Paul Dano Was 'Shocked' By How Much He Came To Love The Batman's Riddler Role

Playing a villain is never easy. How do you relate to a totally deplorable character? For Paul Dano, this challenge ended up being an incredible experience. Dano plays the duplicitous Riddler in "The Batman" (2022). As an actor, he has never shied away from a challenge. He is known for playing morally complicated roles in critically acclaimed dramas like "There Will Be Blood" and "Little Miss Sunshine," but the Riddler may have been his most antagonistic role to date. Despite his character's sinister tendencies, Dano found compassion for the Riddler and totally fell in love with the part.

The actor was immediately interested in the role when he read the screenplay written by writer-director Matt Reeves. "The key was Matt Reeves' totally beautiful script, which I will say I was honestly so surprised by," Dano confessed to ExtraTV. He was attracted to the idea "that there could be a Batman script and film that was such an immersive spectacle while being so character-driven and emotional and character-driven and psychological." The film would explore the classic comic characters' interior lives, which gave Dano the angle he needed as an actor. "For me, it was largely about who [the Riddler] was before he found his mask and what it would be like to be so powerless and self-hating," he explained.

By figuring out who the Riddler was before he became the Riddler, Dano was able to connect with the character and even feel sympathy for him. He saw the Riddler's violent behavior as a way to claim power, "something to release all of that energy and anger," as he put it.

Dano wanted his Riddler to be unique

Reeves' unique dramatic angle on the Batman universe encouraged Dano to bring a fresh approach to his role. "By Matt [Reeves] having such a specific point of view and a new one, it gave me a lot of freedom," he told GQ. The actor was free to focus on creating his own version of the character, "like I'm not gonna worry about the other ones or the comics," he added.

This is not to say that Dano wanted to ignore the history of the Riddler or Batman altogether. In fact, the actor himself is a huge fan. "I tried to take all the archetypal energy I could from the comics, and I read a ton of them, and I'm writing a comic now about the Riddler," he revealed. "And I was shocked by how much I loved putting out the film and engaging with that fan base — being, again, a fan myself and how much fervor there is around the Batman."

Dano was a bit nervous to portray such an iconic character which was so near and dear to lifelong fans of the Batman comics. Moreover, longtime fans of Dano might have been confused to see their favorite indie darling in a blockbuster franchise film. Many major figures in the film industry, like Martin Scorsese, are outspoken about their distaste of sequels and reboots (via NY Times). However, Dano knows that superhero films have as much potential as any other as long as they serve one crucial purpose. "Why would we keep making these? It's to reinterpret, and it's to reinterpret for the times as well, to keep investigating a character in a world," he explained.

The actor has always been a fan of Batman comics

By setting "The Batman" in the internet age and giving the Riddler an online, incel-adjacent following, the film completely reinvents a familiar villain. It also acts as an indirect response to "Joker" (2019), a villain origin story that resonated with outcasts and neglected young men. Dano felt that placing "The Batman" in a contemporary context makes the film worthwhile. "I think for people like Matt and Tim Burton and Chris Nolan and then whoever's gonna carry it next, I think it's gotta be an artist with a point of view who's taking that character and that city for the time that we're in," he added.

The actor had actually always wanted to be in a superhero movie, Entertainment Weekly reported but was "waiting for the right one or ones, where you're in collaboration with people and material that excites you. And this was definitely that." This might come as a surprise to cinephiles that hold Dano's previous work in higher esteem than films from the Marvel and DC universes, but the actor has always been a fan of the Batman universe. As it turns out, Reeves' film was a perfect point of entry for Dano — a morally complex examination of a hero and villain alike. "I thought that the sense of good and evil was not as black and white as it often is in a superhero film. And I thought those gray areas were really exciting," he concluded.

The highly anticipated sequel to "The Batman" will probably focus more heavily on Batman's other adversaries, like the Penguin or the Joker. However, the 2022 film's cryptic ending did suggest that the Riddler and the Joker would team up to take down Batman together. Here's hoping that Dano has a chance to expand upon his incredible performance in the upcoming film.