Paul Dano Was Careful To Avoid Making The Batman's Riddler Look Cool

It's always a bit of a balancing act when it comes to portraying serial killers in media. With the extreme popularity of the recent Netflix series, "Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story," discourse surrounding the morality of featuring real-life murderers in entertainment has been prominent in many circles. Family members of Dahmer's real-life victims have called out the show for exploiting the tragic stories of their relatives. Many believe that the show glorifies a man who horrifically killed mostly Black men and boys. You can certainly argue that the show doesn't glorify Dahmer, but with there being so many Jeffrey Dahmer costumes on eBay that they had to ban them from the platform, it's clear that many people are engaging with Dahmer as if he were a fictional character.

This sort of moral quandary in filmmaking isn't just limited to serial killers, and actor Paul Dano has grappled with this issue in the past. When Dano was offered a role in Dennis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" as an intellectually disabled man who is the prime suspect in a child abduction case, the idea of portraying such a character was enough to give Dano pause. He was concerned whether accepting the part would be worthwhile, or whether it was just another example of Hollywood exploiting some of humanity's darkest tendencies in order to draw in morbidly curious audiences. Ultimately, Dano spoke with Villeneuve and found his take on the story justified the darkness of the subject matter, and the movie was made.

Dano carried his sensitivity to this issue with him to 2022, when he starred as The Riddler in Matt Reeves' "The Batman." And according to an interview with GQ, he had some similar misgivings about not wanting to glorify the awful character he was portraying in any way.

Not cool

Matt Reeves' "The Batman" is another in our new generation of gritty interpretations of the Caped Crusader, so his Riddler isn't exactly Jim Carrey running around making bad puns in a green jumpsuit anymore. The Riddler that Paul Dano agreed to play was a straight-up serial killer who targeted members of Gotham's elite and murdered them on internet live streams, like a horrifying combination of the Unabomber and Jake Paul.

Dano's love of Batman and interest in Reeves' script pushed him to accept the part, but as he spoke about in his interview with GQ, he really wanted to make sure that he didn't portray his Riddler as cool or admirable in any way, including when it came to his wardrobe. "There was some resistance in me at first, because I didn't want his classes to be, like, stylish or something," said Dano. "But there was something about the clear frames with the mask and with the Saran wrap, which is something we added, where it just felt right. It felt really right. And I cannot quantify why."

The look of Dano's Riddler was darker and simpler than most of the character's past iterations in a way that really matched the film's tone. If Dano was worried about making The Riddler cool, he certainly managed to avoid doing so. He was able to get across a rare combination of menacing and pathetic that few movie villains can capture without leaning too far in one direction. 

It's important that an actor asks themselves questions about what their goal is in playing a character, and in cases like "Prisoners" and "The Batman," I think it helps Dano create villains that communicate the message the director wishes to get across with their story.