Loren Lester on Batman And Harley Quinn, Nightwing and the legacy of the Animated Series

We talk to Loren Lester about reprising his role as Nightwing for Batman And Harley Quinn

A new Batman animated movie is here – Batman And Harley Quinn – and it’s what fans of the classic Batman: The Animated Series have been waiting for. It comes from Bruce Timm and features that classic animated style that we all know and love, and, of course, Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester reprise their roles as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

Featuring Melissa Rauch as Harley Quinn, it finds Batman and Nightwing forced to recruit the hellraiser to stop Poison Ivy and The Floronic Man from unleashing a terrible global threat.

Loren Lester has played the part of Dick Grayson since The Animated Series began back in 1992, and he tells us that he was thrilled to get the chance to voice the character again.

“It was ‘here’s the script, it’s finished,’ and it was really a wonderful surprise, it came out of nowhere,” he remembers. “I was not expecting that. It had been my dream to reprise my role as Nightwing for many years now. And this just, it was a wonderful phone call to get.”

This is definitely a lot lighter than many of the Batman movies we’ve seen, both animated and live-action. Was that something that appealed to you?

Yes, definitely. Comedy has always been my favourite thing to do. There was a lot of comedy in this script and I appreciated that. I think Nightwing was always more of the comic relief because Batman was so dark and brooding, so Dick Grayson both as Robin and as Nightwing was always a lighter, more comic sidekick for him. But they really did a lot of that in this script and I appreciated that.

And there’s a bit of romance for Nightwing too…

Oh yeah, Dick Grayson in the TV show never had a romance but in the comic books, of course, he did. So that was another maturing of the character and another evolution of the character to give him a romance, so I thought that was terrific.

Are you always being asked by fans when the next movie is, when the next series is?

Yes, I have unfortunately no information, I always tell people the actors are the last to know and it’s really true! We’re the last to know! They work on the script and they work on the production and they get it all together. I guess with the really really big stars they say we have this idea for a movie, do you want to do it? And then they write the script, but for people like me the script is always finished first and then they present it. So, if they’re off writing a script, I’m not aware of it. I hope so!

 

What’s it been like getting to develop a character over this length of time?

Well, there are large gaps of time in between the projects, but what’s wonderful about it is when I walk into the recording studio, and I know Kevin feels the same way, it’s like no time has passed at all, it just picks up right away. And what I really like about this movie is it picks up right where the TV show left off and it’s as if there has been no time in between.

The film has that brilliant classic animated series look, was that something you were aware of going in?

Oh yeah, I knew Bruce Timm was running the show so I knew it was going to be a tribute to the work we had all done years ago. I had no doubt that it was going to look like that, and sound like that. And people have been asking for that, it’s what they wanted to see. They’ve been coming up to me over the years and saying “When is there going to be another episode or another movie or something in the style of the show?”

Fans have watched each episode multiple times, over and over and over again, and the people who watched the first time, they’re now adults and a lot of them have kids and a lot of them are watching them again. There’s been this need and desire to have a new one so I think it’s filling that for sure.

Nightwing in The Animated Series

Was that incredible fan reaction pretty much instantaneous when the show started?

When we started, we were a hit and we knew that and there were a lot of fans of the show. But when the show ended, we had absolutely no idea that 25 years later we’d still be talking about the show, and that fans would still be watching and there’d be a whole new generation of fans. Nobody had any idea.

Recently for me, because I started doing comic cons in the last two years, the fan response has just been overwhelming and people are very emotional about this show. It was a huge part of their childhood and they tell me that, and how much that show meant to them. It was on in the US after school, and they knew that if they raced home, if they got home in time, they could watch it. There was no DVR in those days! So, it was something they could always look forward to and it meant a lot to people.

And the fans who are comic book readers, which is probably the majority, they tell Kevin and me, “When I read the comic books and Batman’s there, I hear your voice, and when it’s Dick Grayson, I hear your voice.” So that’s very flattering.

What’s the working relationship between you and Kevin like now after so many years of working together?

Oh yeah, it’s a fantastic working relationship, and Kevin and I and also Mark Hamill, we all have theatre backgrounds, so when we’re together and we work off of each other, it’s like we’re doing a play and that’s a lot of fun for us. When somebody has a theatre background you really have the same philosophy and mind-set about acting and how you perform with other people, and that’s always been a wonderful part of working with both of them. Mark and Kevin are actually very close friends, which is kind of funny, Batman and the Joker are really close friends!

Were you able to record together?

Oh yeah, yes, we were. On the original show we were always together. If our characters were in the episode, Kevin or Mark or me, there was no time that we were not there. And that goes for the whole cast. There were only maybe one or two exceptions over the whole series, and The Adventures Of Batman And Robin, that there was somebody whose voice had to be dummied. And this goes for the stars too, the stars were all there.

It was like doing a radio play, everyone was there. And we would go on as long as we could go until there would be a technical glitch or maybe somebody would flub a line or something, and they would just let us go. And if it meant that we got a couple of pages recorded without stopping, then that’s what we’d do, because once it got rolling, that was when the magic really happened.

What was it like working with Melissa Rauch as the new voice of Harley Quinn?

I’ve loved all the Harley Quinns. Certainly, Arlene and Tara and Melissa, I think they all did a bang-up job with the part. I think she captures the spirit of the character just as the other actresses have in the past, I think again as I said, this picks up right where the show left off, I think that’s what happens. Her performance helps that situation where it just picks up right where we left off.

We’ve seen animated versions of The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Killing Joke…which comic would you like to see given the animated movie treatment?

I would love to see Knightfall animated. The whole transition of Nightwing into Batman really fascinates me. I was really happy I could do the transition from Robin to Nightwing, and now I hope that they will take it to the next level and have that transition, and have it while Bruce Wayne is still Batman so there’s a lot of dramatic tension between them. Some of the best moments in the original show between Kevin and myself were the dramatic tension moments where I was trying to break away and become my own person and Batman still wanted to be more of father figure.

Finally, we’re huge Wes Craven fans and we just wanted to ask what it was like working with him on Red Eye?

I think it’s one of my favourite movies that I’ve ever done and it’s because of him. Wes was a very soft spoken, easy-going, humorous guy. He wouldn’t be making jokes all the time but he’d lay back and when he wanted to say something funny, it would be very funny. And he knew exactly what he wanted, it’s always a pleasure to work with directors who know exactly what they want. And he also knew how to cast things and really appreciated what actors bring to it.

The part I had in that was only supposed to be one small scene which is the scene at the ticket counter. That was the only scene in the script but after I did it he brought me back for more scenes and wrote new scenes and had me come back later in the plane for that joke where I find Cillian Murphy with the pencil in his neck. That wasn’t in the original script. So, I was very honoured that he saw something in me and wanted to make my part bigger, that meant a lot to me. I really miss him and miss the fact that I won’t get to work with him again.

 

Batman And Harley Quinn is in cinemas now, and released on Blu-ray and DVD from 28 August.