Paul Dano Couldn’t Sleep While Filming ‘The Batman’ Due to Playing a ‘Terrifying’ Riddler

"What I felt was the opportunity that Matt [Reeves] was giving with a villain in this film was more real, potentially more terrifying."
Paul Dano at arrivals for 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards - Arrivals 3, Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica, CA March 1, 2014. Photo By: Gregorio Binuya/Everett Collection
Paul Dano
Gregorio Binuya/Everett Collection

Paul Dano’s first foray into the superhero world has been a long time coming.

“[I was] waiting for the right one or ones, where you’re in collaboration with people and material that excites you,” the “Prisoners” star told Entertainment Weekly about signing on to “The Batman,” in theaters March 4. “I was totally surprised, frankly, that [the script] was so good. I felt immediately [on] page one, page two, you could tell that the director [Matt Reeves] was seeing the film that they wrote. You could feel, even in the action scenes, the type of energy behind the fighting or the violence, it was just very fully conceived.”

So well-conceived, in fact, that Dano couldn’t shake his serial killer alter ego, The Riddler, during production.

“There were some nights around that I probably didn’t sleep as well as I would’ve wanted to just because it was a little hard to come down from this character,” Dano said. “It takes a lot of energy to get there. And so you almost have to sustain it once you’re there because going up and down is kind of hard.”

Dano added, “What I felt was the opportunity that Matt [Reeves] was giving with a villain in this film was more real, potentially more terrifying.”

The transformation into the Riddler also added to Dano’s physical restlessness, after the star suggested covering himself in plastic wrap since the criminal mastermind would go to extreme measures to not leave DNA at a crime scene.

“My head was just throbbing with heat,” Dano said of taking off the Riddler costume. “I went home that night, after the first full day in that, and I almost couldn’t sleep because I was scared of what was happening to my head. It was like compressed from the sweat and the heat and the lack of oxygen. It was a crazy feeling.”

And despite Reeves’ Riddler paralleling the real-life Zodiac Killer, Dano took his own path when embodying the comic book character opposite Robert Pattinson’s Batman.

“I always felt instinctually that the Riddler is just so much more than that in terms of his intent and purpose, so I didn’t get too into the Zodiac Killer, frankly,” Dano said. “One thing Matt and I spoke about immediately was the two sides of trauma. Bruce Wayne, as a child, experiences this trauma and the Batman is born of that. Sometimes we can take our scars or whatever you want to call it, and that can be fuel for a fire that drives one towards greatness at times. There’s another side of that coin, where those traumas, scars, and pains drive you in another direction. And I thought that was really powerful in the script. 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.”

Writer-director Reeves noted The Riddler in “The Batman” is an omnipresent “ghost” who uses anonymity to his advantage.

THE BATMAN, Paul Dano as The Riddler, 2022. ph: Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
“The Batman”Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

“When I came up with the idea that the Riddler would be sending correspondence to Batman, [what] was captivating to me was if you’re a character whose mode is to work as a symbol, be anonymous, to come out of the shadows, nobody is supposed to know who you are; your power comes from the fact that you’re anonymous,” Reeves said. “The flip side of that is that by withholding the Riddler, he had more power, he was more unsettling. He felt like a ghost throughout the whole movie, this kind of presence that you never knew where he would show up and how he was affecting things. And that that mystery would put Batman in a very vulnerable position because he didn’t understand from where and how and what the Riddler was acting.”

“The Batman” is rated PG-13 but still embraces the “psychological turmoil” for its characters, be they heroes, villains, or something in between.

“It’s funny to be in something that has this much fan culture and fervor around it,” Dano said. “And to my surprise, I’m really enjoying it. Seeing what Matt was doing, what the camera was doing, and Rob out the window…It just felt like, ‘F—, this is making a movie. Like capital M movie.'”

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