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LeVar Burton Talks About Voicing Black Lightning In Public Enemies
by Tony 'G-Man' Guerrero on
LeVar Burton adds another notch to his belt.
We're close to a month away from Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. As you might already know, LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) is charging up his résumé by providing the voice of Black Lightning. While Burton is largely known for playing Lt. Geordi, his career started in the mini series Roots. Besides his physical roles (like Reading Rainbow), Burton has also done some voice acting. He provided the voice of Kwame in Captain Planet and the Planeteers and also provided voices for Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles and Family Guy.
Here's a Q & A with him about playing a super hero and how he tries to inspire others:
Was it difficult to settle on a voice for Black Lightning?
I think everybody has a super hero that lives inside of them, so I
just went to that place, that deep kind of super hero voice.
What were your comic book habits as a kid?
I grew up, part time, in Germany. My father was in the military, so we
used to trade comic books for entertainment. On Saturdays, you took
your box with all your comic books and you went around from apartment
building to apartment building, trading comic books with the other
American kids living on the base. Television was in German
(language), so we didn’t watch TV – we read comics. But this was
before black super heroes came around – they didn’t start appearing
until the '70s. So it's mildly exciting for me to actually have a
chance to play a black super hero today.
Choose one: Batman or Superman?
When I was a kid, it was always Batman over Superman. Batman had all
the cool stuff, and he just had a vibe. Superman was the All-American
guy but, with Batman, there’s a little something going on. Batman’s
history was a little edgier, and there was just something really
attractive to me about the cowl. Superman is all out there, even
though he does the Clark Kent thing, but Batman keeps his identity
hidden. He has this double life that’s very sexy, very attractive for
a kid. Not that I didn’t like Superman – the whole kryptonite thing
is all well and good – but Batman was my guy.
What makes comic books great literature?
People ask me all the time, because I did Reading Rainbow on PBS for
25 years, “How do I get my kids to read?” And I say, “Find something
that they’re passionate about.” If it’s comic books that they want to
read, then buy them comic books, for goodness sakes. Comic books are
good literature and, like science fiction, they have a tendency to
really draw us toward that part of ourselves that imagines that which
I'm one of those people that believes that there was some kid back in
the 1960s watching Star Trek, and he kept seeing Captain Kirk pull out
this communicator and flip it open – and that kid grew up and became
an engineer, a designer of products, and we now have a device that is
more common than the toaster. How many flip phones do you see on a
daily basis? That which we imagine is what we tend to manifest in
third dimension – that’s what human beings do, we are manifesting
machines. The metaphor of a man who has an external electronic
device, something man-made that serves him and somehow serves
humanity, and that he becomes so aligned with that device, with the
power of that device, that at one point he can discard it – I think
that’s a real metaphor for the human journey. One day we won’t need a
transporter device to get from one place to another. And it begins
with the wheel and then migrates through airplanes to some future
technology that we can’t produce yet but we can imagine. Imagination
is really the key part of the human journey, it’s the key to the
process of manifesting what our heart's desire is.
When I was a kid, it was comic books that pointed me in that direction
and from comic books I went to science fiction literature, which is
still one of my most favorite genres of literature to read. Don’t
underestimate the power of comics and what they represent for us and
how they inform us on the journey of being human – because it’s
powerful. It’s very powerful. They give us permission to contemplate
what’s possible. And in this world, in this universe, there's nothing
that is not possible. If you can dream it, you can do it.
Can you appreciate the passion of the sci-fi fan?
Oh yeah. Because I am one. When I was a kid, I read a lot of science
fiction books and it was rare for me to see heroes of color in the
pages of those novels. Gene Roddenberry had a vision of the future,
and Star Trek was one that said to me, as a kid growing up in
Sacramento, California, “When the future comes, there’s a place for
you.” I’ve said this many times, and Whoopi (Goldberg) feels the same
way – seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the Enterprise meant
that we are a part of the future. So I was a huge fan of the original
series and to have grown up and become of that mythos, a part of that
family, and to represent people dealing with physical challenges, much
like what Nichelle Nichols represented for people like Whoopi and
myself, I can’t even begin to share with you what that means to me.
It was just beyond the beyond. So I get Star Trek fans, I get science
fiction fans because, again, science fiction literature is that body
of literature that causes us to ask what I feel are two of the most of
the most powerful words – in sequence, in language – “what if?” And
that’s an open door, that’s an open door to use your imagination to
dream and to dream the big dream. As an actor, I dress up for a
living and I get paid for it so, to see a guy come to a convention in
his costume that he’s made – it’s a good thing, you know. This guy
isn’t out there beating his wife or kicking his dog, he’s engaging in
a healthy fantasy role-play. I think too many grown ups forget how
important that part of our lives are, the ability to imagine and to
dream. So it’s all good.
You’re Black Lightning for this film. If you could play any super hero
role, do you have a role you covet?
Well, I’ll start with Black Lightning. That ain’t a bad place to
start. I mean, come on, if you’re going to play a super hero, why not
play the first real black super hero in the pantheon? I'm good with
Does voiceover work have any special appeal for you?
I love voiceovers because, and I’m sure you hear this from actors all
the time, but it’s kind of pure acting. For many years on Next Gen, I
wore this visor over my eyes and one of the things that I discovered
was that it’s really difficult to communicate, or it’s harder to
communicate, when you can’t see someone’s eyes. As a result of playing
Geordi, I really do recognize how important the voice is – and what a
facile tool for communication the voice can be. When I was kid, we
listened to radio a lot for entertainment and I remember how vivid
that was for me. To this day, I listen to NPR and I love doing audio
books – because it’s like it’s pure storytelling. It’s sitting around
the fire and sharing stories, really engaging your imagination. So, as
an actor, sitting in front of a microphone and creating is just so
much fun because it really does break it down to its most pure and
elemental level. It’s just you and the voice and the character
telling a story.
Does it ever feel odd to be acting all alone?
Well, during the physical parts of the voiceover, when you’re doing
all the action scenes, I think if you were an alien and dropped into a
recording studio and were observing a session, you would really wonder
about the sanity of the beings that you are observing. But it’s fun
and it feels a little silly, but that’s what gets it done. When
they’re in that mode, I think actors are just big kids – and we like
playing in the sandbox.
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official website at www.SupermanBatmanDVD.com.