It was recently announced that actor and director Jonah Hill is no longer attached to Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Though he was in the running to play Edward Nigma/Riddler, Reeves chose Paul Dano to be Nigma instead. A lot of us were expecting Hill to take up the role of Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin. And no, not because we think Hill’s fat and therefore should play Cobblepot, the guy has really slimmed down. There’s an air of flamboyance and streetwise charisma Hill brings to screen, seen in films like The Wolf of Wall Street and War Dogs. Hill can be quite the badass. Rumour has it that Hill was offered the role of Penguin by Reeves and declined it. In any case, Reeves is now searching for actors to take up the top hat and suit and we have a good number of names in mind.
The Penguin isn’t just some C-list villain. Over the years he’s become known as one of Gotham’s most notorious and vile crime bosses. A bird of the bourgeois and a beast on the streets. These are our top picks on who should definitely give the role of Penguin a good go!
1. Christian Bale
Some of you may be thinking “Really!? Christian Bale from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy? Isn’t the Penguin a little on the pudgier side?” Little do the naysayers know, Christian Bale has quite a reputation for intense method acting and has no qualms about drastic body transformation. Before beefing up for Batman Begins, he slimmed down to the point of emaciation for his role in The Machinist. Then for 2018’s Vice, he gained an additional 18 kg from his normal weight to play Dick Cheney. The level of dedication this man puts in for his part is nothing short of admirable. But why the Penguin, specifically? The Penguin in the past has been seen to have somewhat of a short fuse, alternating between high society charm and savage brutality. We think Bale is the man for the job.
In films like American Psycho and American Hustle, Bale has shown that he is more than capable of being over-the-top morally ambiguous tycoons with a pension for dark humour. At the same time, we’ve seen him really sink his teeth into strong dramatic roles as seen in films like The Prestige, The Fighter and Rescue Dawn. The man is a versatile actor and I believe the Penguin is a role right up his alley. It demands both wicked comedic timing, monstrous monologues in the form of threats with avian wordplay and the body to match. He’s always looking for challenging roles. Why not a switch from a righteous bat to a despicable bird?
2. Joe Pesci
Short, foul-mouthed, short-tempered and one hell of a fighter. Joe Pesci might not exactly be spring chicken but age yet to diminish this legendary actor’s shine. Best known for his roles in roles in films like Goodfellas, Raging Bull and My Cousin Vinny, Pesci is the quintessential mobster and the standard for all wiseguys to come. We know the man has come out retirement to play yet another Italian-American mafioso. Surprise, surprise. Pesci has been in everything from gripping dramas to thrilling gangster films to rib-tickling comedies. The one thing he hasn’t done yet are comic book films. While we clearly know how his good friend Martin Scorsese feels about the genre but perhaps Mr Pesci is a little bit more openminded to the concept of being a bird-themed crime lord fighting against Batman.
Imagine Pattinson’s Batman running against Pesci’s Penguin. The insults thrown at him will be off the chain. “So you’re flying rat, huh? It’s alright. I’ve got just the thing for you. I’ll show you a real bat!” Reeves mentioned the past how he envisioned The Batman to be a neo-noir film capturing the gritty groundedness of the criminal underworld. I think getting an actor experienced in playing iconic mobsters would be a great fit for his film. Pesci brings a quiet storm to every one of his roles, simply waiting to explode in glorious rage. C’mon, tell me you wouldn’t want to see Pesci’s Penguin lose his shit after Riddler tells him to go get his shoeshine box.
3. Toby Jones
Cobblepot doesn’t necessarily have to be a boisterous, garish crimelord with large than life schemes. I recall the version of the character in Batman: The Animated Series to be rather cold and calculating. A gentleman who is as diplomatic as he is cutthroat. A machiavellian menace. If Reeves is looking for a more refined rendition of Oswald Cobblepot, might we suggest English thespian Toby Jones? You may recognize him as the HYDRA scientist from Captain America: The First Avenger and the creepy ghost in the machine in Winter Soldier. Though he did a competent enough job in the aforementioned films, that isn’t the reason why we picked him. Oh no, it was his creepy ass performance as Culverton Smith in a BBC’s Sherlock, “The Lying Detective”, that sealed the deal for us.
My god, Jones truly sank his teeth into the role. Everything from his cracked smile to his sick little laugh made him such a frightening fiend. In the episode, he plays an entrepreneur and philanthropist who uses charity-funded hospitals as his hunting ground. Patients brought in with the hopes of recovery become sport for the madman. Jones did a fabulous job as Culverton, and we believe he’d kill the role of Cobblepot. Oswald could put up a sweet and innocent front as a rich philanthropist, not unlike Bruce Wayne, who also has a secret double life. A sadistic mob boss who controls a vast criminal empire. Truly a worthy adversary for both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
4. Glen Fleshler
Though not as well known as some of our other candidates on this list, Glen Fleshler is no small timer. The man played the infamous King in Yellow in HBO’s critically acclaimed crime drama series True Detective, the lovably gullible Chechen mob boss in 2018’s Barry and his most notable work of late was the part of Randall in this year’s Joker. The man has the makings of a breakout actor. Beyond his physique, Fleshler has displayed great versatility in inhabiting the roles he plays. Most unsettling of all would be his performance as the occult serial killer Errol Childress in True Detective. The way the man code-switches between his good ole boy Southern accent, a posh British one before settling into the low growl of a demon is a masterclass in voicework.
Fleshler carries an unsettling gravitas about him that in time if harnessed properly, could put him up there with great actors like Anthony Hopkins and Kevin Spacey. Penguin’s cunning is as much a character as his greed or brutality. Fleshler could be the one put some much-needed edge into the character. We don’t expect him to go full Hannibal Lecter here but at the very least, he’s going to give off some serious Wilson Fisk vibes. On a lighter note, Fleshler has shown himself capable of having a good goof as seen in Barry. The Penguin is a bit of jokester himself and I would love to see Fleshler caressing a puffin on his lap a’la Goldfinger.
5. Paul Giamatti
Yes, the man who played the Rhino in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but he’s so much more than a mediocre villain. The man has been involved with some pretty significant projects in the past, 12 Years A Slave, Straight Outta Compton and Sideways. He even headlined in an epic, award-winning HBO miniseries, John Adams. This guy is a serious contender in the business and he has played some seriously sinister assholes in the past. One particular role that stands out as Karl Hertz. A cold-blooded, sadistic assassin with so much crazy in him, he makes Tuco from Breaking Bad look like Gus Fring. For real man, Giamatti is can go from wired from psychopathic in a manner of seconds. Under the pastiche of a seemingly mild-mannered man is beats the heart of a serious nut.
I can totally envision Giamatti going hard on screen as the Penguin. Keeping calm and composed at first before pulling out a machine gun umbrella and opening fire on his rivals and foes. Giamatti in the past has had no issue playing slimy scumbags screwing folks over, so we imagine the guy could play the Penguin with his eyes close. Even if Reeves isn’t exactly looking for a particularly flashy, Giamatti could definitely accommodate for a more sombre and realistic take on the character. This would also provide him with some much-needed redemption from his time in Amazing Spider-Man 2. This time around, he can actually play a great villain in a comic book film.
The Batman is set to hit the big screens in the summer of 2021.