Batman TAS: Kevin Conroy Honors Michael Ansara; Mr. Freeze Remembered
The character of Mr. Freeze has been portrayed in different media by some big-name actors, such as George Sanders, Eli Wallach, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it is the performance of the late veteran character actor Michael Ansara, who would have been 100-years-old today, as the sympathetic villain in Batman: The Animated Series and its various other incarnations that stands tall above the rest. And all he needed was his voice.
Ansara was born in Syria in 1922 before immigrating to America with his family at the age of two years old, which led to him crafting a near-sixty-year career for himself as an actor in Hollywood. He was mainly known for television roles, most notably in the shows Rawhide, Broken Arrow, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, and as the Klingon Commander Kang on the original Star Trek series, a role he would return to in later decades on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
His most iconic and widely-seen role is the one we're going to focus on, which is that of Dr. Victor Fries, a.k.a. Mr. Freeze on Batman: The Animated Series. In the third episode of the 1992 series, Heart Of Ice, fans were introduced to an entirely reimagined version of the Batman villain who up to that point, was simply the guy with the ice gimmick who froze things. The show presented the tragic story of a brilliant scientist who was desperately trying to save his dying wife, only to be subjected to a horrible accident by his greedy heartless boss and was left as a vengeful monster who must be kept at subzero temperatures to survive.
The episode is considered the gold standard of the entire series and this version of Mr. Freeze was adopted as canon for all Batman comics and adaptations going forward, instantly boosting him from a minor villain up to one of Batman's (and all of comics') most beloved and well-known. A large part of the success of this version of Mr. Freeze is due to Ansara's genuinely haunting performance. It's sad without being sappy. It's scary without being vicious. It's just perfect and something that has stayed with everyone for 30 years now.
While Ansara's performance is pitch-perfect, it didn't come easily. Series creator Bruce Timm explained that it was a strenuous process to get the voice he was looking for and it required a lot of work between him and Ansara.
"He was acting too much. It was really frustrating for him. He had never done cartoons before and an actor's first natural instinct is to act. He kept giving these line readings with all this inflection in them. I kept telling them that it had to be less, a lot less- like a robot. He kept saying it sounded so flat. Everybody else was looking at me too and was asking me if I was sure. To them, it sounded flat. I think it really sells it. I wanted his voice to sound like the Ebonites in that old The Outer Limits episode, Nightmare. They sound real metallic and hollow. I even played that for him at the recording session and explained that was what I wanted it to sound like. It drove the sound guys crazy doing it."
Michael Ansara voiced Mr. Freeze numerous times across various mediums between 1992 and 2001 and it was his last ever credited role in the video game Batman: Vengeance. Sadly, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 91 as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease. While he's not with us on the occasion of his 100th birthday this week, he helped craft a character that will outlive us all. You can check out Ansara's work as Mr. Freeze as a part of Batman: The Animated Series, which is streaming in its entirety on HBO Max.