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The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Actors Who Could Play the Riddler

The Riddler
This stranger, perhaps?
As The Dark Knight premiered last summer, Gary Oldman discussed the possibility of recasting the Joker for the inevitable third movie in the current Batman franchise. After considering it for a while, he said, "Maybe we don’t need the Joker, because we’ll have the Riddler." Though his comments were later taken back by Oldman's manager (who claims they were "taken widely out of context"), the Internet has been abuzz ever since with talk of how Christopher Nolan will use the character of the Riddler in the next film.

Indeed, it seems inevitable that Nolan will use the Riddler, and of all the possible villains in the Batman universe, the Riddler is probably the best match for Nolan's brand of dark and realistic reimagining. I have scoured the Internet and found five different actors who have been proposed by geeks (or, in one or two cases, by the actor himself) to be Nolan's Riddler.

Before I begin my list, however, there are a few inevitable disclaimers. First--and most importantly--this list is solely for entertainment, and I do not honestly expect or want Nolan and John Papsidera (the casting director of the two previous films) to pay much attention to Internet chatter. Second, I admit that there could be an even better casting choice out there that nobody expects; remember, nobody watched A Knight's Tale and Brokeback Mountain and said, "You know, that one guy would make a great Joker!" Third and finally, the next film doesn't even have to include the Riddler. There are plenty of villains in Batman lore--Hush, Victor Zsasz (though he was kind of ruined as a potential villain thanks to his minor role in Batman Begins), Harley Quinn, Talia al Ghul, and many, many others--to choose from, and we really have no idea what thematic direction the next movie will take. It could turn out that the Riddler would be a terrible choice, if for example Nolan decides he wants to tackle classism or themes of economic hardship (in which case, the Penguin or Black Mask is a better fit).

The Long Halloween
I think he wet himself when he fired the gun
So, with that in mind, let's consider the Riddler and how he would fit into the Christopher Nolan universe. One possible story that would work well for Nolan would be The Long Halloween, a short series that takes place in the same early universe as the previous films. While only certain elements could be used, of course, the story centers on a serial killer--the Holiday Killer--who murders members of the Falcone crime family. The Riddler is hired by Falcone to help solve the murders, and is nearly killed in the process. The idea of the Riddler helping to catch a serial killer is a pretty compelling one, and could serve as the basis for the next Batman plot. Falcone obviously cannot be used, though Sal Maroni could (if you assume he did not die near the end of The Dark Knight). The Riddler could even be aiding the police or Batman, as he has done on other occasions.

But regardless of the story, the Riddler needs to be a realistic character. What we can take away from the comics is that he suffers from an extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder and is incredibly intelligent. He is a talented engineer, criminal profiler, and problem solver, with detective skills and "wonderful toys" that rival Batman's. His crimes aren't usually violent in nature--though he does build the occasional deathtrap--and he always leaves behind cryptic clues. Oftentimes (before his rehabilitation in later comics), when he appears to be assisting someone like Batman, the police, or a crime syndicate, he is actually setting the stage for an elaborate double-cross. There are several good stories in that description that require nothing goofy or supernatural, and that's probably why he is such a popular candidate for Batman's next villain.

So what would Nolan require from the actor hired to play the Riddler? First and foremost, he would have to look the part. This means he would need somebody tall, thin, lanky, and fair-skinned enough to pull off red hair. Luckily, his age is variable in the comics and extended Batman universe, so the actor could be anywhere between 25 and 55. Second, he would have to be able to play the part. Nolan's Riddler would be far less flashy than those played by Frank Gorshin or Jim Carrey, so you'd need a more subtle actor. You'd also need an actor who can be both neurotic and intelligent, without being so nutty that nobody would trust him. There would have to be the hint that, just beneath the surface, the Riddler hides a good helping of balls-to-the-wall crazy. So, with that in mind, here are the top five actors the Internet wants to hire.

Johnny Depp

I'm glad I can get this one out of the way first. While Depp is by far the most popular choice on the Internet and while he has expressed interest in the role, his acting style is anything but subtle. Yes, Depp can do crazy; yes, he looks the part (though his skin isn't nearly white enough); and yes, he is a marvellous actor. However, Johnny Depp would be too flashy and would get dangerously close to the stylings of Gorshin and Carrey. Besides, I don't know about you, but I'm getting kind of sick of Johnny Depp's insane popularity and how his name is always popping up whenever you ask any question that starts with "What actor could play..." Luckly, there have been several hints that Depp is not being considered for the role, assuming that there is a role and that anybody is being considered for it. Depp himself has admitted that he hasn't heard anything, and Michael Caine has insisted that "they" tell him "in no uncertain terms" that "there is no Johnny Depp in this Batman."

Matthew Gray Gubler

Probably the most obscure name on this list, Matthew Gray Gubler is a relatively young actor known only for his role on CBS's Criminal Minds (in which his character uses his extreme intelligence to catch serial killers) and as the voice of Simon in the Alvin and the Chipmunk movies. Gubler certainly looks the part; he is tall and lanky, with pasty-white skin and an awkward, twitchy gait. While his role in Criminal Minds shows that he can play neurotic, subtle, and intelligent, his true acting chops are largely untested. His inclusion in this list probably comes from the tendency to type-cast actors, since his role on television is already pretty similar to the Riddler, only without the addition of being a criminal mastermind.

David Tennant

The main reason David Tennant is on this list is David Tennant, who has enthusiastically announced his own eagerness to take the role if it is offered to him. People unfamiliar with British television are probably pretty unfamiliar with Tennant, known mainly as one of the actors to have played Doctor Who in recent years. American audiences might recognize him from his small role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which he played the tongue-spitting Barty Crouch Junior. Of all the actors on this list, Tennant probably fits the physical description best, as he is very thin and lanky and measures at a decent 6'1". He is a pretty good actor who can be seen (with the great Patrick Stewart) in a recent production of Hamlet, as the procrastinating prince himself. Alas, I have yet to see this. However, like Depp, Tennant might find the role so irresistable that he is unable to be subtle with it. His acting as Doctor Who and Barty Crouch Junior would never be described as multi-layered or deep, so a true assessment might have to depend on Hamlet, a role that requires so many dimensions and layers that it tends to drive actors mad.

Jude Law

Jude Law, who can be seen alongside the late Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, is another popular British actor who has been proposed as a possible Riddler. His acting style can be seen across an impressively large range, from over-the-top performances in fluff like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to serious, multidimensional acting in artsy films like Cold Mountain and eXistenZ. He can be seen as an android in AI: Artificial Intelligence, as a homoerotic trixter in the painfully unwatchable remake of Sleuth, as Kevin Spacey's lover-slash-murder victim in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, as the great Errol Flynn in The Aviator, and as a drunkenly depressed genetic superhuman in Gattaca. Heck, he even recently played Hamlet on the London stage! Luckily, he also has the looks to go with his impressive résumé.

Paul Bettany

Though he has also spent a lot of time on the London stage doing Shakespeare, Paul Bettany has never played Hamlet. Still, he's the best choice on the Internet for the Riddler. His acting style is perfect for Christopher Nolan, and you can see it in several performances. In The Da Vinci Code, he played a seriously dark and tortured character, while in Firewall, he plays a smooth-talking and highly intelligent criminal mastermind. He acted with Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale and was nominated for several prestigous acting awards (including a SAG award and a BAFTA award) for his roles in A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He doesn't have the enormous acting portfolio of Jude Law or Johnny Depp, but he is no less impressive as an actor. Bettany, at the very least, has far more clout than Matthew Gray Gubler or David Tennant. With blindingly pale skin, a height of 6'3", and a history of successfully dying his hair red for his roles, he also looks a bit closer to the part than Jude Law or Johnny Depp. For these reasons, he would make an excellent Riddler in Christopher Nolan's Batman universe.

-e. magill 11/03/2009


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