Opinion: Does Colin Farrell’s ‘Penguin’ in ‘The Batman’ still treat fatness like a marginalized costume?
Casting directors are dismissing disempowered groups in yet another form of aesthetic exclusion, says Hanna Flint
Friday 11 March 2022 By Hanna Flint
The Batman is back, baby, with some highly recognisable names playing some beloved DC Comics characters. Except, one of those names is completely unrecognisable. Colin Farrell, the very attractive Irish actor known mostly for making people swoon with his turns in Miami Vice, In Bruges, and, one of my favourites, Seven Psychopaths, has donned prosthetics and a fat suit to bring iconic villain, The Penguin, to life in Matt Reeves’ new take on the Caped Crusader.
But like Nolan’s trilogy, Reeves chose to keep his narrative dark and grounded by taking cues from the more gangster-focused comic runs of The Last Halloween and Year One, among others, which means Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot is less of a bird-like caricature as is his popular comic aesthetic and Danny DeVito’s memorable turn in Batman Returns.
No, Farrell’s incarnation actually looks more like the average-looking yet seedy crime bosses you might find in a Scorsese film or The Sopranos, which makes his casting somewhat questionable. This isn’t to say Farrell fails to deliver; his performance is rip-roaring, but when there are plenty of average-looking actors with just as much talent – who could have fit the role without four hours in a makeup truck – it makes you wonder: why not one of them?
I’m not the first film writer to make this point. Nate Jones of Vulture recently listed several character actors, including Richard Kind, John Carroll Lynch and, my preferred choice, Paul Giamatti, who could have easily played The Penguin without a makeover, but I think it bears repeating because this fat suit trend is getting a little stale.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen the likes of Sarah Paulson in Impeachment: American Crime Story, Stellan Skarsgård in Dune and Jared Leto in House Of Gucci transformed into plus-sized characters. Although I do wonder if the House Of Gucci makeup artists had actually seen pictures of Paolo Gucci, because Leto’s Super Mario-inflected iteration looked nothing like him. Regardless, at a time when Hollywood is making slow but sure steps to improve diversity and representation, why are we still treating fatness like it’s a costume?
I was watching Farrell on Hot Ones, and although he gives good interview and served up a very enjoyable Terrence Malick impression, I felt uncomfortable when he described his Penguin experience as ‘absolute liberation’. He echoed the sentiments of Sienna Miller a couple of years ago when she described the ‘mask’ of fatness she wore for her role in The Loudest Voice as ‘liberating’, too.
The underlying suggestion is neither felt insecure about the way they physically looked, because their makeover was meant to look unattractive. They could lean it to that without the fear of looking bad themselves, and then take the weight off at the end of each day.
Sure, the transformations are impressive, often award-worthy technical feats, and the practice is certainly an improvement from the days when actors solely resorted to extreme weight gain and weight-loss diets to get into character. It explains why Renée Zellweger chose the fat suit option for her upcoming TV series, The Thing About Pam, after the ridiculous media focus on her size after playing Bridget Jones. But just because you can do it, I’m not sure it means you should do it.
In an industry where slim actors, especially pretty and slim actors like Farrell, are championed and get their pick of roles, why do we continue to sideline marginalized talent with so-called average looks or bigger body types when the obvious character opportunity presents itself? I get it, we’ve come some way since the days of The Nutty Professor; now plus-size characters are being written with far more nuance and complexity, and skinny actors want a taste of the pie, but all Hollywood is doing is making extreme prosthetic makeovers a loophole in the casting process.
It’s another form of aesthetic exclusion that sends the message that larger sized characters are only worthy of our attention when they are inhabited by slim people. These stars can then appear at premieres or in magazine shoots, back to their normal selves, saying with their svelte figures, ‘hey, everyone. Don’t worry, I’m still hot and thin.’
It’s not just on Farrell to be turning down these sorts of jobs, especially when the director and studios approached him for it. But when it’s a major franchise film playing a famously rotund character that comes with a planned spin-off series, and you’re a slim, hot man with more opportunities to act than most, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper and think about whether you might be taking the part away from someone naturally more fitting.
Gigi said what she said
Gigi Hadid made a pledge to donate all her Fall 2022 fashion month earnings to causes helping those in Ukraine and Palestine affected by the continuing conflicts. You’d think that would be treated as a wonderful thing: it both raises awareness of and delivers aid to those in need, and may just inspire others to do so, too. Except, Vogue magazine decided to remove the mention of Palestine from their own Instagram reporting of the model’s post, presumably because of pressure from some commenters who took issue with her Palestinian solidarity.
This omittance by Vogue's US arm is pretty gross considering Hadid has Palestinian heritage herself, but mostly because it is unethical journalism. Instagram is an extension of Vogue's media platform, so if they’re not going to report a direct quote, because certain readers don’t accept its full content, then they shouldn’t be reporting on it at all. Erasing Hadid’s roots and camaraderie is exactly why certain conflicts are given more attention and empathy than others. We should be able to speak up and support those suffering no matter the politics of it.