Christian Bale’s brooding, growling Dark Knight set box office records this summer and Kevin Conroy’s voice work as Batman is beloved by animation fans, but tonight a new man dons the cape and cowl – Diedrich Bader.
Bader, known for his work on The Drew Carey Show, Office Space and Napoleon Dynamite, voices Batman in an all-new Cartoon Network show, Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Based on the popular comic book series, The Brave and The Bold teams Batman up with a variety of other superheroes to battle common foes.
We recently talked to Bader about becoming Batman, learning from Scott Bakula and hearing fans shout “two chicks at the same time.”
You are originally from Alexandria, VA, but moved to France when you were two. That’s obviously quite a unique experience, what was it like growing up in France?
It’s actually probably what made me an actor, the kind of alienation that I felt from moving from an English-speaking country to a French-speaking country. It was confusing because I had basically just learned English, then all of the sudden I was dropped into a totally different language.
That actually really helped me be an actor because I started fixating on movies. I really wanted to go to the movies all of the time and so I started loving silent movies because then there wasn’t this language problem and I really became enamored of the great silence, including Harpo Marx, who was one of my favorites.
How long were you in France?
About four years. A little more than four years.
Where do you call home now?
I live in Los Angeles; Hancock Park.
You mentioned that your experience in France and love of movies helped make you an actor, but when exactly did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
When I was four. When I was four I decided I wanted to be an actor. Before that, I wanted to be a spider monkey.
You know what’s really cool about that? I’m actually a guest star on Ben 10. I just did the ADR session for it yesterday, where I play a spider monkey. So it’s kind of come full circle.
So was being a spider monkey everything you hoped it would be?
It was. Even better.
When did you actually pursue acting as a career? You weren’t going out on auditions at four, were you?
No, I didn’t want to be a pro until, actually I was hoping to go all the way through art school and then start my professional career. I didn’t want to do it in high school at the local stages or anything like that, even though I had some drama teachers that wanted me to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to have as normal a childhood as I possibly could.
I started actually when I was 20 because I met a casting director at a dinner party in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was there on vacation with my parents. The next thing I knew I was cast in a pilot riding a horse and dressed like a cowboy. It was actually really cool.
That sounds like it would be a good first gig.
Oh, it was fantastic. I got to dress like a cowboy and decide how I’m gonna wear my guns.
How did you wear your guns?
I had two guns and I did the cross-draw.
That’s a classic look.
So once you made the decision to pursue acting, did you work fairly steadily early on?
You know, I always think that I’m not working very much, but if I look back on it there are these what I consider enormous spans of like three or four weeks where I’m not actually working. When I first got here, after I got this pilot, I moved back to North Carolina and I tried to go back to the School of the Arts and I just couldn’t hack it. So I moved out to Los Angeles and I had a really dry period of about five weeks where I showed up and the people who did the pilot I had done before had another pilot. They gave me a call and I went in and I got it.
After that, I just started working. I’ve been very, very lucky. One of the nice things is to have a second career, really, although it’s kind of part and parcel, is animation because when I’m not working on camera, I’m working on animation. It’s really fun.
Now that I’ve kind of intentionally scaled down my on-camera work, the animation has been a nice supplement for me to be able to continue to act. As I say to my kids, it’s more than what I do, it’s who I am. I am an actor. It would be difficult for me not to do it. But I have to pick how I’m going to do it in order to also do another thing that I am, a dad.
Early on in your career, you had small roles in shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Quantum Leap, Cheers and Fraiser. More recently, you’ve had guest roles on shows like Reno 911, Monk and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Are these guest roles a way to keep working or do you enjoy being a journeyman actor?
I like going on to somebody else’s set and I love not being the star. First of all, let me say that because being the star is way too much work. But I love going in and seeing people’s sets and what their vibe is and I just love being a guest. I love the craft service table. I love a whole new crew to get to know and to see how everybody else works. Every set is different. I learn so much from being on different sets. Every day that I work, I learn.
Are the other actors usually pretty accommodating to you when you come in for a guest role?
For the most part. There are some sets that are really horribly dysfunctional. But there are others that are just really well-oiled machines and there are others that are just incredibly pleasant to work on.
I think the most pleasant set I was on was Scott Bakula’s show, Quantum Leap. I mean, this was a long time ago but that was just a really, really functional set. Everybody was really happy, Scott was a great lead. He was just a really nice guy and he kept everything really positive. It was fun.
Scott Bakula always seemed like a really nice guy. It’s good to hear that he lives up to it in real life.
Oh my god, what a mensch. And you know, I actually learned a lot from him being on that show. Every morning that he came in, when he was first called in, he would shake the hands of every single crew member and say their name. I learned a lot from that. It was something that I always tried to do on The Drew Carey Show, just to say good morning to everybody and to welcome the guest cast to the show. It’s also what I’m trying to do on Batman, too.
It’s more than just coming in and doing your job. If you are going to be a regular on a show, you have to welcome people and you have to respect everyone in the crew. It’s something that you don’t naturally think of – even if you are a pleasant person, you don’t naturally think of saying hello to literally everyone. But it’s something that should be done. It creates a great environment.
Of course, in 1995 you became part of The Drew Carey Show, playing Oswald. What was it like being a part of that show for such a long time and what was it like to see it come to an end in 2004?
It was sad when it ended. You know, we had a really good time together. I think that was pretty evident on camera. What was interesting too about the executive producer of that show was that he would keep takes where we were obviously laughing out of character at each other. We really made each other laugh and we hung out a lot together. We went on vacations together. It was an amazing close cast. So it was tough for us when it first broke up. It still is actually. I miss the show. I particularly miss working with Ryan Stiles, who is just such a genius and so pleasant to work with.
Do you still keep in touch with the people from the show?
Yeah, from time to time. Mostly I hang out with Kathy Kinney. Ryan moved just outside of Seattle at this beautiful place, actually, but you know it’s a haul. He comes into town to do some work on Two and a Half Men and we see each other then.
Many people know you from your role as Lawrence in Office Space. What was it like being a part of that film and how often do people come up to you quoting your “two chicks at the same time” line?
I get it at least once a week. It’s crazy.
Do you still enjoy hearing it?
I think it’s hilarious. It’s fantastic. Fans are great. I don’t understand why anybody has any problem with it. Besides, if there is a line that you don’t want to say or can’t live with, don’t take the part. Nobody’s forcing you to.
So I’m delighted to be a part of Office Space and the fact that it’s had this incredibly long life afterwards is just amazing.
Are you surprised by that? Did you think it would be a hit at the time or did you have no idea?
I didn’t know if it was going to be a hit at the time. It’s just when I read the script, I really wanted to be a part of it. Just like Napoleon Dynamite, I didn’t know. You never know. You just have to go with what you really want to be a part of and what’s going to be really exciting and fun for you.
The mistakes I have made are when I’ve done larger studio pictures that I thought would make money. So what I’ve learned over the career is do the stuff that you really want to do.
You mentioned Napoleon Dynamite, we would imagine you get quite a few quotes thrown at you from that movie as well.
Especially from kids between eight and 16. For them, they’ve seen it like a million times. The time that I knew Napoleon was going to be a hit, I was actually in a voiceover session and there was a kid that was a regular on this little kid show that I used to do. He recognized me as Rex Kwan Do and knew every single line. And it was in the theaters. So I realized he had seen it that many times and I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness, this is going to be a hit.”
You’ve been a part of Batman Beyond, The Zeta Project, The Batman and now you have the lead role in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. What is it like to finally get to take the lead and be Batman?
It was a big buildup to finally be the Batman. It ended up really working perfectly for me because this is a very different take on Batman. It’s not The Batman where it’s very dark or Kevin Conroy’s, which was really fabulous too. This is Batman with a sense of humor. Now, it’s dry and wry and ironic, but it’s got comedy in it that is genuinely funny, not really dark. The guest stars are generally comedic guest stars like Tom Kenny plays Plastic Man and John DiMaggio is on there as Aquaman. Guys that are really genuinely funny.
It’s not a comedy show; it’s an action show, but it’s an action show with genuine laughs in it. That’s kind of what’s exciting about it. And it’s also the colors are so saturated and the animation is so fluid. Any real fan of animation I think will really dig it because it’s totally 2D. We’re not trying for any kind of digital look at all.
It’s certainly a unique look to the show – one that is quite different from the look of shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond.
It’s a throwback to the comic book that it’s based on. I think it’s really cool. I think people are ready for a new style of animation, especially when it concerns Batman. Also, for real fans – we get paired up every week with a different hero and also too different bad guys. It’s going to be fun for real fans because it’s going to go deep into the DC lexicon and find characters that we haven’t seen for a really long time. So if you are a real fan of the true Batman, it’s beyond the rogues’ gallery. It’s really diving into the depths of characters that we can find.
You mentioned Kevin Conroy who is very well known and highly regarded for being the voice of Batman in a number of animated shows. And, of course, in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale has taken some flack for his growling, angry Batman voice. Did you play around with different voices and styles to find the voice of Batman in The Brave and The Bold?
What I did was when Batman talks as Batman, he has the Batman voice, so he has the growl which is kind of the classic Batman established by Keaton and then carried on by Conroy. But when he speaks in voiceover, I figured that’s actually Bruce Wayne, so that’s the difference. Batman is really kind of a character that Bruce Wayne plays in order for him to maintain his identity.
Will we ever see him as Bruce Wayne in the show?
There’s no Bruce Wayne. He’s always Batman. That was established with the comic book The Brave and The Bold.
For people who are unfamiliar with the comic book it’s based on, what else can they expect from the show?
As I said, you’re going to find bad guys that you haven’t seen before unless you are a real comic book fan or you have the DC Encyclopedia. One of the nice things about it, because they pair up each week with a different superhero, these guys because they have to work as partners, it’s like a big brother relationship or two brothers. It’s kind of a fractious relationship where they get to find each other’s strengths and weaknesses and compliment each other and sort of learn about each other and about themselves.
That’s the nice arc about it – without an overriding moral to it, there is an overriding moral to it. It’s not encapsulated at the end, where he says, “Well, the moral this week is …” I think it’s really nice writing in that it has a theme every episode, so that’s kind of fun. I think people will really like it and one of the nice things about it is you can watch it with your kids, so it kind of broadens the demographic away from the darkness of The Dark Knight and back towards the original Batman.
Obviously you can’t give too much away, but what other superheroes can we expect to see Batman teaming up with?
Well, you saw Blue Beetle. There’s going to be Plastic Man and Aquaman and Red Tornado and Green Lantern and those are just the bigger guys. There are also much more obscure guys that you’re going to have to tune in every week. There are guys that you haven’t seen and who haven’t been actually even in comic books since the 60s. So for real true fans of comic books, it’s going to be a thrill. I can tell you that when we were at Comic-Con and we showed some of the more obscure characters that we’re dusting off, people were literally screaming.
That’s good to be pretty cool.
It was really fun. What a thrill it was. And that was actually the first time that I saw the animation too and our animation style is so different. It’s such a quantum leap from the other Batman and from anything else on really. It’s really hard to describe, but it has a little of the anime feel to it too. I think it’s really cool.
That’s one of the things about voiceover is that you don’t really know how it’s going to look at the end. So when you finally see the final product and you like it, it’s fantastic.
You mentioned that one of the superheroes Batman will be teaming up with is Aquaman. It has always seemed like comic book fans don’t really like Aquaman, like he’s almost the black sheep of the DC Comics Universe.
He’s had a rough ride, Aquaman. It’s true. We totally remedy that. First of all, he’s voiced by John DiMaggio, who is a real character and just a great voiceover actor. He brings a theatricality to Aquaman and it’s kind of a different take on Aquaman than I certainly have ever seen before. He’s got a really deep and rich character – a guy who loves to tell the story of himself. He’s a great dramatist and likes to title his own adventures. It’s a really fun take on him. With that kind of character contrasted by Batman’s dry and ironic wit makes some really fun episodes.
What is the process like recording your lines for Batman? Do all of the actors record their lines together at the same time or are you alone in a sound booth?
At Disney they tend to do that, but at Warner Bros., especially with Andrea Romano who is the casting director and also the dialogue director on Batman: The Brave and The Bold, she does a thing which most people don’t do, which is she does it like a radio play and we all sit down and rehearse it together so that you get the tone of the show.
Because this is Batman, it’s primarily an action-adventure show, but has a sense of humor that could be interpreted as being broad, it’s good for everybody to be together and hear overall what the tone is and talk about it before we actually start recording it.
And when we record it, we record it as a radio play, so we’re all kind of together and we go through it. We do it act by act, then they listen to the act and see what pickup we need to do and do whatever line they feel missed the boat and we go all the way through like that. It’s really fun.
It seems like that would make a difference in the work.
It really does, literally because you have to listen to the other actor. It’s funny, real fans of animation are going to be kind of surprised by the people we’ve pulled in from on-camera work. I can’t tell you any of them unfortunately, but it’s going to be fun for them to see who we ended up getting.
But it was always interesting to have a lot of people that did on-camera work come into the studio. Because we’re all together and reading it as a play, a lot of on-camera actors think that we’re really acting together and so they want to look at you and they always end up getting off microphone. So it’s really difficult to record a guy who is used to doing on-camera work because they really want it to happen in the room. And it can happen in the room, but you have to imagine in your head all of the different characters and keep your mouth on microphone. So it was always interesting to work with two different groups. The voiceover world, especially in series animation, there’s not a lot of bleed over between them.
Do you get to improvise at all when recording your lines?
I did right at the beginning because there wasn’t quite a consistent voice. Then the writers really listened – the show takes off and they write towards you, you don’t have to do it anymore. But Tom Kenny came on and had complete free reign. His Plastic Man is hilarious. He improvised all over the place and they took almost all of it. He had a lot of room.
Is there a different set of challenges for you doing the voiceover work and on-screen acting? Do you approach the two differently?
Oh yeah, you have to approach them differently. Definitely. You make choices in animation that you wouldn’t be able to make in on-camera work because you would just be too broad. But if you were to act the same way as an on-camera actor in voiceover, it just wouldn’t be enough stuff. Because it’s animation and because the suspension of disbelief is so enormous that literally a cartoon character you’re supposed to imbue with an actual life, you have to put more kind of vim into it. So you would have line readings that you would do for animation that is as I said much broader than you would do on camera.
Are you someone who watches your own work when it airs or do you tend to avoid it?
I’ll watch the animation. It’s fun.
So you won’t watch your live action work?
Not very much.
I watch playback on the set. Sometimes they’ll have a video machine hooked up to the camera as sort of a directorial tool to watch what just happened and see if you have all of the takes you need. So on the set I’ll watch and make sure that my eyeline is fine and that it’s working. I find that I learn a lot from watching playback. And then I get to go do another take based on what I just learned. So I’m always interested in that.
But when it finally all cuts together, I don’t tend to watch it that much. I’ve kind of already learned and sort of moved on. I don’t look anything like the young Sean Connery and I’m always disappointed.
We would imagine it’s a little surreal to see yourself as a cartoon Batman.
It’s totally cool. It’s really cool. The most surreal voiceover was The Country Bears. I did a voice for one of the bears in The Country Bears movie a while ago, which is a kids’ movie. To see my voice in a bear was actually the most surreal.
Are you focusing mostly on children’s shows these days?
Yeah, I’m doing mostly off-camera voiceover work right now because my kids are very little and this is a very precious time, so I’m kind of focusing on that – stuff that would be fun for them to watch so that they understand why I have to work when I do. And as they grow, I’ll do older and older stuff.
Are they into it? Do they think it’s cool that dad is Batman?
I have a five-year-old boy, so what do you think? He’s in heaven. I brought home the action figure of my Batman, which isn’t going to be released by Mattel for a while. So really, he’s the first little boy in North America to get this toy and I thought the heavens had opened. His face took on this expression of pure angelicism. He was so happy in that one moment; it was just incredible. So yeah, he’s excited about it. And every time the preview comes up for Batman, he jumps up and down. He’s really pumped.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
You know, I don’t know. I haven’t really done my research on the net and I’ve always kind of been an open book. I think if there’s one thing I want people to know about me, it’s that I really love what I do and I really love getting a positive response from people. There are a lot of actors who don’t like fans and I absolutely adore them. So that’s something I want people to know about me.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting?
As I said, before I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be a spider monkey, so I would imagine I’d be some sort of spider monkey or a three-toed sloth. That’s really closer to who I really am, so maybe that.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully Batman will get picked up and I get to continue to be Batman. That would be a great thing for me. I would really enjoy that. More animation work and just plodding along, doing my actor thing and in a couple of years trying to get back into the on-camera world.
Has Cartoon Network given you any indication on whether or not the show will be picked up?
As far as I know, Cartoon Network is really excited about the show and I know Mattel is really excited about the line of toys. They’re really cool. I got a good look at all of the new stuff that they’re putting out and they’re really fun action figures. I know my kid, he loves collecting action figures, so for him, having a brand new line of Batman – everybody’s being re-imagined – Plastic Man and Aquaman and all of those guys, Blue Beetle. So it’s going to be a really fun line.
The show is really strong. What’s really cool about it is that in the beginning we were close to where we wanted to be. That’s the great thing about series and the kind of pointless thing about pilots. A pilot is the first episode of a prospective series, I don’t know if your readership knows this or not.
Anyway, in a pilot, you never really know what the show is. In this show too, we really developed. We had such an arc. It’s funny now doing the voiceover pickup work for various lines from Batman and hearing the Batman that I was doing at the very beginning because it’s so different and it’s grown so much and it’s really interesting to hear where it is now. Now we’re in such a good comfort zone that I really hope we get picked up because this year will be really strong and next year will be even stronger. I’m excited about it.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. Batman: The Brave and The Bold airs tonight at 8 p.m. on The Cartoon Network.