It’s been nearly 25 years since I first stepped behind the microphone to voice Superman.
And honestly, it never gets old.
Since that first episode of Superman: The Animated Series, I knew it was a special role. I’m a little bit of an idealist, as is Superman—though he’s a bit more pure. Superman is all about saying that good can win, always earnestly trying to do the right thing, and that goodness can be the order of the day. He really IS truth, justice and the American way.
The acting trick to playing Superman is to read what he’s supposed to say, and then I say it as truthfully and straightforward as I possibly can. It’s always more fun to play villains because there’s a lot more latitude, but it’s way more difficult to play the good guy—especially someone as squeaky clean and All-American as Superman. You really have to commit to his ideals, his mission. It’s surprisingly difficult to do.
The great part of voicing Superman is that you really can’t be Superman without also being Clark Kent. And I love Clark, especially when he’s being coy or funny or self-deprecating. We’ve gone down this road in culture today where so many of our heroes are portrayed through a dark, dystopic view of the world. Batman is more realistic in terms of the human psyche because he’s a little more tortured—he’s darker, more cynical and more street savvy. But Superman represents light and goodness; he has an ethical core that is rock solid. And God knows we need that now. If I were Superman, I’d make a lot of changes today.
Voice acting is an anonymous job. It’s the character that matters most. But there are those fans to whom the actor means something—and, in particular, that the actor takes the responsibility of the role seriously. The fans helped to instill in me a profound sense of that stewardship of the character. Superman is more than a Super Hero—he’s a symbol of the good in all of us.
When I get to reprise the role, I realize how much I’ve missed him. Plus, Superman scripts offer a genuine, organic opportunity to give a little reflection of the world, and some subtle social commentary that can be very bold in its approach to our country and our world.
That was part of the inspiration for our Creative Coalition contribution to DC FanDome. Years ago, I did a staged a radio play of It Happened One Night for the Sundance Theater Lab, and it was really fun. In the current world situation, it dawned on me that, if you can’t do it live, Zoom is the perfect vehicle for that sort of performance. So I called my old friend, Warner Bros. TV honcho Peter Roth, and asked if we could have some of the old Superman radio plays to recreate the same sort of event for DC FanDome. The deck was slightly stacked in my favor—Peter is a really good man who likes to support worthwhile activities, and he’s a huge Superman fan. Peter got behind it and, voila, we have a terrific, playful 1940s-style radio play with fun, shameless overacting by an outstanding lineup of actors and a terrific foley artist filling in the gaps.
One of the real plusses for a radio play, much like animation, is that there are no boundaries for casting. And this is a complete bouillabaisse—Alfre Woodard plays Perry White, Daniel Dae Kim and Wilson Cruz share the Superman role with me—and everyone is wonderful. You can’t go wrong with actors like Henry Winkler, CCH Pounder, Giancarlo Esposito, Tony Shalhoub, Constance Zimmer, young stars like Sean Giambrone, and so many more. Plus, the two Anthonys—Anthony Rapp and Anthony Carrigan—steal the show at times with their hilarious portrayals of these two thugs. There’s a lot of flavor in this cast.
It also gives us a chance to shine a light on The Creative Coalition. One of the cornerstones of America is that we are creative thinkers. We’re innovators. And in order to continue to be innovators, we need to train the creative minds of our children. The Creative Coalition is a non-profit, non-partisan arts advocacy group. It’s made up of people who have attained a high level of visibility in the entertainment world, and we have two essential missions.
Our core mission is to promote federal funding for arts and public education and freedom of speech. The other is that we use, in a responsible way, our notoriety to focus attention on issues of public importance that affect everyone, issues that otherwise might have a little more difficulty getting the attention they deserve. I personally became involved because I believe that it is vital to the survival of our culture to have arts be part of the public school curriculum. I could spew tons of boring data—but the bottom line is that when you’re teaching a child, you have to teach the entire child. Kids that study the arts are better mathematicians and scientists and politicians…and actors. They’re not just better artists.
There are those who think the arts are a luxury, that they’re unnecessary—but look around and you’ll clearly see their importance in the world today. Arts and entertainment keep us alive, makes us laugh, give us unique and varied perspectives, and provide a lot of hope. We need to tell each other stories, to give ourselves a direct reflection of our culture, of today’s world, and who we are. It is a basic human need. That’s where The Creative Coalition rises.
I hope you’ll check out the Superman Radio Show at DC FanDome this Saturday. It was fun to do, and I’d love to do more with Superman. If you get the chance, let Bruce Timm know that. Whatever Bruce wants, even 25 years later, I’m more than ready to play along.
Tim Daly patented the All-American trust within the voice of the title character for the landmark Superman: The Animated Series, as well as for several animated films over the past quarter of a century. The Emmy nominated actor has had a prolific career, most recently starring on the hit CBS series Madam Secretary. Since making his feature film debut in Barry Levinson’s 1982 classic Diner, Daly’s noteworthy career includes turns on popular TV series like ABC’s Private Practice and NBC’s Wings, as well as plum guest starring roles on HBO’s The Sopranos and From The Earth To The Moon. Beyond the large and small screens, Daly serves as President of The Creative Coalition.
Warner Bros. Television and The Creative Coalition are bringing the 1940s Superman Radio Show to life on Saturday, September 12, at DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse, with a cast of today’s biggest stars. Fans from around the world can tune in to this exclusive one-hour event beginning at 10:00 am PDT, for 24 hours. The Superman Radio Show will be available on demand, so fans can access it throughout the day, whenever they want. Fans are encouraged to go to TheCreativeCoalition.org to learn more about keeping arts advocacy alive and vital.
This article was originally published on the DC Comics website