Paul Dano as The Riddler in The Batman
Paul Dano as The Riddler in The Batman Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

At the time of writing, ‘The Batman’ was on its way to earn $110 million at the international box office on its opening weekend.

The Robert Pattinson-led re-telling of the Caped Crusader has already been touted by some critics as the best superhero movie ever made, with director Matt Reeves and his Batman earning the lion’s share of the praise.

Yet, for many, it is Paul Dano’s terrifying performance as The Riddler that steals the show. The character, who has yet to transform into the spirited green-suited persona from the comic books, sees Dano play a dark and deadly serial killer, so seeped in madness that he even puts Jigsaw to shame from the ‘Saw’ film franchise.

With ‘The Batman’ currently playing in UAE cinemas, Gulf News finds out how Dano brought his Riddler to life.

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Paul Dano at the premiere of The Batman Image Credit: Reuters

So how did this role come to you?

I got a weekend phone call — which is either good or bad news when it’s on the weekend — and it was that Matt [Reeves] wanted to talk to me and send a script. And yeah, my jaw sort of hit the floor just because, I mean, it’s the coolest. And I felt instinctively that there was probably an opportunity for that character since it hasn’t been seen in some time, even though there’s been other iterations of Batman over the past couple decades.

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From left, US film producer Dylan Clark, British actor Andy Serkis, British actor Robert Pattinson, US actress Zoe Kravitz, US actor Paul Dano, US actor Jeffrey Wright and US film director Matt Reeves pose on the red carpet upon arrival for a special screening for the movie "The Batman" at the BFI IMAX, in London, on February 23, 2022. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

Then I got to read Matt’s script, which I was absolutely blown away by in terms of how fully conceived it was. The balance of something that was big in scope and archetypal in its energy, but also had some undercurrent of something either deeply personal or deeply emotional… You could even feel the visceral nature of the action in his script.

It’s an interesting time in all of these characters’ lives because it’s not the beginning, but it’s nowhere near where we’re used to seeing them in their evolution. So, how did you prep for this character, because the Batman’s only into his second year of being an entity in Gotham city, but your character is affected by his presence.

The Riddler costume has changed in The Batman Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Yes, I think on the title page of Matt’s script said, ‘The Batman: A Year Two Story,’ or something like that, so immediately I was like, okay, what does that mean? I think he very wisely chose not to go back over the origin, but the character is still in an almost immature/volatile state in his own journey. I think that is the exciting ground we see Rob get to explore, and you can get a pretty strong feeling from the way he says “I’m vengeance” as to where the character is early in his career. And the same goes for all the other characters.

In what way?

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A still from The Batman Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

I was impressed by how grounded in reality this Gotham and these characters are, but there’s also somehow still this archetypal energy to the piece as a whole. And I think you can see that in Matt and Greig’s [Fraser] images; I see a lot of the incredible comics that I read in there, but you also feel something more grounded and real. I think one of the things that I had to think about was, well, what’s really scary? There were a couple of things that went into that, and one is some of the life references that Matt had, which I felt only took me so far because I don’t think that the Riddler is just a serial killer. I think his intent and sense of purpose is far greater than that.

I think the other way to use the word “real” is in the emotional and psychological story of who that person is and the context for the world they live in. Again, this Gotham felt very powerful to me. So, Year Two for me, Gotham is broken in Year Two.

And you could argue that Batman is not fixing it, per se. When you put fear and anger together, you’re not really going to repair anything at this point. But your character has a very interesting way of digging deep into that broken city, right?

Yeah. Well, I think a lot of people can relate to the feeling of being promised things that they don’t receive. And I don’t think Gotham is a city that offers many ways out or up; I think there’s probably been a lot of promises over the years for hope or for change, but I don’t know that those things ever come to fruition in a city like Gotham. And I think Edward wants to help...

There’s something about the DC Super-Villains — they are not just bad guys, they’re so intriguing to watch and, I would presume, to play as well. Did you find that as you went from fan to actor within that world?

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Paul Dano as The Riddler Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

I think that the line between Batman and his villains has always been part of what’s powerful about it. I think that’s something that Matt really took advantage of here and wasn’t afraid to excavate. The hero/villain thing sounds black and white, but there’s a lot of gray. And as you said, with the fear or vengeance being guiding forces, I don’t know that’s the way to do good or not. And I think maybe the fact that Batman is also a person and that his transformation comes from trauma really…

Makes him more relatable to his villains because he’s not super-human?

Exactly. He and his villains are both born of this Earth. And I think that is part of what makes them so powerful and why they’ve tapped into the collective conscience for so long now.

This is a DC movie, but it’s still a very unexpected film in many ways. What do you hope audiences are going to experience when they watch it?

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Paul Dano promoting The Batman Image Credit: AFP

I’m really excited for people to see the film because I want to be able to talk about it, and I want to see what people think. I love the domino effect that each scene has towards the next in Matt’s script and I think it’s a really captivating and engrossing journey. What Matt and Greig did, including James [Chinlund], our production designer… the images are, I think, really powerful.

I will be very excited for people to spend that time in this Gotham. And I really think if you’re going to go see something in a theatre, seeing this with the sound and with the imagery taking you over, I think it’s going to be awesome. But I also love the ending of the film. I think it’s a really powerful climax and I like Batman’s journey in this film. So I’ll be curious for people to experience it.

It occurs to me that when we think of the Riddler, we have a very particular image in our mind of this green suit and these question marks, but that’s not where this character is at this time. What did it feel like to create that look with Matt and with costume designer Jacqueline Durran, to not be the expected or anticipated version of this character?

Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever Image Credit: IMDB

Well, it was sort of shocking and thrilling just as a reader and going like oh, this is totally different. And again, Matt had a really strong point of view. I loved working with him, firstly, because we are very like-minded in terms of our thoroughness and attention to detail and wanting to push as deeply as we possibly can and question everything. And then with Jacqueline, there was already a concept there, but we definitely went through and explored and found what was right and found a balance point, tonally.

There is a mask that I think is very powerful. I went with a bunch of masks and worked with a very famous mask teacher just to explore that. It’s very powerful to put on a mask and to be somebody else, so there’s a lot of power in the costume itself.

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The Batman is screening in the UAE