The Batman: Paul Dano and Jeffrey Wright on their journeys as Riddler and Gordon

The Batman is an interesting beast – a movie that tells a tale with familiar characters, yet gives them an all-new spin. Director Matt Reeves has done a spectacular job introducing new variations of cinematic and comic book stalwarts, and the cast truly brought that vision to life. Paul Dano and Jeffrey Wright do particularly thrilling work as the villain Ridler and Jim Gordon, respectively.

We caught up with the duo while they were promoting The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson as the eponymous hero. Here’s our Q&A, edited for clarity.

Total Film: I want to start with a question for Paul. The Riddler is like a twisted guy, I think it’s fair to say. What was your process of getting into the headspace of a character who’s essentially Zodiac Killer meets unhinged millennial?

Paul Dano: [Laughs] Luckily, Matt’s script was shockingly powerful. And along with being an incredible mystery and immersive spectacle, it was quite powerful emotionally, psychologically, and thematically. 

The first conversation we had was about hero and villain and the two sides of trauma. Batman is born of trauma and in this film, so maybe the Riddler is too. That’s really the seed from whichever thing grew – we were trying to make it as sort of personal and emotional as possible. Yes, Matt had referenced the Zodiac Killer, but that was only so potent for me. It wasn’t the Bible. And although the film makes contact with reality, which is part of its power, it wasn’t as much about thinking about any peoples at large as it was going to the source of this guy’s pain, which is the thing that then becomes unleashed. 

And yes, he’s, I suppose, twisted. But it was important for me, whether this comes across or not, that it wasn’t just nature and born some twisted psycho. But that nurture or the lack thereof in this city of Gotham, which is a sick city, is part of what created this person

TF: Jeffrey, your Gordon is not Commissioner Gordon. He’s definitely not new on the scene, but he’s still finding his way, more so than we’ve seen with other iterations of the character. Was that the draw for you – that you felt that you could put your mark on Gordon?

Wright: Matt, by making him a Lieutenant, activated the character in a way that was interesting and really allowed this partnership with Batman to come into the center, because Matt wanted to go back to the origins of Batman and celebrate the character as the world’s greatest detective, which is, how 80 years ago, the story began. 

That is at the core of our film, and in some ways what differentiates it from previous versions. Gordon is still very much a cop on the street, it gives him the opportunity to be involved in the in the dirt and grime that is Gotham. That was a really wonderful door to walk through for the character and for me, and it’s something that we haven’t seen explored before, to the extent that we do.

TF: It feels like a very intimate film, despite having such a big budget and big sets. How did it how did Matt Reeves cultivate that feeling on set where you could give an explosive performance as the Riddler, or building an intimate relationship with Batman as Gordon?

Dano: There are these chamber pieces going on with this huge immersive film. At the same time, there’s such a loneliness in Gotham and to each character’s mission or journey, but some of that just also comes down to the fact that the characters are fully realized characters. They’re not just the archetypes at work, they’re not just surface level. There’s a lot going on underneath. And everybody’s fighting for their own life in some way. And so maybe just the layers that Matt gave us, the opportunity to explore on the page, and then in his direction on his setting in his world, I think helps to create some of that intimacy, which also has to do with the immediacy, in relationship to the characters.

Wright: And I think as well, the ways in which Gotham is realized is comprehensive. There’s a world built that feels so complete and inviting. For example, when we the vista that we’ve seen in the trailers, looking out over the city from this skyscraper, you can imagine life going on out in those spaces. What our characters do, and what we were asked to do, is to represent that life on a personal psychological level. So this is a real place. This is fantastical, yes, but there’s something authentic and real about this. We inhabit this city. 

The wonderful thing about the Batman is that he’s not an extraterrestrial, he doesn’t have superpowers. This isn’t a film about Batman in space. He lives in a city that’s very much like the city that I live in, in America, New York City. That’s what Gotham was fashioned after. It gives him a certain accessibility as a superhero, that is maybe unique from the others. Our film really digs down into that. It’s a film about ordinary lives in these mad, exceptional situations, and in this city that’s going through its own type of trauma. And it’s a city that doesn’t look too unfamiliar to us. It’s something that we feel. The humanity of the characters is born out of that, that closeness who we might be outside the cinema. 

The Batman reaches cinemas March 4. While you wait, be sure to check out all the upcoming superhero movies heading your way soon.

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