Finally the Hero! David Selby voices
Commissioner James Gordon for
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Having made his mark as a villain for many of his 45 years in the
entertainment industry, David Selby is only too happy to provide the
heroic voice of Commissioner James Gordon for Batman: The Dark Knight
Returns, Part 1.
Selby is best known for his long-running roles as Quentin Collins, the
werewolf brother to vampire Barnabus Collins on the original series
Dark Shadows, and as the ruthless, vengeful Richard Channing on the
1980s primetime soap opera Falcon Crest. Between those two series
alone, Selby logged more than 500 episodes as an antagonist.
Finally, Selby gets a beloved protagonist turn as the everyman hero
James Gordon, a straight-shooting, intelligent lawman bent on doing
what’s right … with the help of his old pal, Bruce Wayne (and his
alter ego, Batman).
Selby will be in attendance on both coasts for the World and West
Coast Premieres of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1. Selby is
the lone actor on the September 20 post-screening panel at the Paley
Center in New York, and he’ll be joined by co-stars Peter Weller and
Ariel Winter for the panel discussion on Monday, September 24, at the
Paley Center in Los Angeles.
After making his professional acting debut on Dark Shadows in 1968,
Selby found fame on the large and small screens as well as Broadway.
His film career runs the gamut from early starring roles opposite
Barbara Streisand in Up The Sandbox and alongside Ron Liebman in The
Super Cops to a memorable role as one of the key lawyers in The Social
Network. On television, surrounding his 209 episodes of Falcon Crest,
Selby has been seen on everything from The Waltons, Police Woman and
Kojak to Ally McBeal, Cold Case, Mad Men, and HBO’s Tell Me You Love
Selby is also one of the more learned actors around the industry,
having earned a Master’s Degree from West Virginia University, and a
Ph.D. in Theatre from Southern Illinois University. Beyond the stage
and screen, Selby has written two volumes of poetry.
The affable Selby was happy to discuss his role as James Gordon
following his initial recording session for the two halves of Batman:
The Dark Knight Returns. Here’s what he had to say …
Having spent several hours in his mind, how do you see Police
Commissioner James Gordon in this film?
Because Bruce Wayne is Batman, and even though we all want to be
heroes, Gordon is willing to take a quieter, more backseat role. I
think he’s persistent, he’s calm. He’s a very practical man, like
certain presidents. Lincoln was a very pragmatic guy, and I think
Gordon is a very pragmatic commissioner.
Gordon is the type of guy that would think, “If I’ve gotta do it, and
it’s going to make it right, and I look out and I know that my wife is
going to be fine, and the children are going to be fine, then if a
certain kind of justice is required to do this, I can live with it.”
That’s my kind of Gordon. A very strong, practical guy.
In this film, James Gordon is 70 years old and about to retire. David
Selby is now 70 years old. Usually it doesn’t matter in voice acting,
but does that age similarity help increase the bond between actor and
What are you saying? (laughs) That I’ve been playing this game for 50
years? (laughs harder) Well, I guess that’s true. You know the
frustrations, the thinking of “Okay, I’ve got a few years to go, and
there’s still one thing I want to do.” Maybe I want to play Macbeth. I
don’t know. There’s definitely some parallels. Really, though, it’s
the whole life experience – that’s the thing that ties me to Gordon.
Having been around and seen what we’ve seen. I understand his
frustrations. My God, all you have to do is pick up a bloody
newspaper. It’s hard to not get frustrated. Sometimes the best thing
to do is to avoid the paper in the morning.
Was there a centering emotion you used in James Gordon to help you
focus on his motivations?
For Gordon, what he wants to do more than anything in the world is
that he wants to leave the world a little better place than when he
came into it. And he thinks of how awful it would be to live your life
and not be able to do that.
I like Gordon. Sometimes you have to draw the line in the sand, the
morality line, and each of us has to decide how far you’re willing to
go for success. Now if you’re battling the Mutants, you can go a long
way. You can step over that line, as long as you know why you’re doing
it. That’s my little take on that.
You had more than 300 episodes to get to know Quentin Collins for Dark
Shadows. You spent 209 episodes creating Richard Channing for Falcon
Crest. Today you had about four hours to become James Gordon. How do
you develop a character that quickly?
You don’t. You just sort of depend upon Andrea (Romano) and Bruce
(Timm), because they know this territory far better than you. I did do
a little research, though. I asked my son, who is a great aficionado
of Frank Miller and all of these things. That was my first call. He
gave me a great rundown, so there was a little preparation. So mostly
you put yourself in the hands of those that know the character, and
learn from their experience.
So your son is a Frank Miller fan. Do you have newfound street cred in
You can’t imagine. My son-in-law is a big fan, too. I’m in like flint
now. I couldn’t have done better than to be able to make that call.
“Do you know Dark Knight?” “What do you mean, do I know Dark Knight?
Who do you think you’re talking to?” “Well, I’m playing the
Commissioner.” “You’re playing James Gordon? You’re playing Gordon?!?
Commissioner Gordon?!?!?” I never mentioned the Gordon’s name.
(laughs) I just said the Commissioner. Oh my God. How special is that?
I like that.
Did you read comics when you were a kid?
We lived in a little community called Woodburn, where I grew up in
Morgantown, West Virginia. There was a store down the street from
where I grew up – a confectionary, you know, “beer on tap” – and they
had a comic rack. Tom and Ann Torch owned the place – Tom would sit in
the corner by the Coke machine and play checkers. And then guys would
come in and order … Dewey would order egg in his beer, and all the
regulars who lived in the neighborhood would be around. We could look
in the comics, and they never once said “Put the comics down.” Now,
once we graduated from comic books and went on to Sexology and Golden
Nugget girls, then Ann and her sister Hortense got concerned. But as
long as we stuck to the comics, it was okay, so I read all the comics.
I’d also go two houses down to my friend Wally’s house – he had a lot
of comics. But at the Richwood Confectionary, that was terrific place
to grow up. Sit in there, drink a Nehi Orange for a nickel, and read
What was going on in 1966 that made it right for both Dark Shadows and
Batman to premiere and explode in popularity?
That was a special time in the 60s, and for whatever reasons these
shows captivated the public’s imagination. Maybe we just needed it in
the 60s. They were shows that allowed you to escape … shows that made
life a little easier to cope. I think about New York City at that time
and all the things that were going on. The corruption, the racial
conflicts, the unrest at Columbia University. There were protests
everywhere. Then there was Chicago, and the election in 1968. The
assassination of Martin Luther King, the assassination of Bobby
Kennedy. Vietnam was raging. And then you had these shows. I’m sure
some sociologist is examining all of this and working it out. But I
think those two shows, Batman and Dark Shadows, they fit that
expression, “Whatever gets you through the night.” It is interesting
that they both came out of that period. But maybe not. Maybe the times
You’ve obviously had the experience. But do you like playing the villain?
I’m not complaining – a lot of times the villain is the most
interesting character. But
I’ve played some awful people. I played a character who got rid of his
own sister. In doing these characters, I like them, and you have to
get your audience on your side somehow. They have to understand where
you’ve come from. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll hang in there with