Lucius Malfoy To Ra's al Ghul
Jason Isaacs on Batman: Under the Red
Jason Isaacs, renowned for his villainous turn as Lucius
Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, assumes another dark iconic
role as the voice of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman: Under the
Red Hood, the latest entry in the ongoing series of DC Universe
Animated Original PG-13 Movies coming July 27, 2010 to Blu-ray,
DVD, OnDemand and for Download.
I've played priests and I've played transvestites,
wizards and pirates, and everything in between."
who portrays Malfoy in five Harry Potter films, is well
known for his lead role on the Showtime series Brotherhood,
as well as starring opposite Mel Gibson in the revolutionary
war adventure, The Patriot. The British actor has also racked
up credits in films like Armageddon, Black Hawk Down, Peter
Pan, Grindhouse, DragonHeart and Green Zone; TV series including
The West Wing, Entourage and The State Within (for which
he received a Golden Globe nomination); and in the voiceover
realm in everything from documentary narration and commercial
advertisements to video games and the popular animated series
Avatar: The Last Airbender,
Batman: Under the Red Hood, Isaacs gives Batman’s
nemesis Ra’s al Ghul a sympathetic twist as the villain
attempts to right his own wrongs and help Batman in his
efforts against both Red Hood and the Joker. Isaacs is an
integral part of an all-star cast that includes Bruce Greenwood
(Star Trek), Jensen Ackles (Supernatural), Neil Patrick
Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and John DiMaggio (Futurama).
splits his time between the UK and the US, but still found
a few moments to chat about his latest animation voiceover
role, his yearning for an actual super power, and his childhood
addiction to comic books. Read on …
MIEREANU: This isn’t really the
Ra’s al Ghul we’re accustomed to seeing –
what’s the nutshell synopsis of his part in Batman:
Under the Red Hood?
ISAACS: This role is a bit unusual for Ra's al
Ghul as he’s been Batman's nemesis a lot in the past.
But this time he is actually full of regret for a mistake
that he has made, and his inability to control the Joker.
A lot of what happens for Ra’s in this story is him
explaining to Batman how things went so badly awry, and
how Robin ended up quite so dead.
MIEREANU: Liam Neeson set a
standard for Ra’s in Batman Begins. How did you decide
to approach the voice for this film?
ISAACS: Well, I didn’t think there was much
point to doing an impression of Liam, mostly because he
does it far better than me (he laughs). So I read
the script and I looked at the pictures. He looked like
a man with a lot of dignity and authority – there's
a kind of stateliness about him. He's been alive for six
centuries, which would give him a certain classiness, I
thought. Obviously he's been powerful all that time, and
certainly possessed tons of wealth and influence. So I tried
to put all of that into the tone to his voice.
looked like a man with a lot of dignity and authority
– there's a kind of stateliness about him."
MIEREANU: You were very participatory
in crafting some of the dialogue as you recorded the film.
How important is it for the actor to be able to contribute
to the character?
ISAACS: This is one of the things that happens
when a script has been written and rewritten and rewritten
again, and considered by so many people so often, and they
all have different agendas. They all know what story blocks
they're putting together, and what the visual sequences
look like. And then the actor comes in. Sometimes just the
very last set of eyes laid on the script, by the person
who's meant to bring it to life, can point out an inconsistency
or a logical flaw where the meaning isn't clear.
happened a few times in my life that you see a room full
of people surprised because they thought the meaning was
crystal clear. But if I don't really understand what I'm
saying or why, I'm not sure the audience will, either. So
I offer up my thoughts to the director or whoever and, if
they agree with me, then we change it. And if they don't,
then I do whatever I'm asked because, in the end, I'm just
a hired larynx.
MIEREANU: Do you believe there is a certain
elegant villainy to a British accent? Or is that a purely
ISAACS: I think one of the reasons British people
play so many villains in Hollywood stories is that there's
a tradition of theatre acting and a kind of chameleon-like
change that comes from Europe. Well, that and all the good
leading parts are already snapped up by the Americans over
here (he laughs).
we have a theatre tradition, and are slightly more prepared
to chew the scenery and relish things a bit more. It has
more to do with reaching the back row. Besides, very often
the juiciest role is the villain. The hero is difficult
to play anyway. They're mostly homegrown and very good at
MIEREANU: Is villainy fun to play?
ISAACS: The thing that’s fun to play are
well written parts. It's absolutely torturous to play something
that is written purely for its effect on the audience, and
doesn't seem believable to you. Or, even worse, somebody
that just has no reason to be or speak. Very often there
are chunks of exposition that just would not be said between
"...evil is fun to play when it's written sensibly
is fun to play when it's written sensibly and well. There's
nothing worse than playing a villain who is outsmarted by
the hero from the beginning, and doing things that are purely
sadistic in a way that nobody will ever do.
the most monstrous things an audience reacts to are when
they understand that that character has to do it, needs
to do it, must do it – and if the audience was in
the same situation, they would do it, also. Nobody ever
thinks they're doing the wrong thing. So when the part is
well enough written, the actor responds to the character,
because he thinks that he’s doing the right thing.
much more disturbing to watch because you recognize the
inevitability of it. You can’t escape that. The best
written villain roles are the ones that feel real and understandable
– because those are the ones that haunt your nightmares.
MIEREANU: What’s it like
to be the ultimate nice guy, and yet most recognized for
the villains you’ve portrayed?
ISAACS: I've played priests and I've played transvestites,
wizards and pirates, and everything in between. But there
are certain roles people remember best. I think that if
I spend a day going around town and everybody opens doors
for me and says “hi” and “have a nice
day,” but one guy pokes me in the eye with a toothpick,
he's the guy I remember at the end of the day.
if people remember me as playing villains – and I've
played two or three of them – that's because those
parts have kind of hit a consciousness. I've been lucky
enough to have a couple of very juicy, very well written
parts in stories where the people telling the story were
smart enough to give the villain power. That's very often
not the case in Hollywood movies.
one of the reasons I've done well when I have played villains
is because I spend most of my life like most people –
trying to make sure that I do the right thing, and make
sure that the people like me, and I'm not behaving (badly).
So when I do play a villain once in awhile, it's nice to
be let off the leash and allowed to be deeply unpleasant
with no consequences.
"..it's nice to be let off the leash and allowed
to be deeply unpleasant..."
MIEREANU: Was your childhood
affected at all by comic books, or is the omnipresence of
the super hero in Hollywood just making its mark on you?
ISAACS: I was slightly suspicious of the whole
comic and graphic novel rebirth, because I wasn't any part
of it and hadn't read any comics in so long. But I remember
when I was a kid how addicted I had been to all the DC and
Marvel comics. I had mountains of them in my room –
you couldn't open the door. I wondered why everyone was
suddenly (making comics into films).
when my friend Paul Greengrass was getting involved in preparing
Watchmen a few years ago to direct, which then
fell apart and it was directed by someone else, I had a
look at it. I wondered why somebody I respected and like
so much would be involved, and I picked it up and suddenly
realized the things I had been missing for all these years.
as a kid, I was addicted to comics. I couldn't wait for
every Sunday when my family and I would go and get fish
and chips – that’s an English kind of junk food
tradition (he laughs). There was a little shop
next door that sold candy and had boxes of used comics.
My dad would give me money, and all week I would look forward
to rummaging through the boxes and seeing if I could find
something that I loved.
those wonderful characters – I was addicted to it
all. I would be dismissive of some new character –
anybody relatively new I would dimiss as some pretender,
but then I would get one of their comics … and then
I would have to go get the rest of the series. My bed was
propped with them by the end.
MIEREANU: Do you understand what was at
the core of that love affair with comics?
ISAACS: I just know that I did. In some ways, it's
like asking why somebody likes chocolate and somebody else
likes strawberry. There's something that works about it
there. It's a combination of the art and the amount that
your imagination fills in between the gaps. And the fact
that the restraints and controls are taken off.
you make a movie, it's a very literal medium -- you watch
the story, and it's as if you're looking through a keyhole.
It's very hard to take people on a fantastical journey,
but in these beautiful and bright frames you can take them
to any universe you create. And 90 percent of it the reader
does by himself. It's amazing in this generation that somebody
has married all that stuff to actually very adult themes.
one of the reasons that I loved them so much is that, at
that age, when you're a kid, you're not quite sure what
the physical realities of the world are. It wasn't inconceivable
to me that I might get one of these super powers soon. I
might be bitten by a radioactive spider, or that I could
someday fly, or be bulletproof, or whatever. I fancied that
those powers were somehow accessible and within my reach.
And sadly, as you get older, it seems less and less likely.
MIEREANU: Does acting in a Batman
film have any added significance for you?
"..this is probably the closest I'm going to
get to work with Chris Nolan..."
ISAACS: Well, this is probably the closest I'm
going to get to work with Chris Nolan (he laughs).
Batman is such an iconic figure – he’s rather
dark, mysterious, and a disturbed damaged guy. But there
was always something very, very attractive about Batman
that kind of pulls you in. He didn't have any super powers,
and I think that was one of the things that makes him very
accessible and relatable. It always made it seem that if
you really worked hard, you might just get to be Batman
– in the same way that, when I played tennis as a
kid, I used to think that if I hit a ball against the wall
all day every day, I could eventually be beat Bjorn Borg.
me, that's always a remarkable thing. I remember thinking
as a kid that if I just practiced martial arts all day,
and I got really good at the science stuff, and maybe made
a few billion dollars, I could be Batman. So here I am …
the closest I'm gonna get.
by Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation,
Batman: Under the Red Hood will be distributed by Warner
Home Video as a Special Edition version on Blu-Ray™
and 2-disc DVD, as well as being available on single disc
DVD, On Demand and for Download.
more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s
official website at www.BatmanRedHood.com.