Did you bring anything fresh to the role of the Joker?
Absolutely nothing. What am I going to do? What am I going to do that Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger or Mark Hamill or John DiMaggio haven’t done in the past? Absolutely nothing. Somebody asked me, what do you add to it? Because it’s a new version of the character, do you add something? Anytime you add, a lot of the time it’s going to be false. You need to take away. You need to peel back and reveal something new. That’s what we’re showing in this. We already know where Joker ends up. We’ve seen it in so many different iterations, from the movies to the comics to games. What we’re showing is this raw, unformed, unchanneled, unbridled passion and power and maliciousness that’s like a firehose.
So if I add to that, that’s Troy now trying to do something cool to the Joker. I don’t want to do that. I have such a reverence for this character, it’s like walking into the Notre Dame Cathedral. There’s a spirit of reverence about the lore that we have. Michelangelo, when he was making the David, he didn’t add anything. He chipped away at that until it was there, and it took him three years. We had 12 months for us to really delve into who these characters are. So there’s nothing I can bring that’s new to this. All that I can simply do is hope that I am honoring a character that has been portrayed so well by so many, and hopefully at the end of the day be counted as somebody who did service to the character.
If you don’t add to it, how to get to the character when you step into the recording booth?
There is a 12-year-old kid and there is a 37-year-old man that steps into that booth, and everything in between. From the time that I first picked up a Batman graphic novel to the first time I read Arkham Asylum [the comic], the first time I read The Killing Joke, the first time I turned on [the TV] at 4:30 in the afternoon and saw Batman: The Animated Series and heard that theme song and saw that Joker. I would videotape it on my VCR, every episode, and freeze-frame the end so I could see who the credits were, who played everyone. All of that time period, 25 years, is in that booth. Through all that time I’ve all of these different sources of inspiration, all these different wells to draw from.
Intrinsically, Mark Hamill is my Joker, and intrinsically that’s going to come through. Fortunately we’ve got the framework of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Batman: The Animated Series where people recognize that Joker. We would be remiss and we would do ourselves a disservice if we didn’t point to that. So that is definitely the star on the horizon that we’re steering the ship toward. But that doesn’t mean we do impressions of that. Within that framework, we find the freedom to show you a different side of these characters, to show you a rawness to Batman, to show you a rawness to the Joker. And that relationship, how it came together and how they’re just two sides of the same coin. That’s the freedom that we’ve got. It really comes down to having a good story and having a good team behind you to support whatever choices you make.
How much of that is direction you receive in the booth versus something imbuing into the voice recording itself?
50/50, man. I can bring a wonderful, amazing actor choice that is going to blow your mind… but if it doesn’t fit within the character, if it doesn’t fit within the story, they’re like, ‘Ummmm… no?’ You have to trust your team to be able to check that ego and not [let you] add something, or do something different or cool just because you want to. Just because I have a gun doesn’t mean I gotta use it. So definitely, [voice director] Amanda Wyatt was my eyes and ears. She really helped Roger and I both make sure that we were doing the proper service to these characters.
Is it more challenging to have a character that has so much history versus creating one like Joel [from The Last of Us] where you’re coming at it from scratch?
“What am I going to do that Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger or Mark Hamill or John DiMaggio haven’t done in the past? Absolutely nothing.”
We have got a wealth of knowledge with these characters [in Arkham Origins]. When he first finds Jason Todd, [the alter-ego of Robin in Batman: A Death in the Family], how did he deals with that? You have all of this information that helps you make these decisions, or at least helps you to go, ‘I”m going to make this decision now because when people know he’s going to make this decision [in the future] it makes it all the cooler.’ You see why he reacts differently. I wouldn’t say it’s more challenging, it’s just a different challenge.
You’re establishing a first meeting between Joker and Batman. How was that?
What an opportunity, you know? This entire process has been with celebration, adulation, and trepidation. We’re so excited to show how these two came together. But man, if we screw this up?
With a graphic novel, I can go, ‘Ehhh, I can’t get behind this.’ Geoff Johns, when he did Earth Zero, I love that story of completely juxtaposing all of the Batman characters. You can accept it because you go, ‘Well I’ve still got this over here that can be my mainline story, so I’ll accept this kind of offshoot.’ For some reason with games, it could be [a gamer’s] only entry point into the Batman universe, there’s people that probably have seen the movies but never read the graphic novels, so their knowledge of the Batman lore comes from Arkham City. I don’t ever want to do anything that does a disservice to the Batman lore.
You’re starting to build up a resume of high-profile games. As a performer, are you concerned that people are going to start thinking, ‘Oh, it’s Troy Baker’ when they hear you?
Every day. Even with this, I was like, ‘Maybe we don’t say that it’s me, and we find out when the credits roll.’ And people would go, ‘Oh my god.’ I would love that.
Are you afraid of being like a Nolan North?
No, because first of all… I would love to be that talented. We have scratched the surface of what Nolan is capable of doing. A little bit of proof of that was when he did Penguin in Arkham City. He is a chameleon. He is absolutely a master of disguise, and he is single-handedly the most talented voice working in video games right now. But I understand what you’re saying. To me, it’s not ‘I don’t want to be the next Nolan North.’ It’s, ‘I don’t want to be the next Nate Drake [from Uncharted].’ It wasn’t Nolan North that was cast in every game, it was Nate Drake. I don’t ever want it to be about me. A friend of mine told me: the difference between fame and notoriety is, fame is when people know you and notoriety is when people know your work. The first one is not respectable, but the second one is, because that’s the one that leaves a legacy. And that’s what I want to do. I want people to see the Joker, I don’t want people to see Troy Baker. And hopefully that’s what people see on October 25.