With Matt Reeves’s The Batman set for a 2021 release, we take a look at actors who could play the role of the Penguin. With the announcement that Robert Pattinson will play Batman, attention has now fallen to which villains will make an appearance. There are certainly plenty of baddies to choose from in Gotham City. After Reeves teased fans on Twitter with an old-school image of some villains from the Adam West Batman series, there’s been speculation that Pattinson’s Batman will take on an ensemble of opponents rather than one or two big names. Reeves himself has already noted that he wants his take on the Dark Knight to be more noir-esque in tone, fitting with beloved Batman arcs like The Long Halloween. Catwoman has come up in many conversations as a possible new villain for this era of Batman, the first since Anne Hathaway played the role in The Dark Knight Rises, but another popular figure is the Penguin.
Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot made his first appearance in Detective Comics in 1941 and has remained one of Batman's most enduring adversaries. The self-styled gentleman of crime is always impeccably dressed, often armed with a high-tech umbrella, and has his fingers in a lot of pies of Gotham's gangster underworld. While more often than not he is another villain for Batman to deal with, the Penguin has also proven himself to be an unlikely ally to Bruce Wayne, with his nightclub, the Iceberg Lounge, frequently serving as a source of information for Batman. The Penguin isn't as regularly used in live-action adaptations as, say, the Joker or Two-Face.
While Robin Lord Taylor's delightfully sniveling performance in Fox's Gotham helped to add new life to the character, most people's first impression of the supervillain comes from Danny DeVito's turn in Batman Returns. There, Oswald is very unlike his comic counterpart and has more in common with director Tim Burton's cavalcade of grotesques. There's certainly a lot of room for a new generation to have a Penguin who goes back to the comics, especially in a story with multiple villains and Batman having to deal with them all, and maybe cut a few deals here and there. So, who would be the perfect choice to play Penguin in The Batman? What actor has the perfect combination of sleazy charm and toadying cowardice that would fit the character? Here are a few casting suggestions for the Penguin.
It almost feels too obvious to put Josh Gad on this list given that he has openly admitted he would love the role and that he’s good friends with Matt Reeves. He has since confirmed that he’s not attached to the project in any form but there’s a reason the image of him as the Penguin endures in so many fans’ heads. Gad, who broke through into the mainstream through his Tony Award nominated performance in the original run of The Book of Mormon, is best known for playing bumbling sidekicks and broad comedic figures. But he’s also capable of a smarmier edge that is very much in line with Oswald, as evidenced in performances in Murder on the Orient Express and even Beauty and the Beast.
Like Josh Gad, Fantastic Beasts star Dan Fogler is another Broadway transplant whose cinematic career seems mostly defined by schlubs, broad comedic sidekicks, and general buffoons. But like Gad, Fogler also has that element of toadying weirdness that would feel right at place in the role of the Penguin. On top of having an appropriate physicality for the character - or at least one very popular version of him - Fogler can appear both smooth and abrasive in a suitably Oswald-esque manner.
Any illusions that fans were holding onto of Jonah Hill being just a schlubby comedic actor were long cast aside after a deluge of abrasive and often deeply strange dramatic performances in films by Todd Phillips, Martin Scorsese, and Gus Van Sant. What makes Oswald so intriguing is that deceptive element: He seems so harmless and almost comical until he very suddenly isn’t. In his best roles, Hill is that type, seemingly so approachable and normal and then you’re left worried something horrifying is about to happen.
For close to three decades, British actor Toby Jones has been a reliable on-screen presence in a whole variety of films and TV series, from voicing Dobby in the Harry Potter franchise to playing real-life figures are varied as Truman Capote, Alfred Hitchcock, and Karl Rove. There are few actors working today who can bounce so effortlessly from foolish to utterly chilling, often in the same performance. For proof of how shudder-inducing he can be as a villainous on-screen presence, check out his work as the wholly slimy Culverton Smith in the fourth series of BBC's Sherlock. It's a very Oswald-esque moment.
In the MCU world, it’s easy to overlook how 2004’s Spider-Man 2 gave us one of the best super-villain performances in the form of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. His mixture of menace and pathos made what could have been a very silly character feel layered and utterly real, even with four extra mechanical limbs. Molina’s been in the business for a long time and has more than proven himself to be a stellar actor across a variety of genres and projects. It remains to be seen if he fancies returning to the world of superheroes and villains, but the role of the Penguin is definitely one he could knock out of the park.
Oliver Platt has multiple awards and nominations to his name, as well as appearances in film, television, theater, and voice-over spanning more than 30 years. The chances are you've seen him in way more movies than you remember, especially in roles where he’s a sniveling bureaucrat or the funny sidekick who’s just that little bit repulsive. Platt has many great attributes in his favor for casting as the Penguin but crucially he just has a great face for the role!
Brian Tyree Henry
As evidenced by the past couple of years of work, Brian Tyree Henry can do pretty much everything. He’s a regular scene-stealer as Paper-Boi on FX’s Atlanta, he gave a heart-warming voice performance as Miles Morales’s dad in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and he proved to be utterly chilling yet endlessly magnetic in Widows. While he is already in the DC movie world thanks to his upcoming role in Joker (it is unknown who he is playing and how big the part is), that’s not canon in the DCEU so he could still be in contention for the Penguin. And why not? He’s got the perfect mix of humor, bombast, and true threat that makes Oswald so intriguing.
De-aging an iconic DC villain didn’t work out so well with Jesse Eisenberg and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that shouldn’t put Warner Bros. off giving it another go should the actor be good enough. Robin Lord Taylor totally reinvented the Penguin and Oswald’s origin story in Gotham to striking effect and ended up making that character the best thing about the show in many ways. So who would be a great young, slimy Oswald trying to crawl his way up the gutter of Gotham’s criminal underworld? Anyone who has watched HBO’s Succession will know how excellent Kieran Culkin is with such material, blending bleak comedy relief with the narcissism of an entitled brat.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022