With the anticipated arrival of "Iron Man 3" in theaters May 3, Marvel is thrusting Tony Stark in the spotlight early with the animated feature "Iron Man: Rise of Technovore." Releasing April 16 on DVD & Blu-ray, "Technovore" is an English dub of the anime directed by Hiroshi Hamazaki, presenting an edgier take on the Marvel Uninverse than other Marvel Animation projects like the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon.
The English dub voice actors are headlined by "The Walking Dead" star Norman Reedus, who plays The Punisher in "Technovore." Matthew Mercer plays Tony Stark, fresh off of voicing Tygra in Cartoon Network's "ThunderCats" and Leon Kennedy in the video game "Resident Evil 6," while Clare Grant of Team Unicorn gives life to Black Widow.
Mercer and Grant spoke with CBR News about their roles in "Iron Man: Rise of Technovore," revealing details on the film, the process of dubbing over the anime and Mercer's mandate to not emulate Robert Downey Jr.'s interpretation of the leading man.
CBR News: Matt, in "Technovore," Tony Stark is on the run from those he should consider allies. What happened to make Stark public enemy Number One?
Matthew Mercer: A circumstance happens in the film with the main villain that even S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't sure where it came from or what its capabilities are; Stark's the only person to encounter this villain and get away. Fury needs to hold him for debriefing to obtain information used in organizing their counter attack. Tony feels time is of the essence, and not wanting to deal with all that bull crap, decides to take off on his own. This puts him on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s bad list and everyone else's. It's a hotheaded Tony moment -- doing things his own way without considering the ramifications. He has enough money, though, so he doesn't have to worry about it.
Why can't the heroes ever just talk out their problems?
Mercer: Because that would be a really boring 30-40 minutes of the film -- an interrogation process where they're just drinking coffee and staring at a mirror!
Robert Downey Jr. has certainly relished and embodied the role of Tony Stark, portraying him in the live action "Avengers" and "Iron Man" movies. You are one of the few actors to take on the character in a title role -- how have you made Tony Stark your own?
Mercer: That was part of the difficulty and fun challenge of the project. Marvel didn't specifically want a Robert Downey Jr. impression, because then it just seems like a lesser version of the main actor. They wanted to an original interpretation while keeping an essence of his personality and humor. That's how we found his voice; by keeping the balance between arrogance and smarminess while still being intelligent and heroic. We want the transition to seem natural and not like shifting gears.
It was a challenge to not slip into Robert Downey Jr. I wanted to make sure the voice was true to the character -- it was more about harkening to my childhood reading a lot of "Iron Man" comics, then drawing from my experience with the character in those comics to create my interpretation. It was a challenge, but too much fun not to get immersed in.
Clare, you're playing Black Widow -- what's her main objective in the film?
Clare Grant: To retrieve Tony Stark. They're friends, so she tries to reach out to him as one and bring him back in from an emotional point of view. When that doesn't work she goes after him.
Widow doesn't have a Russian accent, but she's a badass. One of my favorite parts is when she's on the back of a motorcycle firing guns at The Punisher. It's pretty awesome.
Regarding Punisher in the film -- he makes for an unusual partner for Tony Stark to team-up with. Can you both speak on your characters' relationship with The Punisher in "Technovore?"
Grant: Black Widow's intent is just to take him down.
Mercer: That's pretty standard when it comes to working with The Punisher. Tony teams up with him out of necessity, not out of want or intent. Their first meeting is very high tension -- if one moves against the other in the slightest way it's going to end up in all out fight between the two. Even when they have quiet moments trading intel, there's still tension in the air. Tony gives Punisher crap for being crazy to his face because he can do that. It's a fun dynamic to watch.
Naturally these two wouldn't make for a great team up, which makes it more interesting in the film -- Tony is very stringent in his stance regarding The Punisher, recognizing he kills people. He thinks he's a bad person but in the moment they're useful to each other, so they make a temporary truce. Afterward maybe Tony buys Castle a good therapist.
Who or what, exactly, is the Technovore?
Mercer: It's from a storyline in "Iron Man" #294 from the '90s. The Technovore's a character from Tony's past who went through a transformation experimenting with bio tech armor that wrote itself into this individuals DNA. It's a living suit of armor that makes it extremely dangerous and completely unlike anything they've ever seen before. Things get weirder considering this individual has a strange, almost psychotic philosophy he adheres to.
The scope gets very big -- there are parts that remind me of "Akira" and other thought-inducing anime from the early 90s.
Grant: I love the animation for this movie. It's beautiful. It's broody.
In playing to that, I tried to keep Black Widow grounded, solid and tough. I didn't let her get in my girly voice -- I kept her in my "I will kill you voice." [laughs]
Mercer: To that, there's subtext in her and Tony's interactions. In the middle of combat between the two when Tony's on the run, there will be a line or two done to the side with the subtext of personal history. Almost like an apology based on what they have to do -- "I don't want to fight you, but here we are." As an actor and a geek it's a lot of fun bringing that history to the subtext in the lines.
More to the brooding point -- there is a lot of that. Tony loses someone very important to him early on. There are scenes where he's still cocky Tony, but then there are scenes where he's on the steps mulling over all the terrible things that have happened and the people he's lost while holding a scotch.
What else can you tell us about the tech in the film?
Mercer: With Iron Man in particular, you get to see the suit from the film, plus some of the suits he keeps hidden in his vacation spots and stuff. You get to see some S.H.I.E.L.D. tech, specifically when they're hunting Tony down -- it's fun to think Tony actually helped them design some of that technology being used against him.
Then there's the Technovore itself which is this cool amalgam of futuristic alien tech and organic, almost Venom symbiote-type matter. It's awesome seeing how they animated that.
Were either of you in the booth with Norman Reedus while he voiced The Punisher?
Mercer: Sadly, no.
Grant: I was solo in the booth.
Mercer: I was too -- most of this project's recording was done solo in the booth. I met Norman in passing -- he recorded before me. So we shook hands and talked a little about the project. Unfortunately though, we did not get the chance to all record together.
For Japanese anime specifically, where you're dubbing to a lot of the preset animation it's very meticulous and technical. Recording for pre-lay animation (a style of voice acting where the audio is recorded to match an existing animation) it would take a lot of time to have all the actors in the booth. It'd be very expensive since you're not only focusing on your performance, but matching everything with the animation. You need to make sure the inflections, pacing and timing is there. From a technical standpoint it's easier to have the actors record individually.
What's it like recording in the booth solo compared to interacting with another living actor?
Grant: I really enjoy the experience of getting to act with everyone in a room. For smaller TV shows where it's only 22 minutes, interaction is valuable because you all feed off each other's energy. But for long processes like "Technovore," I actually like to be in the booth by myself -- I feel I can actually go for it in a way I can't necessarily do when I'm surrounded by people watching me perform [laughs].
When you're in a recording booth doing an entire TV episode, when it's your turn to speak, you're literally standing around in a circle with microphones in your face and everybody's watching you. It's different than being on a film set where people are busy taking care of all the things that are going on -- but on a voiceover set, everyone there is only paying attention to the actor voicing their lines.
Mercer: Yeah, there's nothing more pressure filled than being alone in a glass booth with a giant microphone in front of you and a screen, then across the way behind a window there's all these producers and directors staring at you going, "And go!"
Grant: And you can't hear what they're saying after you've delivered your lines!
Do either of you voice any ancillary characters in the film?
Grant: Not for this, no.
Mercer: Yeah, we were pretty specific to our main characters.
Are either of you carrying over your roles to future Marvel anime projects?
Both: I would love that.
Grant: We don't know yet, but they mentioned in the room they would be bringing more of these movies to America. Keep your fingers crossed that happens and we get a chance to reprise these roles. These stories aren't juvenile where they cut out the adult fan base.
Mercer: Plus, all the character and world designs are based on the live action movie universe. I can't say they'll be referencing the Technovore in "Iron Man 3," but it's all identifiable in terms of look with the film universe.
Are you reading anything in comics right now that's really grabbed your attention?
Mercer: Marvel NOW!'s been a lot better than I expected it to be following my experience of DC's New 52. I'm really loving "All-New X-Men." At DC, everything in Gotham is beautiful, but everything else has been mediocre or unexciting. I've been catching up on "The Walking Dead" and recently read a great series of graphic novels called "Blacksad." It's gooooood.
Grant: I still keep up on "The Walking Dead" and new "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comics, but when Marvel did their digital promotion for 700 #1 issues, it made me excited. I downloaded well over 100 of them, so I've been going back and reading issues of things I've never read before but have been interested in. Like Spider-Man's first appearance in "Amazing Fantasy" #15.
I love reading comics on comiXology. I felt so bad about it at the beginning when I downloaded it -- I was like, "I'm never going to use this app!" Then I wanted to read "Locke and Key," but my bookshelves are overflowing with comics -- I couldn't bring myself to buy a whole new series. So I bought them digitally and I love it! It's so much fun! I love how vivid the images are and that you can zoom in on the art and panels. Plus, I can have them everywhere -- I can just open it up and it's there. I've abandoned paper books as well, which I know is a crime.
Mercer: For me, nothing can ever replace the heft of a graphic novel in your hand.
Grant: This is what I do now: I'll test things out on comiXology, like the individual issues, and if I really love the comics then I'll buy the graphic novels so they look pretty on my bookshelves.
What other projects do you both have in the works? Matt, are there any updates on the status of "ThunderCats?"
Mercer: Recently released was "Fire Emblem Awakening" for the Nintendo 3DS where I voice the main character Chrom. The new "Tales of Xillia" of the "Tales" RPG series for PS3 was just announced -- I voice the character Alvin. I'm also directing the webseries "School of Thrones," a parody of "Game of Thrones" in an '80s, John Hughes high school atmosphere. There's a bunch of stuff I want to talk about but can't yet.
As for "ThunderCats," we're always hoping it can come back. Cartoon Network gutted pretty much the entire DC Nation block, which is unfortunate. It is the essence of animation though -- it's ebb and flow. We'll certainly see, but it and a number of other shows have been on hiatus for close to half a year, now. And there's the new "LEGO: Legends of Chima" show which suspiciously features a bunch of cat people living in a fantasy world who fight lizard people, and the main guy's a lion with red hair and a magic sword.
Grant: I have a feature film called "The Insomniac" finishing post-production soon. It's a cops and robbers action film. Team Unicorn's developing a show right now for Adult Swim which is exciting. Team Unicorn's my baby and I've been a fan of Adult Swim since its origin. I hope it works out. Also, nothing would make me happier if I could work on the new "Sailor Moon" show.
Marvel's "Iron Man: Rise of Technovore" goes on sale April 16 as a home DVD & Blu-ray release.