CARLSBAD — Will Arnett is certain he had the easiest job of any of the voice talent who worked on "The Lego Movie" because he takes on the one character most people will recognize: a pint-sized version of Batman.
Asked about the inspiration, Arnett says he read the Old Testament repeatedly. After getting the desired laugh, he offers a more serious answer. Finding the voice started during the first meetings with "The Lego Movie" directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
"We came up with the idea of looking at all of the Batmans who have come before — back to the Batman before the original dinosaurs — and trying to see what would make us laugh," Arnett says. "The first couple of (recording) sessions we spent a lot of time finding that voice and what was working and what wasn't working."
The fun of playing the role for Arnett was getting to change the rules when giving voice to the traditionally dark and brooding character and creating a version of Batman that doesn't follow a typical path. What Arnett and the directors decided was that the more serious Batman tried to take himself, the funnier the character became.
One of the ways they made Batman funnier was to have Arnett sing a "Batman" song. Arnett sarcastically says it was "a treat" to do because he doesn't have what's considered a traditional singing voice.
Arnett, who is chiefly known for his on-screen work — from "Arrested Development" to his current CBS comedy series, "The Millers" — has plenty of voice work experience. Along with 'The Lego Movie," he's the voice of the squirrel Surly in the film "The Nut Job." He's also been a voice talent in "The Simpsons," "The Cleveland Show," "The Secret World of Arrietty," "Despicable Me," "Sit Down Shut Up," "Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space" and "Ratatouille." Arnett also has a new animated series in the works for Netflix.
Voice work was a way Arnett could pay the bills when he was starting out. Now, it's become what Arnett calls "a fancy second job" he looks forward to doing.
"It's such a fun world. I love doing voice work because it's such a fun process," Arnett says. "I like it because you can go and be in a different world."
The worlds couldn't be much different with the two movies now in theaters, where he goes from self-centered squirrel to self-confident superhero. And both voice jobs are much different than the work he's doing on the CBS sitcom "The Millers," where he plays a newly single television reporter whose mother (Margo Martindale) moves in with him.
The comic chemistry between Arnett and Martindale has helped make "The Millers" a top-rated new comedy. Arnett says the series just happened to have the right cast and writing to give him a hit.
Not only does voice work help pay the bills, but being in "The Lego Movie" has won him some added adulation from his 3-year-old son.
"He keeps calling it 'The Lego/Batman Movie,' " Arnett says.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.