During a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story on Dano, “The Batman” writer-director Matt Reeves discussed a pivotal psychological showdown between Robert Pattinson’s Batman and Dano’s Riddler set at Gotham City Hall, where Riddler is about to execute one of his elaborate murder plans in absentia via cellphone. The moment involves some tricky camerawork, as The Riddler can be seen and heard coming out of an iPhone, but isn’t physically present in the moment. According to Reeves, the scene took some 200 takes — many at Dano’s own urging.
“[Paul Dano] goes, ‘OK, let me try one where I’m off camera and I stick my head in. Let me try one where I’m already sitting there,'” Reeves recalled. “He’s directing this one-person play on an iPhone.”
Throughout the film, most of what we see of The Riddler is conveyed through technology and live stream, as he amasses a vigilante online fanbase enthralled by his criminal machinations.
Reeves added, “It was the giddiness [of Dano] that really got to me. Calling out the passing time, like he was a game show host. He was so inventive and creative. He’s also very critical of himself.”
Dano’s Riddler is shrouded in an Army combat mask the majority of the film, and Dano said that when he put it on for the first time, he felt a sense of “power, because you don’t want the person wearing that mask walking toward you. And for somebody [like The Riddler] who felt powerless in their life, that’s a big feeling to be given.”
Dano said he was obsessive over little details that could add to the character, including trying on hundreds of pairs of glasses before he chose the simple, clear plastic frames The Riddler keeps on over his mask.
“I’m not the guy who’s like, ‘If you don’t see my feet in the shot, I’m going to put on more comfy shoes,’” Dano said. “That’s just not how it works.”
The film sees The Riddler leading Batman down a sordid Gotham rabbit hole with elaborate mind games and the cheeky, cryptic clues and dispatches typical of the comic book character.
“This is a guy who survived by finding a way to focus his brain on something apart from his own thoughts and trauma and pain,” Dano said, adding that an enormous part of his backstory was “the idea that puzzles were the only place that he would be given any form of positive feedback in his life. They were the only thing that ever said to him in his whole life, ‘You win.'”
“The Batman” opens March 4 in theaters.
Additional reporting by Ryan Lattanzio.