Vanessa Marshall’s resume is a who’s who of iconic DC heroines, having voiced everyone from Poison Ivy and Batwoman (in Batman: The Brave and the Bold) to Black Canary (in Young Justice). She’s currently voicing Wonder Woman in DC Universe’s Harley Quinn, and the animated film Superman: Red Son. And fans can see a new side of Marshall in Freddie Prinze Jr’s Breakfast League on DC Universe All Star Games, where the actress shows off her RPG skills. We recently had a chance to sit down with Vanessa, and she told us all about her favorite DC roles, how her fandom has shaped her career, and why Wonder Woman remains an inspiration...
Few folks have played quite as many DC heroes as you. And you're currently playing two versions of Wonder Woman. Do you take a different approach for each?
Definitely. I think she’s way broader in the Harley Quinn series, and the cartoon sort of demands that. I think everyone’s on next-level hyperbole. It’s very, very funny. If you’re speaking to Tony Hale [AKA Dr. Psycho], you just have to kind of take it up a notch, right? For Red Son, the feel of it was so true to the time period in which it exists. I didn’t know that the music would also really amplify that as much as it did. It felt much more serious, especially with the cinematography of it. I forgot that it was an animated film at times. So that requires one to be a little bit more grounded, and thoughtful, and specific, whereas you can just kind of go nuts on Harley Quinn and throw it at the wall and see what happens. Not that we weren’t playful when we recorded Red Son. Wes Gleason was fantastic as a director, and encouraged us to discover things as we went along. I think the vibes of the movie and the cartoon are quite different.
What's been your favorite moment in Harley Quinn so far?
When Dr. Psycho called Wonder Woman the c word. That was pretty intense. By the way, I also played the Little Gingerbread Boy, one of the Fables characters. I come in and I say, "Well, at least I don’t have to turn tricks anymore." That little gingerbread guy! [Laughs.] That was nowhere near as grand as playing Wonder Woman, but it was lots of fun. Voicing Giganta was also hilarious. She also interacts with Doctor Psycho, so that was good times. I never actually worked with Tony Hale for a single moment, which is unfortunate. I saw him coming and going. I’m too much of a fan. I couldn’t say, "Hey, I’m Wonder Woman." I should have. I just couldn’t. I like to give people their space.
The show's voice cast is pretty eclectic.
For the first episode, Lake Bell [Poison Ivy] wasn’t available, so they asked me to come in and read Poison Ivy opposite everyone you saw in the pilot. It was just a place marker type of thing, and I was like, "Are you kidding? Of course, I would love to." So I got to hang out with Alan Tudyk, and all these wonderful people who are just so incredibly talented. They were hilarious. I knew the show was just going to be a huge success. Then they called and said, "Hey, do you want to do Wonder Woman and Giganta?" I was like, "Wait, what? You mean not serve as a place marker or like a day player reading in for someone else? Yeah!" It was an education and an adventure. They really created something really special. It’s darkly funny.
Do you have any special memories from your time as Black Canary?
It was fun to play Black Canary in Young Justice in the first two seasons before it took its little hiatus, given that she was a bit of a counselor to everyone. That was kind of a unique perspective on that character, and somewhat true to my own personality. I like to help people, and listen to people, and make sure everyone’s okay. It was really stimulating for me to try and find the strength in that world view that she had in that particular iteration.
I liked all the various beats, tracking the Young Justice crew and all their adventures, how they would come back and sort of deal with PTSD, and cope with all their various issues. I just think that premise was so rich and rewarding every time it happened. I don’t know that I could single out one moment. It was fun for me personally, and I think it worked well, giving the kids what they needed to process what they were feeling, and I hope it helped kids who were watching it similarly understand that it’s okay to have your feelings and talk about them.
Before her current live-action TV show, you voiced a different version of Batwoman in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode “The Criss Cross Conspiracy.”
Oh, that was just magical. It was so great. To be involved with that show was really very cool. I remember I was in Chicago going to a wedding with a good friend of mine, and I got the call. "They want you to play Katrina [Batwoman]," and I thought, "Are you kidding me?" Then when I got there and there were all these things going on, I was blown away.
What were the recording sessions like with Diedrich Bader?
I have never laughed so hard in my life. The fact that we get paid to play around like this is ridiculous. I feel like someone’s going to come in and say, "Guys, guys, guys, this is not a real job. What are you doing?" We are so lucky that we get to tell these stories and have so much fun, whether it’s getting into the delicious evil, or fighting crime, or whatever it is. It’s fantastic.
My first real DC acting gig was Coral Lipstick Lady Number 1 in the Justice League episode “Fury.” I was working with voice director Andrea Romano. I had just taken her animation class, and she threw me a bone, and I was a paramedic and Coral Lipstick Lady Number 1. I was sitting there in the room, and Kevin Conroy was voicing Batman. That was a big day for me, to be Lipstick Lady Number 1. [Laughs.] My life changed.
It’s better than Lipstick Lady Number 2.
I’m just saying! Plus a paramedic! But to step into that room and be near such incredibly talented individuals, it was an honor. Then to go on to have Andrea direct me as Wonder Woman in Crisis on Two Earths was truly everything. She’s just the best teacher, best director, and just a lovely woman. I adore her!
How did you wind up joining the Breakfast League in DC Universe All Stars? You'd worked with Freddie Prinze Jr. on Star Wars Rebels...
We were working on Star Wars Rebels, and he started this channel on YouTube called Good Evening and Good Game. He’s a huge gamer, and he plays on Twitch constantly, and he even convinced me to get an Xbox! I loved his enthusiasm, and he said, "I want to create a show with a role-playing game." I thought, "Oh, I don’t know." He said, "Just come, it’ll be fun." And I did, and we had great rapport, and Sam Witwer was the DM. We just had a great time. Sam is just masterful. His book is just fantastic. If you don’t own it, he created a D&D book with a few other fantastic people. When you see him at work, you get that he really understands all of this, like a bionic nerd. [Laughs.] He makes it so much fun and effortless. I have that history with them, I have that rapport with them, and when he called and said, "I have a whole new game," and then when he said it was with DC characters, I knew this was going to be brilliant. He said, "Just come on down, we’re going to play, and just go with it." It was even better than I thought it would be.
You seem to hit the ground running in the show.
They said to sort of go nuts! I was going to do like a whole Molly Ringwald outfit. I literally was on Amazon, centimeters away from pushing "Add to Cart." [Laughs.] There’s a whole Halloween costume with her brown skirt, and her stupid boots, and her pink sweater, and her sushi that she eats in the movie. Plus a red wig. I have red hair, but I was fully going to commit to this, and I was so grateful when I got there that I had not done that, given Clare Grant looked amazing, and completely fabulous. People were committed emotionally to their characters, and I’m just glad I didn’t do something that was so on the nose for the occasion, but I was willing.
Did you guys ever do a group shop in the classic Breakfast Club poster pose?
No, we didn’t. That's a smart idea. We should have. We did a group shot around the game board, and a few other shots with Alfred and this and that. Yeah, we should have done that. Darn it. [Laughs.]
DC has so many iconic heroines. What do you think accounts for that?
I was actually talking to a guy named Kevin Rubio, who is an incredible writer. He said that in his view that the characters in DC are more like Greek gods, and the Marvel characters are more like little humans that are suddenly given these powers. So, if one likes seeing a human being content with great powers and great responsibility, then they sort of appeal to that. However, if other people want to be more inspired by these Greek gods -- while it is outside of our human experience to be able to use a Lasso of Truth, or have an invisible airplane -- it’s still inspiring. I feel like we need more heroes these days. With that in mind, I think that sometimes the DC characters can serve to inspire us more.
I think you have Greek mythology, and storytelling sort of revolving around these characters. I think theater is incredibly healing, and if you take those archetypes and pit them against each other, and somehow, we all learn and heal from whatever that is, I think that’s important. And I think the DC characters manage to pull that off in different episodes, different films -- manage to inspire us -- and also the humor is fantastic. There’s something really compelling about the narratives in DC that just really speaks to me personally. I just love them.
In the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show, your mother, Joan Van Ark, guest-starred in two episodes. Was that how you discovered the character as a kid?
That was my first exposure to her. Between her and Princess Leia, I was good. Those were the greatest hits of being female for me. I wanted Princess Leia’s hair and I wanted the complete outfit that Wonder Woman had, hence the underoos that were purchased immediately. Definitely had to have those. [Laughs.] And the gold bracelet!
That was my exposure. But to be honest with you, I do not remember my mom being on Wonder Woman. That would have struck me as incredibly cool at the time, but I don't know that we discussed it. She would be jetting out the driveway to go to The Rockford Files, Love Boat, or Columbo. She was doing all sorts of random stuff, but now, when I come across the footage of her, ironically, and her acting with Ted Shackelford (who went to play Gary to her Valene Ewing in Knots Landing) it’s amazing. Who knew that the two of them in those awesome outfits would come to be on a TV series for 13 years together? It’s some dynamic footage with that in mind.
What are your thoughts on Wonder Woman’s longevity? She's more popular than ever these days.
I think she manages to own some of the best aspects of any human personality, to a certain degree, and I think we will always be able to yearn for that. Plus, she’s just awesome. She’s just such a badass. It’s just evergreen. You can’t go wrong with her! I can’t wait for the new movie. I really can’t wait.
What are some of your favorite DC Universe stories?
I was blown away by Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox. It’s an animated Justice League film in which its sort of opposite day, and we get to see a version of Wonder Woman that is unlike anything I have ever known. It was vaguely disturbing, actually. That was the whole point of the film, and Elseworld stories in general. They ask questions like "What would happen if Superman landed in the Soviet Union?" For the Flashpoint Paradox, what would happen if it were opposite day? Obviously, there’s a more elegant thing that happens with the Flash. I’m also really glad that they made The Killing Joke. I was really happy to see that as an animated film. I loved it. I could watch it again and again.
With all the roles you’ve played in the DC Universe, have you ever looked at the comics for inspiration?
Oh definitely! I have a bunch of encyclopedias of the history of the comic books, and these roads have twisted and turned, and sometimes it can just be overkill, but I like to research. I am a nerd. I want to see everything. Anytime I’ve had any character, I not only research them, but also anyone who had anything to do with them. Just to get a sense of where this archetype fits into the grand scheme of things.
I watched the DC Daily episode where they talked about Wonder Woman #750. I have not seen it myself, but my next conquest is to get it. Hearing them sort of break it down made me feel gung-ho! It sounds amazing, and Amy Dallen is so well-versed in these things on DC Daily. She can do a deep dive, it’s bananas. I just want to tune in. I want to pick her brain. She actually hasn't seen Red Son yet, so as soon as she does, I want to hear what she thinks about that version of Wonder Woman.
In addition to voicing these characters, you’re also teaching the next generation of voice actors.
Pat Fraley has a bunch of different workshops that he does, and he has me come in and guest speak, which is fascinating. I volunteer for a group called Step Up, and it’s women supporting girls. Girls who might be marginalized in their communities, helping them get into college, and this and that. I’ve shared my experience, and hope that I was helpful. I think if you’re a good person, everything follows from that. Just be a good person, and trust me, if you’re meant to act, you’re going to do that.
There seems to be a very high percentage of genuinely nice people in animation and voice acting.
There are really great people. It’s so strange because we never see each other in LA. We’ll see each other in sessions, but it’s very hard to get together with people. The coolest thing is when we go to conventions. We finally get to hang. We finally get to eat some food and just laugh, and catch up. Those are the magic memories, after the con, or having the meals together and laughing. That’s my favorite part. It’s just family for life, really.