on everyone else being wild and Batman being grounded, so I think that’s what this show does. This show’s grounding element too is the relationship between the two ladies [Harley and Ivy], which I think is really interesting and really good.
Your Batman's relationship with Alan Tudyk’s Joker in the pilot is great too.
Alan and I have worked together a number of times, just in animation. I would love some day to work with him on camera. But in animation, we’ve done a lot together. So we have a comfort level. He’s been around a long time. So have I. So it’s nice to have -- he is as focused as I am on not portraying the character for a joke, where I think comedians would just go for the joke and leave the character behind. Everything has to be organic to the character or 1.) it’s not funny and 2.) you’ve really left what people are watching the show for, which is the characters themselves; so you’ve betrayed the character. So to be funny and not betray the character is a fine line. Of course, with Joker, you can go all over the place.
Did you have any favorite characters or comics growing up?
I loved 'X-Men' when I was at camp, but really only because Storm was so hot. [Laughs.] That was just awesome for a little boy. I was like, "Wow..." But I loved Adam West’s 'Batman,' and I watched it every day. The fact that I did a series with him, my first series, was an incredible thing for me because I was just constantly starstruck by him. Talk about walking a fine line. He was genuinely funny, and yet, you believed he was Batman. It’s kind of incredible. He just has a seriousness about him, and even the seriousness is funny. It’s very hard to do.
I watched the show, and then, when I was in 'Hamlet' -- playing a switzer, so I had one line -- I had a lot of time backstage, and the other guy who was a switzer with me got the comic book 'The Dark Knight Returns.' I hadn’t read comic books since camp, because you know, I had girlfriends. [Laughs.] That was a revelation. I didn’t know that universe could be as deep as a novel, and as interesting and as complex, and it really blew my mind. I was sitting there reading a book, and my friend was like, "You should check it out." I was like, "I’m not a comic book guy really." But wow! It was so amazing, and it got me back into comics. And then I think Christopher Nolan too, sort of revolutionized the idea of where we’re going. Obviously, Tim Burton. Although he is my favorite Batman, I did not like the series after the first movie with Michael Keaton. I liked the first one and I wasn’t crazy about the others. They were too over the top. I just didn’t feel like the vision was right for me. Val Kilmer, I didn’t know what the hell was happening with him. Nothing against him so much. There was a bat butt. That was a feature. It filled the whole screen. [Laughs.] But yeah, I’ve been around the universe for a while.
But one of the things that’s really kept me interested in it is that my son is a super fan. Oh yeah. When he was told he could take one book on vacation, he took the DC Encyclopedia. He likes comics more than movies. He likes to hold the comics, he collects the comics, he likes holding the action figures. He likes the tactile experience of it. He took it for three years... I love that he loves it. It’s also one of the reasons I like doing it, because he really enjoys it. He genuinely loves it. It’s something we can share together, which you’re always looking for.