The Incredible Story Of How Kevin Conroy Nailed His Batman Audition

It's impossible to think of "Batman: The Animated Series" without thinking of Kevin Conroy. In fact, the legendary voice artist provided what many consider to be the definitive Dark Knight voice to all manner of Batman media throughout his career. From the "Batman: Arkham" and "Injustice" video games to live-action depictions in "Batwoman" and "Crisis Aftermath," Conroy embodied both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

But "The Animated Series" is where it all began for Conroy, who sadly passed away at the age of 66. The celebrated show introduced an entire generation to a much darker version of the Caped Crusader, who was still trying to shake off the camp of the 1960s Adam West series. There had been Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989 and Frank Miller's seminal "The Dark Knight Returns" comic in '86, but the character hadn't yet established himself in the collective psyche as a truly "Dark Knight".

Of course, that would change over the course of the '90s and 2000s. In 1992, Burton's "Batman Returns" would have adults, and strangely kids, up in arms for being "too dark" before Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy firmly cemented the hero as a serious character. But much of the initial groundwork was laid by "The Animated Series," which debuted on Fox Kids in 1992. With its noirish tone, gothic environs, and cinematic scope, the series had the unlikely distinction of helping to legitimize Batman within the framework of a kids' cartoon series. But when it came time to cast its version of the legendary hero, it seems things didn't go as smoothly as the producers had hoped. Luckily, they eventually found their way to Conroy, who went on his own journey of discovery to find what is now considered the authoritative Batman voice.

Desperation at DC

Speaking to Vulture as part of their oral history of "The Animated Series," Conroy broke down the whole process of developing his Batman voice and auditioning for the producers. Up until the actor came in for the role, the team behind the show had struggled to find their Batman, with voice director Andrea Romano claiming to have listened to 500 voices before narrowing the candidates down to "four or five actors." Even their final choices weren't perfect for the role, with co-creator Bruce Timm stating that he and his team "were so desperate that anybody who would walk through the door ... we would say, 'Oh, by the way, would you be interested in playing Batman as well?'"

At the time, Conroy was used to stage and soap acting, having appeared in Shakespeare productions at San Diego's Old Globe theater and performing in multiple Broadway shows. The Juilliard grad also had roles in soap operas like "Search for Tomorrow" and "Another World," but had yet to make the jump to voice acting. That was before Romano asked her roommate if he knew of anyone, and Conroy was swiftly brought in to audition.

'Oh, I've just screwed up'

As Conroy recalls it, once in the audition he had to disabuse himself of the notion that Batman was the campy figure of the 1960s TV show. He distinctly remembers Timm asking him what he knew about the character:

"Bruce Timm said, 'What do you know about Batman?' And I said, 'Well, I know the Adam West show from the '60s.' He said, 'Oh, no, no, that's not what we're doing! Forget that!' He had to explain to me the Dark Knight legacy and how dark this character was ... I said, 'You're describing an archetypal hero, almost like a Hamlet character.' I was putting it in terms of stage roles that I was familiar with.

Putting it in these terms allowed Conroy to experiment with the voice of Batman, finding the right tone for the character in real time. As he put it in a 2020 interview, "with my voice I tried to create a dark, gritty, filthy New York street." As it turns out, this is exactly what the production team was looking for, but as Conroy recalled, he initially thought he'd blown the whole thing: "Once I had come up with this voice in the recording studio everything got really still in there and I thought 'Oh I've just screwed up.'"

But after one final read of the Bruce Wayne character it became clear that Conroy had actually impressed the whole team. He spoke about how "the key for playing the character ... is that the Batman persona is not the disguise. The disguise is Bruce Wayne." With this crucial part of the role nailed down, Timm and Romano had found their Batman and immediately moved forward on the strength of Conroy's improvised tone.

Batman was always a part of Conroy

In the ensuing years, Conroy was praised for being the first voice actor to make a clear distinction between Batman and Bruce Wayne. It was something Michael Keaton had done in live action with "Batman" three years prior, but Conroy demonstrated a real sensitivity to this crucial piece of the Dark Knight puzzle. "Batman: The Animated Series" originally aired for 85 episodes from 1992-1995, with many considering it to be the definitive depiction of Batman. And while the art direction and the dark and gritty take on the character was a big part of its success, there's no doubt Conroy's Batman voice played a major role, too.

That's remarkable considering the actor found the voice in real time during his audition, and a testament to Conroy's acting chops, which had clearly been finely honed during his time at Juilliard and in the theater. He would go on to expound on "finding Batman" in a touching comic from the 2022 edition of the "DC Pride" anthology where he likens Batman's journey of dual identities to his own experience as a closeted gay man. In that sense, the character of Batman was clearly always a part of Conroy, which is likely why he was able to find it so easily during his audition.