‘Lego Batman Movie’ director Chris McKay on building a unique film

“Being able to do a Batman movie and tell that story for me was a dream come true,” Chris McKay says.

There’s been lots of talk in the past few weeks about a “Batman” movie losing its director, landing a new director and all sorts of question marks.

There are no such issues with Chris McKay, the director of “The Lego Batman Movie.” McKay wore many hats on “The Lego Movie” — co-director, animation director and head of story and co-editor. He landed the “Batman” gig as Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, directors of “The Lego Movie,” were heading off to direct the upcoming Han Solo film.

“Because I was working with them so closely, I developed a relationship with them,” McKay says. “So when it came time to do the sequel, it was sort of a natural progression. I’m a huge comic book fan and I’m a huge Batman fan, specifically, so being able to do a Batman movie and tell that story for me was a dream come true and just an amazing opportunity. I was really lucky. But it just came out of a relationships that I had from the first movie.”

amNewYork spoke with McKay about the film.

What makes Lego Batman so unique?

Well, I mean we try to take the point of view that this was a combination of all of the different Batman characters. All of those timelines existed. I think probably for us we wanted to tell a story that was different than what the other movies could do. You know we could actually make a movie that’s kind of about Batman confronting his central problems, his greatest fears, and insecurities and watch him overcome them — something that maybe the other movies can’t do. And ask the question: “Can Batman be happy? Can he stop being a brooding loner and open up his life to other people?”

Were there any limitations to what you were allowed to do with Batman?

You know, not so much. There were things that we couldn’t do — there was rogue’s gallery villains and that sort of thing that we couldn’t show necessarily because their back stories were too violent maybe for kids, stuff like that.

What are some of the challenges of the limited movement of Legos?

It’s very limited and I think that’s a good thing because I think we have to work a little bit harder. One example: When we’re acting in Lego, it’s more about the body and less about the face. I’m always asking my layout department to bring the camera back a little bit more [to] sell some emotion out of the body. … We almost do more silent movie acting in a way.

I was happy to see comic and podcaster Doug Benson — who does a Bane impression on his podcast “Doug Loves Movies” — in the film. Were there any voices or actors that were especially meaningful for you to get as actors?

I’m glad you mentioned Doug because I’m a big “Doug Loves Movies” fan, too. It was a podcast that I used to listen to on the first movie because I was in Sydney. On the first movie, I was in Sydney for a year and a half and so “Doug Loves Movies” and Chris Hardwick and the “Nerdist” were two podcasts that I used to listen to on my walks back and forth to work. It was just sort of a way for me to have a little piece of home. Doug always did the Bane impersonation, so that’s why I cast him. I wanted Chris Hardwick to be in it because I was a big fan.

And you finally got Billy Dee Williams in as Two-Face.

I was a kid who loved that first “Batman” movie, the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton one. … And so when he was cast as Harvey Dent I was like, that was a little secret that other people around me didn’t know that, “Oh, that character is going to change into Two-Face in one or two movies.” And so that was really exciting that I thought that they were playing this long game over the course of a couple of films — that oh, you’re going to get to know this guy and then there’s going to be this tragedy. And I thought that was really smart and got really excited about the possibility of the sequels down the road. But when it didn’t play out and in fact not only did they change the casting, they never did anything with that character. He just sort of suddenly he shows up and he’s Two-Face — Tommy Lee Jones shows up in the movie and he’s Two-Face and there’s no arc — I was really disappointed. … And for me being able to cast Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent and sort of right what I saw as sort of a wrong, even if it’s just for as a silly cameo in our movie. It was important to me and literally he walks in on the day of recording and … the first thing he says when he walks in is he goes, “Oh, I finally get to play that part that I was supposed to play 20 years ago.” And that just made me feel really — I don’t know I felt really happy. I just love that guy so much. Yeah, he’s amazing.

AMNY Newsletter

Eat it. Drink it. Do it. Tackle the city, with our help.