Riddler: Year One – How Paul Dano Created a New Origin Story for His Batman Character
Exclusive: Paul Dano tells us about writing a prequel to The Batman about the early days of The Riddler for DC Comics.
Paul Dano brought a haunting and disturbing edge to Edward Nashton, better known as the Riddler, in this year’s movie The Batman. Now the actor is taking his talents to the comics page and filling in the character’s backstory for Riddler: Year One with art by Stevan Subic for DC. Dano spoke with us about his first time writing comics and getting even deeper into the Riddler’s head.
How much of your preparation for the role of the Riddler ended up on the page with this book?
The essence of it is there, and that’s sort of why I’m doing this. A lot of my work as an actor is to get to page one of the script and to sort of build the life that was lived so I can carry it with me into the film. Whether that means just physically or point-of-view-wise, we all carry our lives with us in some way, shape, or form. So each time, it’s kind of about building that so that it’s not just [me and my] unconscious, but it’s some meeting of Paul and the character [of Edward Nashton].
The emotional essence of the comic was my backstory. It didn’t have a plot in the same way that this does. Once I started working on the comic, I really felt like I didn’t want it to just be in service of the film. I wanted the story to stand on its own, and I wanted it to be an experience for the reader. There are elements in this comic now that weren’t a part of my backstory when I was making the film, but it’s all to support the general backstory that I had in mind when playing the character and what got me there.
It’s kind of taken on its own life now, though, and it’s sort of out of my control at this point. Once you start writing and working with the artist, it just keeps growing and taking on its own life in a way that I really like.
How did you go from playing the Riddler onscreen to writing this comic about him?
I think it was one of my last nights of filming…[The Batman director] Matt Reeves and I had talked a lot about backstory. We get along really well. We’re both a little bit like-minded in a sort of very meticulous, thorough, maybe semi-obsessive approach to our work. So in preparation, we talked a lot about Edward. I had read so many comics to prepare for the part that I felt like his backstory should have that sort of archetypal essence that comic images have, where it’s almost like an image tells the story. I did have key backstory images in my mind, so I told Matt about a couple of them, and he was like, “that should be a comic.” I secretly thought it could be, but I hadn’t expressed that, except maybe to my wife… And literally the next day, either he or our producer, Dylan Clark, spoke to DC.
It’s a disturbing story, and Edward is something of a pathetic figure in the first issue. How do you balance that with his later villainy?
As an actor, I have to have enough empathy to find a way in [to a character]. But now, I’m not just playing a character; I’m also a storyteller writing a comic. So I do have to think about what this is. If anything, I hope that this ends up being a cautionary tale… He’s not a hero, even though we’re in his point of view.
This is a guy who’s never had anybody give him the time of day in his entire life and never had a chance… so what’s it like to be as smart as he is? What’s it like to be a genius, but nobody knows it? This is a guy who’s really struggling. I think the opportunity here for me, or what I have to give to this medium, I think, is a really subjective, emotional, psychological experience of the character.
What was your collaboration with Stevan Subic like? His art suits this world so well.
I can’t wait for people to see his work because I really think he’s got something. He’s been just wonderful to work with. I wrote in treatment form [rather than full script]… and I sent it to Stevan, and we had to kind of find the language together. This first issue was highly collaborative. He’d share his screen on Zoom and draw some layouts, and we’d talk about it, get the storytelling down, and find our common language. Then he’d start doing the pencils, and I’d keep writing the next thing. I don’t know what any other relationship is like between a comic writer and a comic artist, but ours I find to be super collaborative. It’s been a really cool collaboration, and I’ve learned a lot. That’s been the really fun thing about this.
Riddler: Year One #1 arrives on Oct. 25. You’ll be able to listen to this full interview on an upcoming episode of our DC Standom podcast later this month.