DCN Visits NYCC 2017: Exclusive Interview With Directors Of ‘Justice League Unlimited’ And Cast Of ‘Voltron’

by Sharna Jahangir
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DCN had the exclusive chance to interview some major animation talents at this year’s NYCC. Justice League Unlimited director Joaquim Dos Santos and co-executive producer Lauren Montgomery have always been on a mission to include and inspire for as long as they have worked with animated shows.

This particular interview also includes the much-loved voice actor, and DC’s Hal Jordan, Josh Keaton. Along with his co-stars, the beautiful Kimberly Brooks, and AJ LoCascio.

[AJ, voice of Prince Loto, Kimberly, voice of Princess Allura, and Josh, voice of Shiro]

What are you most excited about your characters this season?

Josh Keaton: The back and forth between Shiro and Keith to really determine the leader this time. It’s going to be interesting how it plays out.

Kimberly Brooke: I love Lotor’s character! I love his entrance, and how he’s a part of the show now. He’s such a good villain. So I’m looking forward to the chaos he’s probably going to cause. And all the dynamics, all the power struggles, relationships with all the Paladins. There is just a lot!

AJ LoCascio: You took my answer! I want to see him unleash; I was to see her [Princess Allura], more of their chemistry. With them all having to deal with a villain that’s totally different from Zarcon, and the Generals. That’s a whole different thing, y’know? Zarkon is all like “I’m doing things my way,” but then things are changing it up. I got a cool band of brothers with me, AND sisters.

Josh Keaton is well-known for many major roles, for example, the voice of Hal Jordan from Justice League. Both Hal and Shiro share themes in space exploration and Keaton has many heroic roles that involve this vast universe, so my question was:

Mr. Keaton, what is your most beloved thing about space exploration? What about it encourages society and younger audiences to go into something like that?

AJ: I loved that you called him Mr. Keaton. I call him that, or like Mr. President.

KB: Yes, we all call him that!

JK: Haha, I mean, we live in such a vast universe and anything that can take a young person’s mind, or any person’s mind, and allow them to broaden the horizon is important. Make them see that there’s got to be stuff out there, and we just gotta go look for it. Figure out how to get off this rock. It’s a great thing to put out there. Any of these things can spur people’s imagination, push the limits of what’s possible. [Looks at his gang] Aliens!

AJ: Aliens!

Andrea Romano [cast director, famously known for Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Voltron: Legendary Defender] has retired. Josh, Kimberly, you go back with her. You’ve worked with her multiple times. AJ, this is your first time. What did you think she brought to the table, and how was it working with her?

AJ: She’s incredible. I dreamed of working with her ever since I got into voice acting. I watched all the Batman: The Animated Series, Avatar, and I knew who she was. That’s the bar! I mean, you work with her, you’re in. She’s incredible. It’s funny, we record together, I know all the voices and I know the shows, but I hear Andrea’s voice reading all the lines. Which is so strange, because there are specific instances, specific things that she wants and now hopefully I get to take that with me on other projects, but she has a thing that she wants. And I think to myself “how would Andrea do this?” She is like the Mr. Miyagi, for voice-overs.

KB: Yeah, the fact that she isn’t going to be [directing] anymore is a major loss for this whole industry. She’s incredible and she knows how to get the best of out every actor. No matter where you’re from, you know sometimes guest stars come in, [and] you know they’re not really part of the team so they’re not used to that rhythm of [how] we work. But she just gets the best out of the everybody!

JK: She brings this unflappable positivity. She always has a smile on her face. She always knows how to bring great energy, she always knows how to make the actor feel safe. And when we feel safe, we feel free to create, and it is going to be a big loss.

[To Josh] I love the work that you did with Hal Jordan, I was wondering to ask your take on the relationship between Hal Jordan and Batman, they always seem to not mix well [not be on similar terms], what is your favorite part of their relationship, their dynamic?

JK: Everybody is kind of in the shadow with Batman. I guess he’s the kind of guy, Hal wants his respect but doesn’t want to seem like he’s trying to get his respect. And he doesn’t want to look like an idiot in front of Batman. I think a lot of people, a lot of the Superheroes around Batman probably feel the same way. They want Batman to like them, but they’re not sure if Batman can like anyone.

 Director Joaquim Dos Santos & Co-Executive Producer Lauren Montgomery

Lauren Montgomery is iconically known in the DC Animated Universe. She’s created powerful, meaningful stories and bonds between characters. In addition, she has always found a way to keep things fresh and the audience invested in her work. Some of her earlier works, as a story-board art director, include Justice League: Doom, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, and Batman: Year One.

Joaquim Dos Santos is a fantastic director, and is well-known for Justice League Unlimited and The Legend of Korra. Both Montgomery and Santos are creating progressive, inclusive series for their audiences. Speaking to them, I noticed how much they cared about diversity and inclusion in their shows. It makes sense. At the time when Montgomery started working in comics and actions cartoons, it was still very much a boy’s world, and Santos is one of the few men of color in charge of such huge projects of stories that inspire and raise North American youth. This team-up is so important, and they treat their characters as wholesome beings. Not focusing on tired-tropes of women and people of color, questions surrounding “what makes them different to everyone else?” but also, they don’t make a point to erase their identities.

The work you did with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League Unlimited, and Voltron; all of these shows create really strong non-familial bonds. What is your favorite aspects of that, and working with these emotions? 

Lauren Montgomery: I think there is just a lot of fun in putting characters together and seeing how they react. You approach it from how that character would look at it. What is the dynamic between Pidge and Keith? They’re both very mission-minded, they’re going to make a good team. But what is the dynamic between Pidge and Lance; he likes to give up a little bit, it’s going to frustrate Pidge [because] she wants to get it done. it’s just a lot of fun sectioning them off and seeing that. And that’s what we like exploring when you set up these unique personalities, families, and they kind of almost write themselves.

Joaquim Dos Santos: It is funny. It’s like once you set those personalities with those characters, you put them in a room together; or you get a bunch of writers talking about what those characters are going to do, they just kind of come to life on their own.

[Working in this industry for over a decade] Has your creative dynamic changed at all from when you began to now?

JS: I guess our roles changed. When we first started working with each other, I was a director, Lauren was a story-artist, and they’re very defined roles. Then as we both started producing in shows together, it just worked.

LM: There are definitely changes throughout the career-span. We started out as storyboard artists, which all you can really do is the best at you can in your section, and so you focus. But as you move into areas where you have a little more power, more influence, we start figuring out what is important to you. What are the stories that are important to tell? For me, representing women more equally in these shows was a really important thing, because I grew up in a time of “the token-female.” Where it’s like “here is your boy-team, and your ONE girl. Hope you can relate to her!” And so, I think for both of us, the diversity and all the representation across the board is a really important thing that we try to bring. I think maybe when we first started, it wasn’t motivated. We were just so narrow-minded, like “I wanna make the whole cartoon!” I want to do a bunch of things. But then you start to realize what things actually bring a great impact on fans and on culture.

And you create a lot of these stories where heroes learn from their tragedies, why do you think that’s a significant narrative to share? Especially in these times, with what’s happening [politically]. 

JS: I think the current climate informs everything you do, basically you can’t avoid it. But we are ways out from all this [political] craziness that went on, while we were piloting the show.

LM: The story would have been the same regardless, but knowing that we have the current time that we do, we definitely want to put out as much positiveness as possible out there.

JS: That’s the key. We can now try and diffuse this stuff; ultimately we want to tell good stories, stories of hurt, stories of redemption. Acceptance. Love.

LM: Perseverance through hard times. To let people know that even when times are scary, [similar to just like] the times for our characters is scary, there’s a goal to head towards. Don’t give up on it. Just don’t ever give up on pushing for what’s right just because the odds seem hopeless. Because that’s very much what our story is.

JS: I think also understanding how flawed human beings can be, and some are flawed beyond being saved. A lot of people come from a much different place, and there are different circumstances that breathe into those people. So understanding that as well it super important. Like Zarkon? There was a time where Zarkon wasn’t a jerk.

And thus concludes our interview. Season 4 of Voltron: Legendary Defender was released October 13th, 2017 on Netflix. It’s a captivating show and pulls in all aspects of heroism. Thank you to the cast and crew for allowing such a beautiful interview. It’s always amazing seeing artists talk about their works so fondly. And thanks to NYCC’s friendly and proficient work to arrange this wicked opportunity.


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