A penguin: a ridiculous and wildly overrated bird that doesn’t belong on Christmas cards. The Penguin: a Batman villain who is significantly more sinister than his name suggests. And in Matt Reeves’ upcoming take on the character in The Batman, he’s going to be more unsettling than ever before. Played by an unrecognisable Colin Farrell, this version of Oswald Cobblepot – who Farrell calls “Oz” – is dangerous because of his weakness. And the director and star took inspiration from a particular character from The Godfather to tap into that.

“[Reeves] mentioned Fredo to me,” Farrell tells Empire, “because Fredo’s crippled by the insignificance that he lives within, in a family that is full of very strong, very bright, very capable, very violent men. Which is why he commits the act of betrayal that he does, because he’s weak, he’s kind of broken, and he’s in pain. There is a kind of fracture at the core of Oz, which fuels his desire and his ambition to rise within this criminal cabal. Where that rise goes… I would love to get to explore that in the second film, if that was ever to happen.”

Betrayal! Weakness! A character arc to explore! If it all sounds like ideal territory for the ever-adaptable Farrell, it’s still difficult to square the actor’s casting with the glimpses we’ve seen of him looking resolutely, well, un-Farrell. But for a while, it seemed like prosthetics might not be necessary. “Matt had seen the character as classically somewhat portly, rotund, whatever the word,” explains Farrell. “I’d just finished The North Water, which I’d put on weight for, and Matt said, ‘You look great!’ I thought, ‘Well, fuckin’ say goodbye to it because I’m about to hit the treadmill. I need to get my health back.’ So we explored other means of creating the physical character.” Once Farrell put his entire Penguin get-up on for the first time – prosthetics and all – it all came together. “I walked around the studio and then the voice work I had done with Jessica Drake, the dialect coach, started coming out and Oz just came alive. It was extraordinary.”

Empire – February 2022 – The Batman covers

To read more about The Batman, pick up Empire’s world-exclusive The Batman issue – talking to director Matt Reeves, stars Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell and Paul Dano, and producer Dylan Clark about their brand new approach to the Dark Knight. Find it on shelves from Thursday 23 December, or pre-order a copy here.

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