Pro Acting Coach Breaks Down 12 Batman Villain Performances | Good & Bad Acting

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Batman has arguably the best rogues’ gallery of any comic-book universe. Hollywood has had its fair share of hits and misses in translating his arch-rivals to the screen. In this episode of "Good & Bad Acting," LA acting coach Anthony Gilardi reacts to 12 of the most iconic live-action Batman villains, reviewing the highs and lows of the actors’ performances.

From Adam West’s campy 1960s TV series to Christopher Nolan’s "Dark Knight" trilogy, the timeless appeal of the Batman universe has always been tied in with a colorful array of madmen and criminals. These include one of the most famous villains in comic-book history, the Joker, along with a stacked lineup of equally memorable adversaries, like Catwoman and the Penguin.

So, how does an actor put their own spin on a supervillain as beloved as these — and in a pantheon that includes the likes of Jack Nicholson, Eartha Kitt, and Heath Ledger? Gilardi breaks that down for us as he watches and critiques four Jokers, two Catwomen, a Riddler, a Penguin, a Scarecrow, and more.

When it comes to building a villain’s mythos, many actors make use of what Gilardi calls "shtick" — a character’s unique set of mannerisms and quirks, which add another unsettling layer to their presence in any scene. Gilardi looks at how different actors developed their signature Batman villain tics, from Heath Ledger’s lip-smacking to Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman purr. He breaks down how Kitt used her famous voice and eyes to play up Catwoman’s feline nature in the "Batman" TV show; how Tom Hardy nailed the Bane voice in "The Dark Knight Rises"; and how Margot Robbie gave Harley Quinn a singsong cadence in "Suicide Squad." Gilardo also evaluates cases where actors were less successful with their shtick, from Uma Thurman’s take on Poison Ivy in the much maligned "Batman & Robin" to Jared Leto’s panned turn as the Joker in 2016’s "Suicide Squad."

But the best villains are much more than a bundle of creepy affectations and maniacal laughter; they’re well-rounded characters, portrayed with complexity and moral ambiguity on screen. Gilardi explains how an actor like Jack Nicholson or Joaquin Phoenix channels their character’s backstory into their actions and mannerisms — and how some of the more divisive performances, like Jim Carrey’s Riddler or Danny DeVito’s Penguin, tend to fall short in this dimension. Beyond character history, Gilardi looks at how actors establish complex motivation for their villain and convey what makes their characters tick. In "Batman Begins," for example, he examines how Cillian Murphy developed a specific set of behavioral triggers for Dr. Jonathan Crane, the mad scientist known to his victims as the Scarecrow. And in "The Dark Knight," he analyzes how Heath Ledger expressed the nihilism of the Joker through all the minutiae of his performance. Everything, from Ledger’s gait, posture, and vocal inflection to the way he slaps on his Joker makeup, expresses the forces of chaos that drive the Clown Prince of Crime.

Gilardi emphasizes the importance of locating the humanity in each of Batman’s famous foes, no matter how depraved their actions may be. As a case study, Gilardi evaluates Jack Nicholson’s legendary turn as the Joker in 1989’s "Batman" — a performance that captures what Gilardi calls "liberated madness," which ultimately serves to humanize the Caped Crusader’s main nemesis. He also examines how Joaquin Phoenix’s character study in the 2019 standalone film "Joker" adds a sympathetic side to the Clown Prince’s origins. In particular, Gilardi breaks down the genius of the bathroom scene, an improvised dance that marks the beginning of Arthur Fleck’s transformation into antihero.

For more from Anthony Gilardi:


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Pro Acting Coach Breaks Down 12 Batman Villain Performances | Good & Bad Acting