When Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” debuted in early 2022, the audience was captivated by Colin Farrell’s incredible transformation into the Dark Knight’s antarctic antagonist, The Penguin. The charming Irish actor that is considered by some to be the “Sexiest Man Alive” spent two to four hours each morning applying makeup, prosthetics, and a fat suit in order to create the memorable appearance of Oswald Cobblepot that consisted of a bulbous nose, crooked teeth, and scars. Honestly, the production could have saved a bunch of time if they had just cast Richard Kind in the role, but Farrell’s performance was so strong that he’ll be reprising the part in an HBO Max original series.
However, when it comes to portraying a live-action Penguin on the big screen, Danny DeVito walked (waddled?) in “Batman Returns” so that the “Banshees of Inisherin” star could come face to face with Battinson. The legendary star is known for his work in “Matilda,” “Twins,” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and starred in Tim Burton’s 1992 sequel alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Michael Keaton as the returning Caped Crusader. Although, DeVito wasn’t actually the filmmaker’s first choice to play the iconic DC Comics villain. He initially had another Hollywood heavyweight in mind but was met with some opposition from the major players behind the scenes.
According to Rob Nixon of Turner Classic Movies, Tim Burton originally wanted “On The Waterfront” and “The Godfather” leading man Marlon Brando to play The Penguin in the follow-up to his 1989 Bat-feature. Unfortunately, Batman co-creator Bob Kane was “most vehemently” against that choice, probably because he didn’t want Cobblepot’s criminal activity overshadowed by Don Corleone’s storied history. Warner Bros. sided with the comic book artist as they preferred another actor in the mix, Dustin Hoffman. In addition to the “Rain Man” and “Hook” star, Christopher Lloyd of “Back to the Future” fame was in contention as well because the script featured “the tuxedoed dandy” version of the character that was associated with the 1966 “Batman” TV series.
Screenwriter Daniel Waters was then brought in to create a new draft of the story that painted the feathered foe as a deformed sewer dweller in search of his parents. That’s when the production brought in Lloyd’s “Taxi” co-star DeVito. Interestingly enough, the filmmaker still wanted to pay homage to Adam West’s stint as the World’s Greatest Detective by casting Burgess Meredith (who played The Penguin on the TV series) as Oswald’s father at the beginning of the movie. But due to illness during the shooting, that cameo could not come together. Instead, Paul Reubens, the star of Burton’s first feature film, stepped in.
Years later, in a 2009 interview with Burton promoting the animated film “9,” MTV asked the mastermind behind “Big Fish” and “Edward Scissorhands” about casting The Penguin. When asked whether Brando was ever truly an option for the role, the director said with a laugh, “No. I also wanted Sammy Davis Jr. to play Beetlejuice, so … sometimes my ideas don’t go down so well with the studios. But hey, you try.”