Robert Pattinson wasn’t exactly Batman material before director Matt Reeves saw him and simply knew he had found his Dark Knight.
The 35-year-old actor, who found fame in franchises such as ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’, had moved on from the spotlight to push the envelope with indie fare, chasing edgier content that didn’t draw in the masses but satisfied the creative in him. The strange thing is that it was ‘Good Time,’ a $2 million movie, and it’s frenetic, freefall energy that convinced Reeves that Pattinson needed to be his Batman.
It was 2017 when Reeves started writing the movie for Pattinson, not having the faintest idea whether it would hold any interest. Five years and tireless efforts later, ‘The Batman’ is finally poised to release in UAE cinemas with Pattinson slipping into the suit with a kind of ease like it was always meant to be.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Reeves talks about his Batman and how the saviour of Gotham City fulfils his vision.
What is it about this character that inspired your take on this script?
I’ve loved the character since I was a kid. But as a filmmaker, what was exciting to me was having a chance to approach a comic book character who’s not a superhero. He is a character who’s trying to make meaning out of his life. He’s never gotten over what happened to him as a kid and so, he’s trying to make sense of it by throwing himself head long into a completely dangerous situation.
I felt like there’d been a lot of great origin tales that had been done in the movies. And you’d seen Bruce Wayne lose his parents and then decide to try and perfect himself to become a vigilante. And I didn’t want to do that because I felt it had already been done well more than once. But what I thought I hadn’t seen was a version where the arc is actually Batman’s arc, where you meet him and he’s already Batman, but there’s such a distance to travel in terms of what he’s going to become.
So how would you describe the Batman we meet in this film?
You see a guy who is sort of almost like a vision of horror; he comes to the shadows and he’s meant to intimidate the criminal element. But the real question is, what happens to you when you put on a mask and you have that anonymity? You kind of lose yourself.
This is a guy who is not only fighting the criminal element, he’s fighting himself. And he doesn’t even know he’s fighting himself, driven by the fact that he has never gotten over the trauma from his childhood. I think what excited me was this notion that he would be a character with so many layers, that he would be a superhero whose only real superpower is his will push himself to extreme lengths in order to try to find a way to make meaning, and to help people in the city. Not because he’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart, but because it’s the only way he can find meaning in such a difficult world.
And he also has a mystery to solve, correct?
Yes, I think that’s really it. I mean, I think this is the other thing that I really felt hadn’t been done was leaning into that character as a detective, as the world’s greatest detective. This all began with [comic book artists] Bob Kane and Bill Finger as a pure noir story; it was a reaction to Superman, and the idea of that kind of tremendous optimism, the American dream optimism of that.
It was the flip side of it and the idea of a really corrupt world and somebody at the centre of it as the person who could be a champion to fight against the corruption. I think that was based very much in that kind of noir idea of the detective. I don’t think any of the movies, while they’ve touched on the idea, they’ve never made that the subject of the movie. And I just felt like to tell a story in which this vigilante is also learning to be an incredible detective, putting the pieces together and trying to solve the mysteries of why this city is so corrupt.
While you’ve created your own space with this story, there’s clearly a nod or two to some of the really iconic comics, like ‘Year One’, ‘The Long Halloween’, and so many other things. So I think you’re serving the fans in a way they may not even be expecting, correct?
Well, that was actually the goal. One of the first things I did when I sat down to do this was I went on a deep dive with the comics and I just started reading them all. As I said, my big entry into being a Batman fan was Batman ‘66 and Adam West, Neal Adams and obviously the earlier comics. And here’s what’s crazy when you mentioned ‘The Long Halloween’. My screenwriting teacher, the person who told me at USC that I should become a writer, was Jeph Loeb.
Who wrote ‘The Long Halloween’, of course…
And he wrote that and many others after he was my teacher. But he wrote some of the most definitive, modern-day Batman stories and I hadn’t actually read them. And when I did, I knew that I wanted to do a noir and I knew I wanted to do a story about a serial killer that was The Riddler. And then when I read ‘The Long Halloween’, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so inspirational.”
So I connected to ‘The Long Halloween’. I connected in a major way to ‘Year One’. I connected to Darwyn Cooke’s ‘Ego’. All the things that got into tone and psychology and the way of telling a certain story. And so then when you absorb all of that, it can’t help but filter into the storytelling.
Tell us about working with Robert Pattinson and how he fit into you vision of Batman.
It was fabulous. As I was writing, I started looking at actors in the age range that I was thinking of for the character. And I wanted this Batman to be someone who was in conflict with himself, somebody who had a sense of danger, somebody who had a kind of sexiness to him, somebody who looked like he was desperate, who could show vulnerability. And I wanted an actor with whom you could feel all those things very palpably. Almost like a young [Marlon] Brando or Montgomery Clift.
And when I started watching all these Rob movies, and when I saw him in ‘Good Time’, I was like, it has to be this guy — without knowing whether or not he would ever… because all he’s done after the ‘Twilight’ movies is gone out and been in all of these really interesting indie movies. So, I had no idea whether or not he would ever be interested in doing a big comic book character franchise.
But it didn’t matter. I wrote it for him. And then it turned out he liked Batman.
What was his initial reaction when he saw the finished script?
What I love about Rob is that he never wants to go at something the straight away. He’s looking for ways in which somebody is different, weird and struggling. And those are all the things that I find interesting; we really connected on that. I think he understood that this guy was a kind of freak of sorts and he related to that.
I think this is the most challenging Batman. I wanted him to have a kind of fierceness and volatility and a kind of dangerousness, but I also needed him actually to be desperate and emotional. And all of these things that he had to somehow project through the cowl, that’s not easy. We worked a lot on that and we worked on “what does his voice sound like?” And in all of these things Rob is very instinctual, and it was a really great experience.
With Zoë Kravitz, you also are reinventing Catwoman, bringing Selina Kyle to life in a way we’ve never seen before, is it not?
I wanted to do that because it wasn’t going to be Batman’s origin tale, but his early days. And in many of the comics, Batman making an appearance in Gotham City is what inspired Catwoman to become Catwoman. She thinks, ‘Oh, this guy’s wearing the suit. What is that? What an interesting idea.’ And so he’s having an effect on the city he never meant to have, which is that he’s actually inspiring some of the criminals and some of the rogues gallery characters to adopt these kinds of alter egos.
In the case of Selina Kyle, I wanted him to meet her along the way and automatically assumes that because of the world and the people she’s involved in, that she must have questionable morals.
Selina Kyle has always been a very compelling character because she didn’t have the resources that Bruce Wayne did. She had to grow up in a very tough place and find a way to survive. And who is he to judge? I really needed to find somebody who could embody this character, not so much in a kind of theatrical style, because obviously I think Michelle Pfeiffer is the best example of that. But I wanted this version to be rooted in the Selina Kyle-side of the character, more so than Catwoman, because she isn’t exactly Catwoman yet. Zoë came in and read for the role and she just got it.
Don’t miss it!
‘The Batman’ is out in UAE from March 3.