Paul Dano’s Performance as Brian Wilson Helped Inspire His Riddler Character in ‘The Batman’

Dano's portrayal of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson in "Love and Mercy" was one inspiration for "The Batman" writer-director Reeves to write The Riddler specifically for the actor.
Paul Dano attends the World Premiere of "The Batman" at Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, March 1, 2022. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Paul Dano
Sipa USA via AP

Matt Reeves may have listened to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” while writing “The Batman,” but it was really the Beach Boys’ influence that led to the writer-director crafting his modern take on the Riddler.

During a cover story interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Reeves revealed that Paul Dano’s turn as Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson in the 2014 biopic “Love and Mercy” helped inspire the enigmatic villain Dano takes on in “The Batman.”

Dano played a younger version of Wilson, who struggled with mental illness; John Cusack starred as the older Wilson.

“That character, he’s caught up in his artistry and he struggles to communicate with those around him,” Reeves said of Dano as Wilson. “That was spiritually connected to the idea of this isolation that the Riddler felt. The Riddler is a product of our time, the way that people become isolated online and retreat to mental activities that substitute for not having contact.”

Reeves continued, “Paul is just off-center in a way that makes him very relatable. I didn’t want this character to be a villain. Even in his darkness, I wanted to see that humanity.”

Dano immediately connected with Reeves’ interpretation of the Riddler. “I read it and said to [partner] Zoe [Kazan], ‘I think this is kind of really good?'” Dano described. “The audience is sort of indicted. I’ve not seen that before in this kind of mass entertainment.”

Dano’s The Riddler is driven by obsessiveness, and it’s one the actor tried to explore in his interpretation. Dano recently said he pored 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.

If Dano’s character was inspired by the actor’s “Love & Mercy” portrayal, then Reeves clearly had a musical counterpart in mind for both his hero and villain: The director previously told Empire magazine in December 2021 that Robert Pattinson’s Batman was a direct reference to Nirvana songwriter Kurt Cobain.

“He’s also got that Kurt Cobain thing, where he looks like a rock star, but you also feel like he could be a recluse,” Reeves said at the time. “I started making this connection to Gus Van Sant’s ‘Last Days,’ and the idea of this fictionalized version of Kurt Cobain being in this kind of decaying manor.”

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