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September 28, 2012

‘Batman Live’ comes to L.A.: ‘This is where it belongs’

Posted in: Stage

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Batman prepares to fight the Joker's henchmen in "Batman Live." (BatmanLive.com)

“Batman Live” kicked off its Los Angeles run last night, bringing Gotham’s heroes and villains to the Staples Center for a stunt-filled arena show that runs through the weekend. The production, which began in Manchester, England, last year and toured the United Kingdom, Europe and South America, features elaborate sets including a 105-foot bat-shaped LED video wall, pyrotechnics and fight scenes, performed by a cast of 43 actors and acrobats. The story follows the meeting and teaming up of billionaire Bruce Wayne and circus performer Dick Grayson (who becomes Robin), who are up against all of the Arkham Asylum regulars: Catwoman, the Joker, Harley Quinn, the Penguin, Poison Ivy and the Riddler, Two-Face and Scarecrow. Scottish actor Sam Heughan, whose previous credits include roles in British television, plays Bruce Wayne and his caped alter-ego Batman. Hero Complex caught up with Heughan to talk about “Batman Live.”

HC: How was opening night in L.A.?

SH: It was great fun. It was a good night. The audience was fantastic and really noisy and really got behind us. Apart from the guy who managed to beat me to it when I said, “I’m Batman.” It was quite funny. Some guy shouted it out.

HC: Did you find that the American audience was more vocal?

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The Joker takes off in his balloon in “Batman Live.” (BatmanLive.com)

SH: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. It’s great, we love it. The more vocal, the better. In Europe, we’re a lot more reserved. This is the home of Batman, as well, and this is kind of where we really wanted to bring the show. It’s the birthplace of Batman, and it’s kind of part of your culture as well. South America was absolutely brilliant. It all became a big event, and people would gather outside. But here, it feels like this is where it belongs.

HC: So how did you wind up doing this?

SH: I auditioned for it over a year ago, and it was a quite intensive process. We had lots of various rounds of auditions. We had a fight day where we had to do a lot of different fighting. And then Warner Bros. and DC Comics, they came over to the U.K. and held auditions as well. And then they took us to a flying school where we had to be hoisted up in the air to see if we were scared or if we’d be sick, and if you passed that, you got the job. From there, we went straight into rehearsals. We had two weeks of sort of Batman boot camp where we got taught various martial arts and got everyone on the same level; we’ve got such a mixed company, there’s 20 acrobats and 23 actors, so it is quite a mix of people. And we did a lot of flying work as well and core conditioning.

HC: The show was extremely acrobatic. That sort of circus performance, was that something new for you?

SH: My background’s theater and TV really, so it’s all new for me, but it’s kind of new for everyone. It’s never really been done before. I mean, it is a mix of, I guess the closest thing would be Cirque [du Soleil] elements — that sort of acrobatics and stuff — but also, there’s the story behind it, so it’s like a play or a drama, but on such a large scale. All the people involved, it’s new for them as well. We’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll touring crew, so they’re used to touring with people like U2 and people like that. And then the director [Anthony Van Laast], he’s done a lot of big shows, and our lighting guy [Patrick Woodroffe], he lit the Rolling Stones, and the designer [Es Devlin], she designed for Lady Gaga. And in between, there are the actors, who try and pretend we can do all this.

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The Scarecrow and Batman face off in “Batman Live.” (BatmanLive.com)

HC: Were you a Batman fan before this show came along?

SH: Oh yeah. I grew up with the Tim Burton films. I love Michael Keaton, and I loved [Danny] DeVito’s Penguin. I thought he was great. I had the Batmobile T-Shirt. I remember that. I loved Tim Burton’s films. In a way, they’re quite similar, they’re quite comic book, almost grotesquely comic book. And that’s what we wanted to do with “Batman Live.” We wanted to stick as close as possible to the original comics. So it’s not as dark as the present Batman, but obviously not as camp or as light as maybe Adam West’s ones. I think we’re sort of somewhere in between.

HC: It actually reminded me a little of the animated series.

SH: Yeah, we looked to the animated series a lot, just to sort of find where to base it, really. Because it’s supposed to be a family show, it needs to appeal to everyone, young and old. So the animated series is fantastic. It’s got all those elements. So we touch on the background of Bruce and the background of Dick Grayson and how they lose their parents, but obviously we’ve got to have all these other elements, the circus and the pyrotechnics and the flying. It’s got to be entertaining as well.

HC: How was wearing the costume? It looked like quite a sculpted suit.

SH: Ha, pretty sculpted, pretty sweaty, pretty hot. It’s a challenge, but that’s the joy of playing Batman. Underneath it, we’ve got a full-body harness on throughout the whole show that we use for flying. And then we’ve got a Lycra suit on under that, and also parts of the Bruce Wayne costume, for the quick changes. It does get pretty hot up there. It’s pretty crazy. It is pretty restrictive, but you get used to it. And that’s kind of part of the physicality of Batman as well. Like you see in the movies and you see in our show the way he moves, he never turns his head, because he can’t, because of the cowl. You sort of have to turn your whole body. And when you look up, you use your whole body to look up. And the cape as well, that’s kind of part of him. Batman in the comics, he expresses himself with the cape. He can shroud himself or he can reveal himself. So I tried to incorporate some of that. And not stand on it.

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Batman and Catwoman fight in “Batman Live.” (BatmanLive.com)

HC: Relatively few people have been able to play Batman. What’s that like?

SH: A lot of people say that, and I have to sort of pinch myself every time I think about it. I’m playing Batman at the Staples Center, where they have the Grammys and the Lakers play. It’s cool, but you don’t think about that too long, because there are too many other things to think about, like whether the Batmobile is going to behave, or who am I going to fight next or something. It’s such an immersive show when you’re in it that you just get on the roller-coaster and go with it. And hopefully that’s what the audience does as well. They just kind of get immersed inside the comic book and get dragged along with us. It’s a lot of fun.

– Noelene Clark

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