Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read Matt Reeves' lengthy interview about The Batman—and why he loves Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne

Clockwise from top left: Robert Pattinson (Screenshot: The Batman); Matt Reeves (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI); Ben Affleck (Screenshot: Batman V Superman)
Clockwise from top left: Robert Pattinson (Screenshot: The Batman); Matt Reeves (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI); Ben Affleck (Screenshot: Batman V Superman)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

Thousands of fans gathered virtually on Saturday for DC FanDome, DC Comics’ own little Comic-Con. Well, maybe we shouldn’t call it little. The seven-hour event gave us Wonder Woman 1984’s second official trailer; the first trailer for Batman: Gotham Knights; a little bit of info about the Sandman Netflix series; sketches for the new Flash suit; who is playing who in the new Suicide Squad movie; a first look at John Ridley’s Black Batman; the “Snyder Cut” Justice League trailer; some sketches of what people can expect from the upcoming Black Adam movie; info about Red Hood, Barbara Gordon, and Scarecrow heading to Titans; and much more. But things capped off with the debut of the first trailer for The Batman. Before they rolled the tape, director Matt Reeves sat with—well, stood at a safe distance from—DC FanDome host Aisha Tyler. Over the 20-minute interview, Reeves discussed the thinking behind focusing on Batman as a detective, how the movie was inspired by Chinatown and Taxi Driver, how The Batman will tie in with his upcoming new HBO Max tie-in series, and why he loves Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.


Here is a transcript of that interview.

AISHA TYLER: Why was The Batman something you wanted to sign up for?

MATT REEVES: Look, I love Batman. And I’ve loved that man since I was a kid. And, you know, I never even imagined when I began making movies that I would do genre movies because I just loved certain kinds of movies that were very character-based. And it’s really interesting that as I got deeper into genre. I realized that that was a way to do very emotional stories, but under the guise of these sort of great mythic tales. And, in particular, what excited me—and the thing I related to in the Batman story—was that he isn’t a superhero in the traditional sense. You know, he might have a cape, but he can’t fly, he’s like you and me. But if he has a superpower, it’s the ability to endure and not only the ability, but the kind of compulsion. And so, that idea of being that driven by your past and by the things that you can’t quite resolve in yourself, like he’s a very alive character. And, to me, to tell a version of Batman where, again, it wasn’t about how he became Batman, but it’s about the early days of how he is Batman. And he is so far from being perfect and watch us sort of see him becoming what we all know about him and see it in new ways. I felt like that was a way to do something that hadn’t been done. And that was really what I was excited to be able to do in this iteration.

AT: He’s just a guy who wants to do good.

MR: And that’s the thing. The other question is what is good? One of the things that I think is interesting is learning how to be Batman. You know, the whole idea.... This is all an experiment, in the movie. The idea is that we’re in Year Two, it’s the Gotham Experiment. It’s a criminological experiment. He’s trying to figure out sort of what he can do that can finally change this place. And in our story, as he’s in that mode, that’s where you meet him...and he’s seeing that he’s not having any of the effect that he wants to have yet, and that is when the murders start to happen. And then the murders begin to describe sort of the history of Gotham in a way that only reinforces what he knows about Gotham, but it opens up a whole new world of corruption that went much farther. But as that story starts to come out, without being an origin tale for him, it ends up being something that touches on his origins. So you start to see that, as it starts to describe this Epic history of corruption in Gotham, that you start to understand, “Well, where did my family sit in that?” And in that sense, I think all of that is, is a way to take a story that is a detective story, a very point of view story, a mystery—it’s got, of course, you know, action, all that kind of stuff. But at the end of it, it also is incredibly personal for him, even though it is the story in which he’s trying to understand and unravel this mystery of his past.

AI: You’ve revealed some of the characters in this story, and casting is just extraordinary.

MR: They’re amazing. You know, we have Paul Danno, who plays a version of the Riddler that no one ever seen before. And it’s really exciting. He’s such an incredibly creative actor. And so what he is doing, I think is going to blow people’s minds and. And then to have, you know, Zoe Kravitz, her iteration of Selina Kyle, like to me, that’s incredibly exciting. You have an iteration that you’ve never seen of what she’s doing, but it touches on all these kind of iconic sort of things that people know from the comics. So, it’s always about trying to square what you sort of know with what also is new. And that is really part of, I think the exciting sort of process of making the Batman movie, which is to find a way to make it your own and to find a way for the actors to make it their own, and yet still connect to all these things that people also go, “Oh, that’s my, that’s my Selina. I know who that is.” I guess the one things about the Rogues’ Gallery is that it actually, in a weird way, is the origins of a lot of our Rogues’ Gallery characters. So, like, Selina isn’t Catwoman yet—that’s actually part of the journey. Oz is not yet the kingpin that he’s going to become. He is the Penguin—in fact, doesn’t like being called the Penguin. And the Riddler is just emerging for the first time. So that’s all incredibly exciting. And then we have like, you know, Andy Serkis who is, you know, I worked with on the [Planet Of The Apes] movies and one of the most beautiful actors, and he is playing an iteration of Alfred that I feel like people have never seen before, which is really exciting to share with people. And then we have an incredible—for me, I just think that Jeffrey Wright is just one of the great actors, and to be able to work with him in a totally new iteration of Gordon.... And then we have, you know, the amazing John Turturro, who’s going to be a Carmine Falcone, who, again, I think in this iteration, you’ve never seen that version before. And how all these characters connect, I think, for me, it was one of the challenges, but also exciting things about the creation of the story, which is that, in going on this sort of desire to solve—or the urge and the compulsion to solve—this series of crimes, you touch on all of these iterations of the beginnings of these characters so that he whole movie is like, it’s like a snowball rolling. You can just feel the momentum building and building—and that’s the intent.

AT: You’re also working on Gotham, P.D. with Terrance Winter How are the series and the film going to overlap and connect?

MR: For me, the idea of this story was a story in which Gotham, which has this sort of depth of corruption—and then the idea that we could actually do a series that is going deeper into an aspect of it, which in this case is the corrupt police department, the corrupt inner workings of the city and the way we’re going to do the series, which, I mean, I’m quite, I’m Terrance Winter is just an incredible writer. So the idea that we got him to do this is literally a dream. And the idea is, we go back to Year One. And Year One is the beginning of the emergence, it’s the first appearance of this mass vigilante that starts to unsettle the city. And you start to see the story through the point of view of these corrupt cops and one in particular. And the story is actually a battle for his soul. And he’s a cop over generations. And the history of corruption in Gotham is enormous and goes back many years. And the story is like, as you realize that there’s this myth building in the background, you’re actually in a new place where you’ve never seen these characters before—some of which we’ll touch on that you may have seen from the comics, but others totally new. Then you can go down an avenue and go into detail that you couldn’t do to movie. And to go into these sort of rich places and meet entirely new characters that Terrance is going to create. I’m incredibly excited about it.

AT: How much say did the actors have in the design of their costumes?

MR: You know, actually quite a bit. We have of course, uh, an incredible costume designer, Jacqueline Durran. And the Batsuit was designed by Glyn Dillon, and they’re geniuses. It’s great to work with them. But one of the things that’s really important is being able to work with the actors. Like, Rob had a very important part in designing the suit in that he had to be able to wear it, he had to be able to fight in it. And one of the things about this Batsuit is that it is it’s very practical. The whole idea is that he’s made it himself. And so, we needed to be able to sort of see how it would fit on him in these ways that he could move, but also look like it was something that was still evolving. And even the idea of the story he’s in Year Two. So he’s been wearing it. So, like, he goes every night looking for trouble. So you look at his cowl and you can actually see there are gashes in it. And all of that detail was an incredibly exciting sort of dialogue between me and the costume designers, and then having Rob involved in. So yeah, I mean, the actors have a lot to do because you always do a dialogue with everyone so that we can arrive at the thing that feels the most grounded, the most honest and the most character-based.

AT: I just hope everybody got pockets.

MR: You know what? I will tell you this: Rob actually talked to Christian Bale and Christian Bale was like, “Just make sure you’re going to be able to relieve yourself.” So all of that—it was actually part of what was important to build in too. It’s like, “Okay, he needs to be able to put it on, but he also needs to be able to live as a human being.”

FAN QUESTION: I believe that one of the most important things about the whole Batman mythology—it’s not just the characters such as Batman and the Joker it’s Gotham city itself. What should fans expect to see from Gotham City in this film?

MR: You’re absolutely right. Like it’s just as important as any of the Rogues’ Gallery. The nature of what this place is, and the history of it is critically important to our story. And one of the things that I really wanted to do, because it is the center of this story—especially the history of corruption in the city—was that I wanted to present it in a way that was really fleshed out. I wanted it to feel like an American city you’d never been to. I mean, other iterations have, you know, obviously the Burton one had very, very theatrical, beautiful, beautiful sets. And Nolan had the version that he created in a Batman Begins. And that was a particular thing. And then parts of Chicago and parts of Pittsburgh. And what we’re trying to do is create a version of it that you haven’t seen before, so some of the locations that we’ve chosen—the idea is to take, let’s say we have like a Gotham Square. So that’s like Times Square. Now, if we shot it in Times Square, then you’d be like, I guess Gotham is New York. But in our case, it’s actually going to be Liverpool. And the idea is to go to Liverpool, where there’s all the sort of the foundation of the Gothic architecture, and then add all of the more modern structures and through CG. But in a way that you’re going to, when you see the movie—now that I’ve blown it, of course, I’ve told you what it is—you’ll be like, “Hey, where’s that city? Where did they shoot?” And so the aspect of Gotham, and realizing it, has been, for me, and one of the great pleasures in getting to mount the movie.

AT: How do the the citizens of Gotham perceive the vigilante?

MR: Oh, that’s a good question. because it’s still early, and because he is a vigilante, which means he takes the law to his own hands.... I mean, if you were in a city and there was a guy who dressed up as a bat and showed up out of the shadows and sometimes confronted those people and beat them up because he felt what they were doing was wrong, so that he could sort of put the fear of God in them about the crimes that they’re committing, I think we would wonder, “Well, gee. That guy sounds a little dangerous.” He’s not yet the vision of the character that he becomes, where he becomes a symbol of hope for the city. He’s early in the trajectory. And so, they’re afraid of him, frankly. He’s kind of a growing legend. I think there are some people who are wondering, “Does he exist?” “Well, how exactly does he exist?” And that legend is building day by day—and it has been since he made his first appearance, about a year and a half ago, as we’re in Year Two. So, yeah, the public is afraid of him. I mean, that’s one of the things I think that he will confront in the course of the story and that Rob has to sort of deal with him playing the character, which is the idea of how he’s perceived.

FQ: What made Robert Pattison the right choice to play Batman?

MR: I mean, the thing about Robert Pattinson is he’s an incredible actor. I feel like the work that he’s done in the last, I don’t know, six years has been incredible. A friend of mine made a movie called Lost City of Z, and Rob appeared in that movie. And I was like, “Who is that guy?” He had just such charisma. And he, Rob in the movie has this incredible beard. And you’re like, “Who is that?” And it’s Rob in The Rover, and Rob in Good Time. He is like a chameleon. And he is so, he’s just such a gifted actor. And he’s been working on his craft in this really incredible way. And he also happens to be a tremendous, passionate sort of fan of Batman, the way that I am. And so it was an incredible thing to be able to connect with him and to share our excitement about the character and to work with him. I mean, you know, he looks like Batman, but more than anything, he has the soul of someone, I think, that can play a Batman.

AT: How long did it take to build the Batsuit, Batmobile, and Batbike. And did you have to build a set to create the Batcave?

MR: You know, it’s funny, it’s like stepping into your childhood, in a certain way. Because you know, obviously the first thing you have to do is you have to craft a story that you think is worthy of the character. But then—once you’ve done that and it becomes like, “Oh yeah, we’re making this movie”—one of the things you have to do is, you have to design a Batsuit, you have to design a Batmobile, you have to have a Batcave, you have to have a Batbikes, all of the things that he’s going to have. For me, that’s been one of the exciting things. And that happened even before we were quite done with the last iteration of the script. We’d already gone through passes and it was quite clear what the vision of the world would be. While I’m writing, I actually already had a production designer on. And so he would be sending, as I’m writing scenes.... I might send stuff to James and he’s like, “Oh, well, what about this for a Batcave?” And so, yes, we have to build this set for it. But I think it’s an incredibly original and different set. I think it’s going to be really fun for the audience to discover what version of exactly this Batcave is going to be. The Batmobile and the Batsuit, they took a long time. You know, Glyn came on quite early and we worked in the designing of it, again, as I was writing.... I’d say we spent, easily, a year to do the Batsuit. and then to get into the Batmobile. And that, of course, that part is a dream. I mean, you know, the idea of getting to do your own version of the Batmobile, you’re just kind of like, “Uh, what?” That part is the incredible candy, right? Like, the telling of a story is the hard work, and trying to make sure that you’re doing the right thing. And then when you get to dive into the idea of this car, that again feels connected to this version of the character, a grounded version of the character—this is something that he built, and to try and look at those kind of rough scenes and imagine how that works.... It’s been incredible sort of gift to be able to do that.

AT: What will be the difference between this Batman and other incarnations from previous films?

MR: I think, you know, as we said, it’s not an origin tale, and you’re meeting him in the early days. And, for me, what’s really important about this iteration is that, you know, a lot of the other stories are very much about how he had to master his fear, and master himself, in order to become Batman. And that in that Batman state, he’s sort of in his best self. And I think, for me, what was exciting was not doing that—not doing the origin, not doing what we’d seen done so beautifully in other movies, but instead to meet him in the middle of this criminological experiment, to see him in the becoming of Batman, and to see him make mistakes as Batman, and see him grow and fail and be heroic, do all of the things that we associate with Batman, but in a way that felt very human and very flawed. The biggest fantasy, of course, as a kid, would have been to be Batman. And so, the idea of putting the audience in the shoes of that character and making the audience feel the way that he feels—I think that, to me, I hope, is what’s different about what we’re doing.... And then, of course, the other things that are from the earlier history of the comics: like him being the world’s greatest detective, and how he got there. You know, those things have been touched on, but I don’t know that they’ve been as central to the plot as they are in this particular Batman. So there’s a lot of things I hope that will be totally different.

AT: What’s one deep cut fans might be surprised to see has inspired The Batman?

MR: Because I wanted to get into the mindset of the character—and I wanted to think of the psychology—for me, I think one of the cool deep-dive ones was Darwyn Cooke’s Ego. He’s confronting the beast that is Batman, and there’s a kind of duality. I mean, there’s a lot in what I was trying to do in the story about him confronting the shadow side of himself—the degree to which you have self knowledge, you’re able to understand your motivations, but he’s broken, Batman. So, while he’s doing all of these things for the reasons that he thinks is right, and that they have a heroic sort of grounding in them, there’s also many things that are driven by the parts of himself he doesn’t yet know. And so, I would say that that kind of sort of psychological...shadow side, that subversion of it is very much connected to that vision from Darwyn Cooke, from Ego.

AT: What non-Batman movieS served as an inspiration for The Batman?

MR: Oh! Well, because the movie is a detective story, because it is a thriller in the, sort of, the cop world, and because it’s about corruption, we’re treating this Batman story as if this could have happened. I mean, the idea is that, as I said, Batman doesn’t have this sort of the ability to have sort of superheroic powers. He just has superheroic focus and superheroic drive. And so, for me, a lot of movies like, like Chinatown was a key one because, in Chinatown, J.J. Gittes is investigating that sort of series of crimes that were part of that story. He discovers the depth of corruption in Los Angeles. And so, in that way it’s like a classic noir.... The series of murders that Batman is investigating are very much in that mode. So Chinatown was a really big one. And that idea of that kind of gritty, flawed...this humanity of it, that was very much inspired by those kinds of movies, by like French Connection and other, sort of, cop movies like that. I would say even a movie like Taxi Driver, and the description of a place and very much getting inside of somebody’s head. And I guess a lot of really sort of ’70s street-grounded stories.

AT: One of the exciting things about Batman, as a character, is that he’s so layered and so intense that you can dip into his life at different points and none of these different characters, these different iterations of Batman or Gotham or the entire kind of Batman universe tread on the ground that others have already covered.

MR: Oh, totally. I mean, for me, that’s exciting. Like, the idea of the history of Batman. Like, there just the idea of the actors who’ve played Batman. Like, Adam West, when I was a kid. Like, Adam West, that was like when I was five and watching him as Batman, like that blew my mind. I wanted to be Batman so badly. And then I remember when I was a little bit older and Keaton came onto the scene with the Burton movie. I was so excited that they were going to do a theatrical version of that. And then the iterations that have followed, like so many incredible people. I mean, Bale was amazing. I mean, incredible— everything that Chris Nolan did was astonishing. And I personally, I love Ben Affleck as Batman. I thought he was incredible, an iteration, again, that we hadn’t seen. In fact, I’m really excited because I know Zack is going to be doing the new Justice League cut of his that he didn’t get to do originally, and now he’s getting to do it, and I can’t wait to see that. So, for me...to be a part of history like that is an incredible thing.... It’s kind of like the comics, you know, when you look at the comics: There are so many iterations of Batmans. There are so many different people’s Batmans. There’s the Neal Adams Batman. Of course, there’s Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman. And there’s Frank Miller’s Batman. There are so many Batman’s. And so, to me, that’s one of the joys of being in the kind of comic book world is to try and say, “Hey, what can we do to put our spin on this so that people can find a new way of looking at that character that they love.” It’s, like, this strange thing of wanting to be able to find a way to come at it in some new way. And yet it has to be connected to that thing that you love. And that, for me—being part of that history and being part of all of that—is sort of almost unbelievable.

A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.