Just like Batman and Catwoman, Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz have a bit of a history: The stars of The Batman (in theaters March 4), have known each other for more than a decade. You can tell as they tease one another about their flirting skills (or lack thereof) at their EW cover shoot in downtown L.A. in late January, or by how nonchalantly Pattinson drapes a camel coat over Kravitz’s shivering shoulders after they wrap on a chilly rooftop as the sun sets. But their story as the Dark Knight and the most famous cat burglar of all time didn’t begin until their chemistry test on a Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank in October 2019.
Both actors were feeling the pressure that day. “The chemistry read was really intense,” Kravitz, 33, tells EW. They had to perform one of several intimate exchanges Batman and Selina have in the film, the scene also serving as Kravitz’s audition because The Batman director Matt Reeves chose to meet with her before the Big Little Lies star even read a single line. “Rob was wearing the Batsuit, and it was a proper camera test with the DP there and everything on a soundstage. It wasn’t just reading lines in a room. So it was intimidating, to say the least,” she says. Her first task? The seemingly simple act of taking off a motorcycle helmet. “That totally spun me into a little bit of anxiety,” she recalls. “It’s wildly complicated to take off a helmet and look cool, not have it get stuck on your head, or your hair look funny. I was convinced that was going to be my downfall.”
Meanwhile, Pattinson was experiencing his own bout of anxiety, even though he was already cast. In keeping with Warner Bros. tradition, he had already completed a solo screen test in a classic Batsuit — Val Kilmer’s from Batman Forever, nipples and all — even if it was a tad tight. But he had also yet to utter a word as his character. “The first time I’d even said lines from the script was in Zoë’s screen test,” says the 35-year-old actor. “They had this idea that they wanted me to be taller at the beginning, so I basically had high-heeled sneakers on, and I’m tottering around in this strange Batman outfit. The camera’s not even on me, it’s on the back of my head, and I’m literally having this major panic attack, just looking for emotional support from Zoë, who’s trying to get the part.”
Whatever Scarecrow-toxin-level fears were coursing through the stars’ minds, they weren’t apparent to Reeves. “They really connected,” says Reeves, best known for directing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel War for the Planet of the Apes. “Everyone could see there was something really special between them.” And thus, Reeves found his Bat and Cat, a crucial moment because their tortured love story, he says “is absolutely central” to the film.
As intense as Kravitz and Pattinson’s energy was, the project that brought them together begs a larger question: In a world of franchises and existing IPs and superhero fatigue, why do we need another Batman? What makes this iteration different from, say, Tim Burton’s theatrically gothic vision in Batman and Batman Returns, or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which staged a war between chaos and order? For Reeves, it was all about questioning a specific aspect of the Batman myth.
“I felt that it was important to examine this idea of him being an emblem of vengeance. Is that really the right approach to all of this?” says Reeves. “[I wanted] to have the movie take you on a journey where you start having one point of view about what he’s doing and then have that challenged in such a way so that you knew by the end, he would have an awakening and he himself would have some change that he’d have to undergo.”
Six years after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice starring Ben Affleck, WB’s latest attempt to reboot the Caped Crusader’s cinematic franchise definitely isn’t an origin story, but Batman and Selina aren’t fully formed either, nor are they anywhere close to becoming the rooftop-loving married couple they are in the present-day comics. The Batman is set during year two of Bruce Wayne’s war on crime and focuses on Batman’s detective side (more deciphering clues, fewer galas). Selina, while very fond of cats and casual breaking and entering, hasn’t adopted the Catwoman moniker yet.
Placing Batman and Selina’s connection at the heart of the new film makes sense because it’s an integral part of the mythology. Selina was introduced in 1940’s Batman #1, which was the hero’s first solo comic series after he debuted in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. For most of their 82-year-long history, they’ve had an on-again-off-again romance that’s complicated because they operate on different sides of the law.
In The Batman, the pair meet while Batman is hunting the Riddler (Paul Dano), a masked serial killer targeting some of Gotham’s most prominent — and likely corrupt since it’s Gotham, after all — figures. His investigation takes him to the Iceberg Lounge (run by Colin Farrell’s mob lieutenant Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. the Penguin), where Selina scrapes out a living as a waitress and occasional drug dealer. Selina’s roommate soon goes missing, and she and the Bat realize they need each other to untangle an increasingly sinister mystery.
“They have quite a strong connection pretty quickly, and I think they’re both trying to ignore that,” says Kravitz. “They’re both very surprised by feeling a connection with somebody because that’s quite rare for them. It puts both of us out of our comfort zone.” Adds Pattinson: “Bruce created Batman in this very binary worldview where he [believes] there are bad guys and there are victims. Selina comes along, and he’s like, ‘Well, you’re a thief. You’re basically the same as the Penguin,’ and yet… there’s something in her I recognize. It’s going up against his snap judgment.”
Selina isn’t the only one who challenges Batman’s code. As the Riddler’s body count rises, the world’s greatest detective-in-the-making diligently follows the clues, solving one taunting riddle after another, and unearths Gotham’s secret history — some of which involves his beloved parents. This shakes him to the core. “I wanted a Batman that was still becoming,” says Reeves, who wrote the script with Peter Craig (The Town). “I didn’t want, Here comes the rogues‘ gallery characters, and here’s Batman, and aren’t they exciting, and he’s going to beat them. I wanted it to be much more psychological for his character to have a place to go.”
The Batman kicks off the third Batman franchise of the 21st century. Originally, it was part of the second because the movie began as a follow-up to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which starred Affleck as an older and more hardened version of Gotham’s protector. Affleck was supposed to direct and star in The Batman, but in January 2017, he shaved his responsibilities down to just starring. Warner Bros. turned on the Batsignal to find a new helmer to shepherd the project and chose Reeves. (Ridley Scott and Fede Alvarez were also reportedly on the studio’s shortlist.) But the director didn’t initially answer the call(s) because he was deep into arduous post-production on War for the Planet of the Apes.
“[Warner Bros.] kept coming back. I was almost getting annoyed. I was like, ‘Wait, what don’t they understand about the fact that I’m making this movie?'” says Reeves, who thought WB just wanted to have a general meeting until his agent set him straight: The studio wanted him to direct Batman. “[My agent] said, ‘If you have any interest, you might want to find the time to take that meeting.'”
He did. And read the script that Affleck, Geoff Johns (Stargirl), and Chris Terrio (Justice League) had reportedly been working on. According to Reeves, it was an “action-based James Bondian” story, intimately tied to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) through appearances from “other big superheroes.”
“It was a totally valid take on the story,” he says. “I just felt that I was not going to be their guy because having read it, I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I can find my emotional way into this version.’ Not to say it wasn’t good, but I wouldn’t have known where to put the camera, what to tell the actors because I have to find some way to make it personal to me.”
To his surprise, the studio was not only open to hearing what kind of Batman movie he’d want to make but was willing to wait for him to finish War for the Planet of the Apes. His initial, story-less pitch was a highly emotional, post-origin tale that kept Batman at the center, and was connected to the DCEU without having to service it. That last part ended up being moot once Affleck dropped out of the movie altogether. “That’s when I started to think about a younger Batman who was beyond his origins but was imperfect,” says Reeves.
A lifelong fan of the Adam West-starring Batman TV series from the ’60s (“I didn’t see the camp in it. I thought it was totally serious”), Reeves threw himself into writing. In terms of comics, he consulted the usual and oft-referenced suspects like Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween, which inspired 2008’s The Dark Knight. He also referenced slightly less obvious titles like Darwyn Cooke’s Batman: Ego (“Ego really gets into this idea of the beast within him and that struggle.”) Looking outside of the source material, Chinatown influenced The Batman‘s municipal conspiracy, and the 1971 neo-noir Klute was a major reference point for Batman and Selina’s relationship, especially in how Donald Sutherland’s titular private investigator initially judges Jane Fonda’s call girl Bree Daniels.
“I didn’t want to overly inflate [Reeve’s] ego about it, but I kept saying to myself, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that,'” says producer Dylan Clark (War for the Planet of the Apes), as he recalls his conversations with the director during the scriptwriting phase.
“It was a real departure from what we’d seen in the past, but at the same time, it was a throwback to the origins of the comics, which is grounded in mystery and detective work,” says Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), who plays Batman’s primary ally, Lieutenant Jim Gordon. The actor was also impressed by how timely the story was. “There’s an awareness of an instability within Gotham that I think is reflective of the times. There’s an awareness of certain class tension and pervasive distrust in Gotham. In the way that Matt shaped the Riddler here, it speaks to a kind of present-day virality that we see used for communication of certain ideas and propaganda.”
For Reeves, it was important that the movie didn’t become about the villains; Batman had to remain the focus. “The Riddler is omnipresent, but almost as a ghost,” says Reeves of his Zodiac killer-inspired antagonist, who leaves personal messages for Batman at his crime scenes, thus robbing him of one of his biggest assets: his anonymity. “Batman or Bruce is in almost every scene in the movie” — similar to Jack Nicholson’s P.I. J.J. Gittes in Chinatown — “which is not the usual way these movies are done. It’s a very Hitchcockian kind of point of view where you are wedded to his experience.”
Pattinson’s name came up early on during the writing process. “Good Time was a movie where [Matt and I] both went, ‘Wow,'” says Clark about Pattinson’s critically acclaimed turn as a morally-conflicted criminal in Josh and Benny Safdie’s frenetic 2017 crime thriller. “That’s a movie where he is displaying a lot of things that feel like Bruce Wayne to us.” Coincidentally, Pattinson wanted to play Batman and started pursuing the role on his own once he found out Reeves was attached.
“You’re always looking for the next challenge,” says the star, who avoided blockbusters after the Twilight saga and chose mostly indie projects like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. But there was something about this particular superhero movie that didn’t deter him. “The interesting thing about Bruce in this is that he hasn’t really got his playboy persona yet. He’s a freak as Bruce and a freak as Batman,” he says. “There’s a lot of madness in it. The character is going after a dream that’s completely impossible, and he can’t live his life any other way.”
Kravitz was one of several names casting director Cindy Tolan presented to Reeves for Selina Kyle. Unlike Pattinson, Kravitz had no interest in a superhero movie — she’d already done X-Men: First Class — but the prospect of digging her claws into the complex antiheroine was tough to resist. “I really think that Catwoman would have been the only [superhero character] that I would ever consider, just because I feel really connected to her emotionally and also aesthetically. I think there’s an authenticity and an edge to her that I’m drawn to,” says Kravitz.
“The characters are so mythic, and I wanted [them] to be very flesh and blood. She really understood that,” says Reeves, recalling their first pre-screen test meeting. “We had a connection right away.”
Kravitz was particularly drawn to how Selina is “an incredibly strong woman and doesn’t victimize herself,” she says. “We’re meeting her at a really pivotal moment in her life. I think her focus is really on freeing herself from a lot of hurt and a lot of trauma, and a lot of anger.”
Reeves’ version of Gotham City is seedy, dark, and rain-soaked, the sun only visible at dusk. The director wanted it to feel like it was a place where you could run into any character from the lore if you opened the right door. Hence, the inclusion of Selina and Farrell’s Penguin alongside mainstays like Lieutenant Gordon. In the same way that Selina hasn’t yet become Catwoman, Cobblepot isn’t a major crime boss, and Gordon hasn’t risen to commissioner. “The Riddler dubs himself the Riddler in this movie. This character hasn’t existed in the world yet, but he’s presenting himself,” says Reeves. “So I wanted this to be filled with all those little teases where the freshness of it was meeting the characters in ways you hadn’t seen yet. They weren’t yet the iconic mythic versions of what they become.”
While Nolan’s trilogy at least wondered if there would come a time when Gotham wouldn’t need saving, no such hope exists in The Batman. Pattinson reveals that one of the first things we hear his character say is that things have only deteriorated in the city since he swooped on the scene. “He’s basically saying ‘I’ve been doing this for two years, and everything’s got worse.'” Adds Reeves: “Gotham is never not going to be corrupt, because it’s like our world.”
The silver lining to the darkness? There will always be more stories to tell. Even though The Batman is not set in the DCEU and was conceived as a self-contained story, Reeves hopes to continue expanding the world beyond the big screen. He’s executive producing two spin-offs in development at HBO: a drama about the Gotham City Police Department and another about the Penguin’s rise to power.
“What I really wanted this movie to do was create a Batverse,” says Reeves. “You don’t do a story and go, ‘This is Chapter 1’ because you might not get to do Chapter 2. So, the story had to stand on its own. But the thing about it is that the Bat world is so rich with character that as you’re starting to come to an end, you can already start thinking about the next thing. Because the idea, of course, is that Gotham’s story never ends.”
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life,” says Pattinson of The Batman‘s protracted year-and-a-half-long shoot that began in Leavesden, England, in January 2020. Not just because of the unique challenges of acting in a Batsuit (“You’re almost puppeteering in a way — you have to really push through the mask”) but because of the many hurdles the film faced due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like everything else, production shut down in March 2020. During the break, while Pattinson briefly experimented with microwavable pasta, Reeves and Clark reviewed the footage they’d already captured to reaffirm their faith in the director’s vision.
They got the greenlight to resume that September; however, Pattinson contracted the virus, leading to another pause until he was cleared to return to work. “Once COVID hit, it was really difficult for us to get together off-set,” says Kravitz, adding that she and Pattinson had to depend on the script, Reeves’ guidance, and their natural connection to build their onscreen chemistry. Shooting The Batman wasn’t easy on the emotions either: This version of Bruce Wayne is one of the most fatalistic depictions yet, and since the movie doesn’t show the death of his parents, Pattinson strove to wear the enduring guilt and trauma on Bruce’s face in every scene.
“Normally, I don’t have a problem [shaking a character off at the end of the day], but this was so all-encompassing. I just stayed in a hotel for the whole week right next to the studio because I’d have to get there at like 4:30 a.m. to start training, and then you’d train after, so you’d be finished at like 9:30 at night. You’re just constantly in that world,” says Pattinson. “When I look at photos of myself from the makeup test on the last day, I don’t even look human by the end of it. I look like I’m a piece of bubble gum that’s been stuck on the streets for like three years and has just been scraped off and put in a Batman outfit.”
Kravitz was ready to say goodbye to Selina by the end, too. “It was the solitude and the routine that was really hard,” she says. “I know all of us were in lockdown and it was intense for everybody, but I was away from home and completely isolated because of COVID and not wanting to get sick for the movie’s sake.” Some of that anxiety seeped into her performance: “It was really interesting to tell a story about a city in turmoil while the world was the way it was, or is right now. It made it almost easier to connect to the characters and understand how high the stakes are.”
But now, here Kravitz and Pattinson are, almost a year after production wrapped, gazing into each other’s eyes at a glam photo shoot. It feels as though they were Batman and Selina yesterday, but also years ago. Perhaps that’s a good thing because they quickly overcome a brief fit of giggles on the first take of the motion cover, channeling their characters’ intense connection like they are back on The Batman set.
“There could be a lot going on in a scene, but if I was able to connect with Rob and look into his eyes, it would immediately bring me into the moment,” says Kravitz, who recalls Batman and Selina’s final scene in the movie. “I saw a look in his eye that I hadn’t seen before. Seeing something new and very vulnerable as well was really beautiful.”
The Bat and Cat to the end.
The Batman opens in theaters March 4.
Director and Photographer: Gizelle Hernandez; Photo Editor: Ava Selbach; Photo Assistant: Jeremy Jackson; Digi Tech: Jeremy Ball; DP: Edward Tran; AC: Mark Viloria; DIT: Marlon Savinelli; Gaffer: Andy Cao; Grip: Amy Hoang; Swing: Anderson Ko, Thomas One; Set Design: Daniel Luna; Set Assistants: Fabian Fioto, Naoko, Cole Maxwell; Kravitz: Hair: Nikki Nelms; Manicure: Betina Goldstein/The Wall Group; Makeup: Nina Park/Kalpana; Styling: Andrew Mukamal; Styling Assistants: Sharon Chitrit, Juliana Bassi; Tailor: Hasmik Kourinian; Pattinson: Grooming: Diana Schmidtke; Styling: Mobolaji Dawodu; Styling Assistants: Nadia Mazurczak, Edwin Mohney; Editor: Ethan Bellows; VFX: Ira Morris; Color Correction: Carlos Flores; Cover Design: Chuck Kerr
Lounge looks: Kravitz: Top, skirt: Saint Laurent; Shoes: Manolo Blahnik; Earrings: Candy Ice; Pattinson: Coat, Pants, Shoes: Dior Men; Tank: Calvin Klein; Necklace: David Yurman. Rooftop looks: Kravitz: Dress: Khaite; Shoes: Manolo Blahnik; Earrings: Candy Ice; Pattinson: Shirt, Suit, Shoes: Dior Men; Bracelet: Tiffany & Co.; Ring: Cartier