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[Only IN Hollywood] Casting Robert Pattinson, grim approach pay off for ‘The Batman’

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Casting Robert Pattinson, grim approach pay off for ‘The Batman’
Matt Reeves' gamble to cast Robert Pattinson as Batman, and the filmmaker’s approach – to make 'The Batman' a detective story, neo-noirish and all – have paid off magnificently

LOS ANGELES, USA – Matt Reeves has done what seemed undoable. His The Batman is the best film on the Caped Crusader since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The Batman is grim and long at three hours, but it in fact makes Robert Pattinson’s first outing as Gotham’s super vigilante even more enjoyable. The film is gripping, engagingly dark, and brooding.

Matt’s gamble to cast Robert as Batman, and the filmmaker’s approach – to make The Batman a detective story, neo-noirish and all – have paid off magnificently. Aside from many critics’ embrace, The Batman is doing boffo business at movie theaters all over the world.

With the tremendous response to The Batman, I dug up the transcript of The Batman panel with Matt Reeves at the DC FanDome in August 2020. Back then, Matt was in the midst of shooting The Batman.

Matt’s answers in the panel moderated by actress Aisha Tyler are worth sharing since they shed light on his approach and thinking behind The Batman, including his casting choices – now that many of us have seen it.

The director, whose credits include his masterful Planet of the Apes movies in 2014 and 2017, is silencing Robert Pattinson’s haters. Robert, who has been impressing us with his growth as an actor and choice of projects in recent years, is vulnerable yet possesses gravitas as the tortured vigilante.

Matt’s take largely depended on Robert and he delivers.

“The thing about Robert Pattinson is he’s an incredible actor,” Matt said in the panel where he also fielded questions from fans around the world.

“I feel like the work that he’s done in the last six years has been incredible. Like a friend of mine made a movie called The Lost City of Z. Rob appeared in that movie.”

“He had such charisma. Rob in the movie has this incredible beard. You’re like, ‘Who is that?’ And it’s Rob. And Rob in The Rover and Rob in Good Time. He is like a chameleon. And he’s such a gifted actor.”

INTENSE. Robert Pattinson as Batman. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“He’s been working on his craft in this really incredible way. He also happens to be a tremendous, passionate fan of Batman, the way that I am. So it was an incredible thing to be able to connect with him, to share our excitement about the character and to work with him.”

“He looks like Batman but more than anything, he has the soul of someone who can play a Batman like you’ve never seen before.”

Matt’s fondness for, and knowledge of, Batman and his world are reflected in The Batman. He recalled, “I’ve loved Batman since I was a kid. I never even imagined, when I began making movies, that I would do genre movies because I just love certain kinds of movies that are very character-based.”

“It’s really interesting that as I got deeper into genre, I realized that was a way to do very emotional stories but under the guise of these great mythic tales.”

“In particular, what excited me and the thing I related to in The Batman story, was that he isn’t a superhero in the traditional sense. He might have a cape but he can’t fly. He’s like you and me.”

“But if he has a superpower, it’s the ability to endure and not only the ability but a kind of compulsion. So it’s that idea of being that driven by your past and by the things that you can’t quite resolve in yourself.”

“And to me, to tell a version of Batman where it wasn’t about how he became Batman but it’s about the early days of how he is Batman. And he is so far from being perfect. Seeing him become what we all know about him and see it in new ways.”

“I felt like that was a way to do something that hadn’t been done. That was really what I was excited to be able to do in this iteration.”

DIRECTION. Director Matt Reeves (right) on Robert Pattinson as Batman: “He looks like Batman but more than anything, he has the soul of someone who can play a Batman like you’ve never seen before.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Matt, who wrote the script with Peter Craig, explained that in his film, the Caped Crusader is just in his second year being a vigilante.

He said, “If you were in a city and there was a guy who dressed up as a bat and showed up out of the shadows, and sometimes confronted those people, beat them up because he felt what they were doing was wrong so that he could put the fear of God in them about the crimes that they’re committing, I think we would wonder, ‘That guy sounds a little dangerous.’ ”

“He’s not yet the vision of the character that he becomes, where he becomes a symbol of hope for the city. He’s early in the trajectory. And so they’re afraid of him, frankly.”

“He’s kind of a growing legend. There are some people who are wondering, ‘Does he exist? How exactly does he exist?’ That legend is building day by day and has been since he made his first appearance about a year and a half ago, as we’re in year two.”

“So, yeah, the public is afraid of him. That’s one of the things that he will confront in the course of the story and that Rob has to deal with him playing the character, which is the idea of how he’s perceived.”

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What stands out about The Batman is Matt’s emphasis on the hero – who is still getting his bearings – as a detective trying to solve a series of murders in Gotham.

Matt remarked, “Because the movie is a detective story, it is a thriller in this cop world, and because it’s about corruption, we’re treating this Batman story as if this could have happened.”

“The idea is that Batman doesn’t have superhero powers. He just has super-heroic focus and drive.”

In his elaboration of Bruce Wayne as detective tack, Matt revealed that several movies made in the ’70s inspired him.

“So for me, a lot of movies like Chinatown was a key one because Jake Gittes, in investigating the series of crimes that were part of that story, discovers the depth of corruption in Los Angeles. In that way, it’s like a classic noir.”

“The series of murders that Batman is investigating is very much in that mode. So Chinatown was a really big one.”

“And the idea of that gritty, flawed, humanity of it, that was very much inspired by those kinds of movies, like The French Connection and other cop movies like that.”

DUO. Robert Pattinson and Jeffrey Wright in “The Batman.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“I would say even a movie like Taxi Driver and the description of a place, and very much getting inside of somebody’s head. I guess a lot of ’70s street-grounded stories.”

The director, who began making movies with a wind-up camera at age eight, knows his Batman canon even at such a young age.

“I was five and watching Adam West as Batman – that blew my mind,” he reminisced. “I wanted to be Batman so badly. I remember when I was a little bit older and Michael Keaton came onto the scene with the Tim Burton movie.”

“I was so excited they were going to do a theatrical version of that. Then the iterations that have followed, like so many incredible people. Christian Bale was amazing. Everything that Chris Nolan did was astonishing.”

“I loved Ben Affleck as Batman. He was an iteration again that we hadn’t seen.”

“When you look at the comics, there are so many iterations of Batman. There are so many different people’s Batmans. There’s Neal Adam’s Batman. Of course, there’s Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman. There’s Frank Miller’s Batman.”

“There are so many Batmans. One of the joys of being in the comic book world is to try and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to put our spin on this so that people can find a new way of looking at that character that they love?’”

What’s also remarkable about The Batman is Matt’s casting. The entire cast is solid.

“They’re amazing,” said the filmmaker about his actors. “Paul Dano plays a version of the Riddler that no one has ever seen before.”

“It’s really exciting. He’s such an incredibly creative actor. What he is doing is going to blow people’s minds.”

THE RIDDLER. Matt Reeves on Paul Dano as The Riddler: “He’s such an incredibly creative actor. What he is doing is going to blow people’s minds.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“It’s always about trying to square what you know with what also is new. The exciting process of making a Batman movie is to find a way to make it your own and to find a way for the actors to make it their own, and yet still connect to all of these things that people also go, ‘Oh, that’s my Selina (Zoe Kravitz). I know who that is.’ It’s actually, in a weird way, the origins of a lot of our rogues’ gallery of characters.”

“Like Selina isn’t Catwoman yet. That’s actually part of the journey. Oz (Colin Farrell) is not yet the kingpin that he’s going to become. He’s the Penguin but in fact, he doesn’t like being called the Penguin.”

“And the Riddler (Paul Dano) is just emerging for the first time. Then we have Andy Serkis who I worked with on the Apes movies. He is one of the most beautiful actors and he is playing an iteration of Alfred Pennyworth that I feel like people have never seen before, which is really exciting to share with people.”

“I just think that Jeffrey Wright is one of the great actors and to be able to work with him in a totally new iteration of Gordon…. We have the amazing John Turturro, who’s going to be Carmine Falcone. Again, in this iteration, you’ve never seen that version before.”

The other actors, including Peter Sarsgaard as District Attorney Gil Colson, are just as good.

On coming up with the costumes, the director who met and became friends with JJ Abrams when they were both 13, said, “We have an incredible costume designer, Jacqueline Durran. The batsuit was designed by Glyn Dyllon.”

“They’re geniuses. It’s great to work with them but one of the things that’s really important is being able to work with the actors.”

MEOW. Zoe Kravitz: “What is so amazing about the world of Batman is that all of us have grown up with some version of this world since we were little kids.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Like Rob had a very important part in designing the suit. He had to be able to fight in it. One of the things about this batsuit is that it’s very practical.”

“We need to be able to see how it would fit on him in ways that he could move. But it also looked like it was something that was still evolving. And even the idea of the story – he’s in year two.”

“So he’s been wearing it. Like he goes every night looking for trouble. So you look at his cowl and you can actually see there are gashes in it.”

“All of that detail was an incredibly exciting dialogue between me and the costume designers and then having Rob involved. You always do a dialogue with everyone so that we can arrive at the thing that feels the most grounded, the most honest, and the most character-based.”

Matt dished that Christian Bale had the most practical batsuit advice to Robert. “It’s one of the big things that Rob actually talked to Christian Bale about. Christian was like, ‘Just make sure you’re going to be able to relieve yourself.’”

“So all of that was actually part of what was important to build in, too. Which is like, ‘Okay, he needs to be able to put it on. And he also needs to be able to live as a human being.’”

Matt Reeves shared his vision of Gotham City: “I wanted it to feel like an American city you’d never been to. Other iterations, obviously the Tim Burton one, had very theatrical, beautiful sets.”

“Christopher Nolan had the version that he created in Batman Begins, and that was a particular thing, and then parts of Chicago and Pittsburgh. What we’re trying to do is create a version that you haven’t seen before.”

“We have like a Gotham Square. So that’s like Times Square, right? Now, if we shot it in Times Square, then you’d be like, ‘Oh, I guess Gotham is New York.’ ”

“But in our case, it’s actually going to be Liverpool. The idea is to go to Liverpool where there’s all the foundation of Gothic architecture and then add all of the more modern structures through CG.”

“But in a way that you’re going to, when you see the movie, now that I’ve blown it, of course, I’ve told you what it is. But you’ll be like, ‘Hey, where’s that city? Where did they shoot?’ The aspect of Gotham and realizing it has been, for me, one of the great pleasures in getting to mount the movie.”

PENGUIN. Matt Reeves on Colin Farrell as Oz/The Penguin: “Oz is not yet the kingpin that he’s going to become. He’s the Penguin but in fact, he doesn’t like being called the Penguin.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Making Batman’s world and the props excited Matt who, in his teens, along with JJ Abrams, were hired by Steven Spielberg to transfer his Super 8 films to videotape.

“It’s funny,” Mark began. “It’s like stepping into your childhood in a certain way because obviously, the first thing you have to do is you have to craft a story that is worthy of the character. But then once you’ve done that, it becomes like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re making this movie.’”

“One of the things you have to do is design a Batsuit, a Batmobile. You have to have a Batcave, Batbikes, all of the things that he’s going to have. For me, that’s been one of the exciting things and that happened even before we were quite done with the last iteration of the script.”

Zoe Kravitz, who is winning plaudits as the latest Selina/Catwoman, also talked about the role while she was filming in June 2020.

In the podcast interview, “HFPA in Conversation,” Zoe mentioned that she did indeed voice Catwoman in Chris McKay’s animated The Lego Batman Movie.

Laughing, Zoe said, “I had a very small part where I think I just basically said, ‘Meow.’ It’s a funny little coincidence.”

BATS AND CATS. Zoe Kravitz on Robert Pattinson: “He’s wonderful in this role. I truly think that this was something he was born to do.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

That early, the actress already shared that Robert is turning out to be a perfect fit as Batman. “Rob is great. He’s wonderful in this role. I truly think that this was something he was born to do. He’s a great guy so it’s a joy to be around him.”

“When you’re working with people who you respect, it makes everything better and easier. Matt, our director, is also really smart. His intentions are in a really wonderful place with the story. The script is really strong. Just being on set every day is a real joy.”

On how her parents, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, reacted when she landed the part, Zoe replied, “They were both so excited. They both know that this role is iconic and it’s been done so well, something that we’ve all grown up with.”

“What is so amazing about the world of Batman is that all of us have grown up with some version of this world since we were little kids.”

“When something enters your psyche so early, that world, those characters hold a really special place in everyone’s heart. Even if you’re not a comic-head, it’s something that’s just been in everyone’s consciousness for so long.” – Rappler.com

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.