Colin Farrell on His Stunning 'Batman' Transformation and Penguin Spinoff Series (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
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Although Paul Dano’s Riddler is The Batman’s main villain in director Matt Reeves’ stunning take on the superhero, it’s Colin Farrell who steals the show as the Penguin. The 45-year-old actor, who is completely unrecognizable as the formidable crime figure, makes use of every second he’s on screen, bringing the laughs and gravitas to the three-hour epic about a serial killer who threatens to upend the status quo of Gotham with shocking revelations about who actually runs the city. While speaking ET’s Nischelle Turner, Farrell talks about his dramatic physical transformation and reprising the role for an upcoming HBO Max series.
Co-written by Reeves and Peter Craig, the latest installment in the Batman film franchise sees everyone at a time of evolution, still on the bumpy road of becoming more familiar versions of themselves. Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne hasn’t become the caped crusader the city comes to rely on and the same goes for Oz, who is a prominent figure in Gotham’s underground – second only to gangster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) – but has not fully embraced his better-known alias.
While Farrell gives credit to Reeves for creating this “stunningly strong and meaningful” version of the Penguin, it’s makeup artist and prosthetics designer Michael Marino who the actor praises for getting him into character. “I cannot claim total ownership over this character at all. So much of the work was done for me through the brilliance and the imagination of Mike,” the actor says of being surprised by the direction they were going in with the villainous role.
Initially, Farrell had no idea that his entire face would be covered in prosthetics, including a nose that pays homage to Penguin’s protruding physicality, but he was delighted to dive in and use it to find the character. “It was so fun to inhabit. I had such permission to just explore and create and use my imagination,” he says of playing around with Oz’s “mannerisms and behaviors,” which were previously foreign to him.
Even though the first time to get into full makeup took nearly four hours, “it was one of the most fun gigs I’ve had,” Farrell says.
The final transformation was so shocking that his co-stars didn’t recognize him on set. Jeffrey Wright, who plays Lt. James Gordon, even walked by him without clocking Farrell. “We were like, ‘Where’s Colin?’” Wright recalls, while Dano remembers feeling jealous. “It’s just, like, ‘Oh man, that is good,’” he says.
“He fully embodied it,” Turturro says, adding that “it was so interesting having a conversation [with him] between scenes.”
While Farrell delivers an awards-worthy performance as Oz, who is also at the center of the film’s most stunning action sequences ending with his car upended after Batman chases him down, he admits to being unnerved by Turturro, whose character is as ruthless as he is fully of the city’s biggest secrets. And where Farrell’s performance is more showy, Turtorro’s is far quieter.
“What John did as Carmine Falcone was that stillness, was that sense of embodiment of the power that he carries,” Farrell says. “He’s like a snake before it strikes… There’s few things as scary as a man capable of great violence who is still composed in a moment because everyone else around him then is in a state of preparatory defensiveness.”
Farrell also praises Pattinson’s turn as the titular hero, becoming the latest in a long line of actors to portray Batman on screen. “Robert’s embodiment of Batman is terrifying and damaged and broken and wounded and empathetic and all those other things,” the actor says, recalling the first time he saw his co-star in full costume. “My inner child [was] invoked by seeing this iconic image with his cape flowing in the wind and the sky outside of London back behind him… For me, it was just gorgeous to see this whole thing.”
While the ending of The Batman won’t be spoiled here, it’s no secret that Oz escapes unscathed by the fallout that follows Riddler’s unmasking of the hard truths about Gotham, which is now the breeding ground for more villains to come. And given how much of a standout Farrell is as the wannabe kingpin, it’s no surprise that he’ll be at the center of an all-new HBO Max original series about Oz’s rise to power and his path to becoming the Penguin.
Still untitled, the series will be executive produced by Reeves and The Batman producer Dylan Clark while Lauren LeFranc (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is attached to write. Described by Clark as being “almost like a Scarface story,” Farrell says the series will pick up where the film left off. “It’ll pick up a short time after the last frame of the film,” the actor shares. “So, we’ll get to go on a little kind of left turn off to the world of Oz and how he’s beginning to kind of dream of filling a potential power vacuum that may exist.”
While the series is still early in the creative process, he’s excited about what’s to come. “I read a few things that Lauren wrote and it’s kind of extraordinary the route that she’s going in,” Farrell says, adding it’s “just really tasty stuff.”
The Batman premieres in theaters on Friday, March 4.