“The Lego Movie” features Will Arnett tacking Batman’s brooding cool guy image to its logical extreme — idiocy.
Directed by “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street” filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Lego Movie” follows everybrick Emmet (Chris Pratt) as he tries to stop an evil tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together. Batman, the narcissistic goth boyfriend of Lego resistance fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), speaks in a growl, only builds with black bricks and dismisses Emmet’s every building idea.
In an interview with Hero Complex, Arnett shared how he and the filmmakers found their post-Christian Bale Batman sound, how much input DC Comics had into the character and what his personal Lego-building style is.
Hero Complex: At some point in the last 10 years or so our culture started taking superheroes very seriously, and none more so than Batman. You seemed to have some fun with that in the movie. What kind of conversations did you and the filmmakers have about that?
Will Arnett: I recently watched the first Christopher Reeve “Superman” on TV. In the film there was a lightheartedness to it and a wink to the absurdity of a superhero in a way. What happened was, [superhero movies] just got more and more serious. And when we started talking about Batman, who is one of the most iconic superheroes, what made us laugh was taking the last incarnation, the Christian Bale version, which is so great, taking it even further. It was making us laugh if you had him doing the most mundane things while simultaneously taking himself seriously. If you could have him even talking to his girlfriend, just saying [voice drops], “Hey, how’s it goin,’ babe?” He’s saying hi to his girlfriend and he sounds like he’s disassembling a bomb.
HC: It has occurred to me in the past that Batman would not be a great boyfriend, which is another area you explore in this movie. What do you think it would be like to date Batman?
WA: It would be terrible on most levels. The one area that would be great would be if you were ever in any kind of danger. Apart from that, most of his nights are taken up. That’s kind of when he works. He’s on the graveyard shift by definition and he’s always disappearing.
HC: Your Batman voice seems most influenced by Christian Bale’s, but did you listen to other Batmans as well?
WA: Definitely Christian Bale. We talked about how it got to that point. It feels like all things were leading up to Christian Bale. He did what he had to do. As we started messing around with it in the booth, we started taking up where Christian Bale had left off and going even more extreme. By the way it ended up being super rough on my voice talking that way all the time. Turns out if you talk like that for 2 to 3 hours at a time you end up talking like that for the rest of the day.
HC: Did DC Comics have any input into your version of Batman?
WA: Not that I know of. I didn’t really have any dealings with anybody other than Phil Lord and Chris Miller and some of the producers. I was left to my own devices.
HC: So there wasn’t some sort of comic book overlord in there saying, “Batman wouldn’t sound like that or say that?”
WA: If there were I was insulated from it. But I like to imagine that there were all sorts of furious meetings going on and people storming out of board rooms. People coming in angrily holding up some old edition Batman and saying, “Batman never sounded like this” and then slamming it the ground and walking out… He storms off and he’s sulking in the parking lot. This girl comes out and she’s like, ‘Hey, you doin’ OK?’ and he’s like, “Yeah I just don’t feel like talking to anybody right now.” That would have been kind of sweet.
HC: What’s your personal style Lego-wise — are you a follow-the-directions kind of guy or more of a freestyle builder?
WA: I am both. Last night my son wanted to build a rocket ship so we ended up taking pieces from various sets we had already built and made something completely from scratch. We took a Batmobile and modified it more into a flying ship.
HC: As recently as last night you were playing with Legos?
WA: As recently as this morning I was playing with Legos. My sons are fully into it. It’s just coincidence that my personal and professional lives are coming together in this perfect storm of Lego. I’m such a homer in the sense that as a parent I really see the benefits in what a great activity it is for my kids, it really encourages creativity.
HC: Do you ever come home and say, “Look, guys, Dad’s had a lot of Lego at the office today, just give me some space”?
WA: We did the junket down at Legoland a few weeks ago. My kids were with me and we were there for two days. It was Lego Lego Lego all day all night, just non stop. I’m dreaming in Lego. My dreams are built of Legos. Everything I do is put together brick by brick.
HC: The movie is unusual in that it sends up the world it inhabits: toys, merchandising, corporatization of culture. How did you guys get away with that?
WA: I don’t know. Maybe once the message was already in there it was too late. It’s not necessarily a new idea. The guys’ beef was not so much with the global corporatization of the world we live in, but the way we think and how that translates into specifically the way that you build. It’s encouraging kids to maybe think outside of their current state, and there’s something kind of great about that. It’s not necessarily that corporations are bad. It’s that that rigid mentality is something that should be explored.
HC: It’s funny how you can get away with a lot when there’s a loving tone. It’s clear the filmmakers actually like the toys.
WA: That goes for anything in life I’ve learned. Tone is so important. You can say anything to a dog if you say it in a nice sing-songy tone.
HC: The state-mandated pop song in “The Lego Movie,” Tegan and Sara’s “Everything Is Awesome” is very catchy, but is there a trick for getting it out of your head?
WA: A frontal lobotomy.
— Rebecca Keegan
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