×

‘The Batman’: Why Colin Farrell Wasn’t Supposed to Be So Unrecognizable as the Penguin

The Batman
Courtesy of Warner Bros/Everett Collection

Matt Reeves never meant for Colin Farrell to look unrecognizable in “The Batman.”

In the finished film, Farrell’s appearance is utterly obliterated in the role of Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot, the scarred and dumpy mid-level Gotham City gangster with the (unwelcome) nickname of “the Penguin.” But when the 55-year-old director — who co-wrote “The Batman” with Peter Craig — first approached Farrell for the role, he was focused on Farrell’s ability to bring grit and sensitivity in the same performance.

“He could have that mix of being incredibly, incredibly scary and volatile, and then all of a sudden, you’d see this vulnerable side that really made you feel for that guy,” Reeves tells Variety. “So I really wanted him to play the character.”

When they met, however, Reeves noticed that Farrell had recently gained weight for a different movie, which fit into his conception of the longstanding Batman villain as a mobster akin to John Cazale’s Fredo in “The Godfather” films.

“I thought John Cazale has a kind of Penguin nose,” Reeves says. “I thought, well, maybe there’s something visually that we do.”

Reeves turned to prosthetic makeup artist Michael Marino (recently Oscar-nominated for his makeup work in “Coming 2 America”) to design a look for Farrell’s Penguin. Reeves cited Cazale, Sydney Greenstreet and Bob Hoskins as potential inspirations. “I saw him as being almost like a throwback Warner Bros. gangster,” he says.

But then Farrell told Reeves that he didn’t feel healthy carrying the extra weight and needed to lose it, which Reeves relayed to Marino. “So Mike factored that all in,” Reeves says. “And one day he showed me this sculpture on a head cast of Colin. It’s the character you see [in the movie]. And I was like, Wait, what?”

Reeves laughs. “I could not believe what I was seeing,” he says. He was deeply impressed with Marino’s work, but he had conceived his film as grounded in reality. “I said, ‘We are dead in the water if I let you do this and anyone says, “Oh, I can see that that’s makeup.” That will ruin everything.'”

Lazy loaded image
Colin Farrell in “The Batman” Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Marino assured Reeves that not only would Farrell have access to a full range of expression under the makeup, but the illusion would feel totally real. “He said, ‘Matt, I promise you, when he walks on the set — not just when you film it but when he walks on the set — people will think, “Who is this guy?”‘”

Still, Reeves was skeptical. He showed Farrell what Marino had done. “Colin got really excited,” Reeves says. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I guess we’re doing this.’ I couldn’t believe we were taking that leap.” Reeves was still prepared to strip away the makeup as Marino and Farrell did tests in New York, but the video he got back finally convinced him to stick with Marino’s full design.

“What it did to Colin was amazing,” he says. “I was like, Who is that guy? And Colin was so funny. He was already talking in the voice that he uses in the movie. It was not the intention to hire Colin so he could look like that. It was one of the things that the evolution of what we did took us to that.”

Makeup artist Naomi Donne is no stranger to Marino’s work — the two have collaborated before — but this transformation also blew her away. “Mike went off and designed this character based on lots of different faces,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever stood in front of someone in makeup like that and forgotten it was makeup. I believed that makeup completely.”

She adds their goal was not to make any character comical, rather but emphasize that these were real people. “[Colin] went to Starbucks or something, and you wouldn’t think it was this man because the makeup is just incredible and his teeth were incredible. That was the difference between this and other ‘Batman’ movies. This looked real.”

Thanks to the COVID safety protocols and the three hours it took each day to transform Farrell into Cobblepot, Reeves never saw Farrell out of makeup while making the movie. “On the last day that Colin shot, I was really sad,” he says. “Because, honestly, I got to know Colin a little bit during prep. But the person I knew was Colin looked like Oz. It’s so weird. I love Colin. But that guy Oz, I know that guy. That was the guy I saw every day.”

Warner Bros

When it came to Batman himself, Reeves and Robert Pattinson modeled the crime-fighter’s look on Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

“There was the idea that he would be in his bat suit and painted his eyes black to merge his look, but when he took it off, he never washed it off properly and it gave him this slightly haunted look,” says Donne.

The smudged kohl pencil look required a mix of products that would sustain Pattinson sweating in the suit and performing in the rain. “We mixed pigments with various liquid products,” Donne explains. “We painted eyeliner on a lot of different products, but we had to take care of the skin around his eyes.” Since she was applying products to last the long shoot days, getting the product off around his eyes was no easy task either.

Hairstylist Zoe Tahir worked on Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne hair: that longish, side-parted look. “That’s what she was creating, with hair that hung over his eyes and [him peering] out through it, this Kurt-inspired look,” says Donne. “It was a risky thing to do for that character, but it went with the eye makeup, the persona we were trying to create and what Robert was trying to create with the character.”

Makeup artist Naomi Dunne mixed pigment and kohl to achieve Bruce’s smudged eyeliner look. Warner Bros