Animation Casting Director Andrea Romano Talks ‘Wonder Woman’
Andrea Romano, arguably the best known casting/dialogue director on the animation scene today, brings the voices of yet another DC Universe animated original film to life with Wonder Woman. The original animated feature will be released by Warner Premiere on March 3, 2009.
Her voice cast this time includes Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Virginia Madsen, Oliver Platt and Rosario Dawson.
Romano began her career as an actress in New York before switching coasts and paths, accepting a position as a Hollywood voiceover agent’s assistant. Over five-plus years, she moved from a large talent agency to a smaller boutique agency, learning the business before shifting into casting for Hanna-Barbera in 1984.
She has been nominated for Emmy Awards a total of 18 times, and there are six Emmys standing tall in her home – well, proud as they can stand when attired in Barbie clothes. Romano enjoys dressing her statuettes.
Romano has made her mark in every genre of animation, and her weekly workload today is a perfect example. When she isn’t orchestrating the casting and voicing of the latest DC Universe animated original movie or Warner Bros. Animation TV series, she’s directing SpongeBob SquarePants or skipping across the globe directing the international casts of Kung Fu Panda.
Warner Premiere provided us with the following interview.
Question: You seem to glide easily between a diverse array of projects, running the gamut from silly shows for Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. to the wacky world of SpongeBob SquarePants, and then into the more serious, action-oriented Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC Comics super heroes. Do you have a preference between the different genres?
Andrea Romano: I love the fact that my job gives me the chance to do every different kind of animated project, and these days the projects couldn’t be more varied or diverse. I can’t say that I specifically have a favorite. Moreover, it’s the variety that keeps me stimulated, keeps me interested. There was a period of time when I was doing a lot of action shows, and I do love them and I’m not complaining one bit, but I missed the silly. So I really do enjoy the variety.
Question: You’ve stated previously that you have trouble narrowing a list of favorite actors with whom you’ve worked. But do you have a list of actors you’ve yet to engage whom you’d still like to get behind the microphone?
AR: There are several actors that I have not yet had the chance to work with that I’m determined to work with at some point. Actors like James Woods, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti, to name a few. I’d kill to direct Jeremy Irons. I think George Clooney is a wonderful, versatile actor, and I think he could do really incredible, silly things in animation – things that he doesn’t really get the chance to do in live-action. Most of those actors are so busy that they wouldn’t be able to say ‘yes’ to an animated project, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go after them. I’m not afraid to go after any actor. What’s the worse that can happen? They might turn me down, but maybe they’ll say yes. I’m going to work for another 25 years and so, as long as they can continue to speak and sing and be silly, I will hire them. I’m not done yet.
Question: Voiceover work is still a relatively anonymous role, and yet Andrea Romano walks into a Con panel before a 1,500-seat capacity crowd and she’s greeted like a rock star. What’s that like for you?
AR: I’m always astounded that people know who I am and what I do. I’ll go to San Diego and people will actually follow me through the building and very politely tug on my shirt and say, ‘Excuse me, are you Andrea Romano?’ I’m blown away every time it happens. I still have a lot of anonymity and that’s good. I don’t get bothered in restaurants and stuff like that. But when I’m at events that are really geared toward animation fans, they know who I am. And I’m so very pleased and so flattered by it. People are extremely complimentary to me, and that only encourages me to continue to do more really good work. I get paid by the studios, but I know I work for the fans.
Question: Seemingly everyone believes they could do voiceovers for animation. What’s your ultimate advice for those seeking to make that career move?
AR: I know what advice I won’t give anymore. At the last Comic-Con, I gave my stock answer to that question, which was ‘Send large expensive presents directly to my office.’ A few months later, I get this enormous gift basket. It was stunning — a bottle of wine, three different kinds of cheeses, pesto sauce, pasta … and a demo tape. I had to call the guy and say ‘I can’t accept this, I’m uncomfortable with this,’ but he said ‘No, no, no – I work in the industry. It’s okay, it’s legal. I admire your work, and this is really just a thank you for everything you’ve done. If you have chance to listen to my demo tape, that’s just great, if you don’t that’s fine, too.’ But it was still a very weird moment for me.
For people who seriously want to get into voiceover acting, clearly the most important thing is that you must be a good actor. That comes first. That’s why celebrities get so much work in voiceovers – we’ve seen their work, we know they’re good actors. So take acting classes. Then take voice acting classes – and there is a difference. There are techniques specific to voice acting that you must learn. Not popping your Ps and how to stay on-microphone, especially during the physical scenes, and how to create the impact sounds. Getting punched and throwing a punch are two different sounds. Sneezing, burping, whistling and kissing all require silly little tricks. These are very specific techniques, and all are taught in voiceover classes.
Once you feel very secure in your acting and voiceover techniques, put together a voiceover demo – and only showcase your best work. Include things that are novel and new. If you do impressions, great, but let it be an impression that’s unusual and different. We don’t need to hear John Wayne. Include examples of accents, dialects, singing, singing in character, character voices. And you don’t have to be massively versatile if you have an interesting voice and you’re a good actor. Sterling Holloway and Ben Stein are good examples of people with interesting voices. But you do need to be able to act through your interesting voice. Finally, once you’ve put together your demo, you need to get it to all the agents and casting people and animation companies in town. Follow-up and keep following up, and hopefully somebody bites.
Question: The DC Universe films are very celebrity-laden voice casts. Do you ever purposely cast against types for those roles, and when is it okay to have an actor reprise a role or be cast in consecutive films?
AR: Sometimes it’s really fun to cast against type just to let the actor stretch a little bit more, to do something they don’t normally get the chance to do on camera. It’s very liberating for an actor when they don’t have to worry if they’re blonde enough or young enough or tall enough. If the voice is right and they can act, they can do a role for me.
Casting is sometimes like going to a party. You get there and everybody at the party is wonderful. They’re funny, they’re interesting, and the next time you go to a party, you kind of want those same people there. I do find myself going back to a lot of the same actors I’ve worked with because it was fun, it was good and I know they can do the job. When we have tight deadlines to cast a project, that’s how some decisions are made. We’ve all seen animated projects and thought, ‘That person was the perfect voice for that role,’ but what few people know is what it took to get that performance. Was it 50 takes per line or did they nail it on the first try? When the schedule is tight, you go with the people you know will get the job done quickly and well.
Question: How often are you surprised by an actors’ performance?
AR: Quite often, and I mean that in a good way. A lot of times we cast actors who haven’t done voiceovers before, and because voiceover work is different from on-camera, you’re not sure what’s going to happen in the booth. Wonder Woman is Keri Russell’s first animated role, and she was amazing. Then there are moments when everything just clicks and the impossible happens. There was a project I did years ago in which Rob Paulsen, the wonderful voice of Pinky in Pinky and the Brain and Yakko Warner in Animaniacs” had to sing all the countries of the world, from start to finish. The man did it in a single take! Then he asked if he could have a second take? (she laughs) Of course, he could have a second take. But the truth is he nailed it the first time, which is stunning. So you never know what you’re going to get.
Question: Which leads us to that stellar Wonder Woman cast. What exactly does Keri Russell bring to the title character?
AR: Keri Russell has such a wonderful, youthful sound to her voice and yet, there’s a really nice underlying tone of strength. That’s exactly what you need for Wonder Woman. This is the story of her first finding out what civilization is like, so there has to be a youthful innocence and, at the same time, she’s got to have the strength to kick butt and not take garbage from anybody. Keri absolutely has that. She’s a terrific actress, and that combination of vulnerability, youth and strength in the voice is perfect for this role.
Question: What made Nathan Fillion right for Steve Trevor?
AR: I’m just so in love with Nathan Fillion. He is this great, silly, playful, fun-loving actor who also knows when and how to get down to business. Nathan brought all of that to the voice work in this project, and that made him exactly right for Steve Trevor. The character has to be smart, he’s got to be trustworthy, but also silly and vulnerable and, in his own way, kind of a buffoon. He’s going to make a fool of himself overseeing these ridiculously beautiful amazons. Nathan just fell into that role perfectly.
Question: How did you settle on Alfred Molina as Ares
AR: Who doesn’t like Alfred Molina? I have admired him for so many years and he had done some work for me before. He’s extremely busy, constantly working – we lucked out that he was available. Ares is strong and full of himself – there’s a huge ego there. Fred doesn’t have that kind of ego, but he can act it beautifully. He also has the physical strength in his voice that mirrors the character, and an aspect to his voice where you could believe that he could convince someone to do what he wanted in a way that they don’t even know they’re being convinced. Finally, because Ares is the God of War, his presence creates violence around him – and as gentle a soul as Fred is, there’s something about what he brought into the booth that makes that emotion completely believable.
Question: Rosario Dawson was a natural fit as the warrior Artemis?
AR: Rosario Dawson is such a beautiful woman and a beautiful person, and a comic book fan. I had always been looking for something that I thought was appropriate for her and, with this strong female character, Rosario’s name popped to mind instantly. She’s got a presence in her voice that is so right that you immediately believe this is an Amazon warrior. Artemis is tough and strong and smart, and I believe Rosario is all of that as both a person and an actress. So we had a perfect match.
Question: Were you looking to balance all of that female bravado with Virginia Madsen in the stately role as Hippolyta?
AR I needed a strong, somewhat mature female voice for Hippolyta and, as the Amazon women are all stunning, I needed voices that also brought that beauty into it. That made Virginia Madsen kind of a no-brainer. She’s got that beautiful, husky quality to her voice that resonates with strength and a little bit of maturity, and she’s got real femininity to her voice that embodies the beauty. It was a great marriage of actress and character.
Question: Oliver Platt is another virtual rookie to voiceovers. What did he bring to the role of Hades?
AR: For Wonder Woman, I hired more on-camera actors that I admire than almost any other project that I’ve ever worked on. I have been an enormous fan of Oliver Platt. I just think he is funny, touching, talented, strong and sympathetic. When you listen to his voice, there’s a real distinctive quality to it. He’s a great example of a voice with character. And wait ‘til you hear him as Hades – his voice and the character match so brilliantly and the acting is spot on. He was the absolute right guy for the voice.