The Batman Director Reveals Origin of Unseen Arkham Prisoner Cameo

Warning: this story contains spoilers for The Batman. "One day you're on top, the next day you're a clown," a shadowy Arkham inmate tells a captured Riddler (Paul Dano) in the final moments of The Batman. The mystery character is played by Barry Keoghan, credited as "Unseen Arkham Prisoner." But a hyena-like laugh gives away his true identity: the Joker. In a new interview, director Matt Reeves reveals the origins of Keoghan's "early days version" of the Clown Prince of Crime and if the Joker will be the villain of The Batman 2.

"What's interesting is that the reason that Joker's in the movie is there was actually another scene that was earlier. And because the movie is not an origin tale for Batman, but it's his early days, it really is an origin tale for the Rogue's Gallery's characters," Reeves told IGN. "And for me, I think [it's] this idea that the Joker is not yet the Joker, but they already have this relationship." 

In the deleted scene planned for home release, Batman (Robert Pattinson) interviews Keoghan's proto-Joker to profile the Riddler. In The Batman, Dano's Edward Nashton is an enigmatic serial killer leaving a trail of cryptic clues and messages addressed to the Dark Knight detective. 

"It's a scene where Batman is so unnerved because the Riddler is writing to him. And he's like, 'Well, why is this guy writing to me?' And he figures he's got to profile this killer," Reeves said. "He goes to see another killer that he's clearly had an experience with in these first two years. And this killer in this story is not yet the character that we come to know, right? So everybody's in their infancy. So in the comics, these characters often declare their alter egos in response to the fact that there's a Batman out there. And so here, we have a Joker who's not yet the Joker."

Reeves' version of the Joker is a homage to Conrad Veidt's Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs, the 1928 silent film that influenced the comic book character. 

"In the scene that you'll see in the future, you'll see that we worked on what he looked like. And he's held in this very suspenseful way, away from you visually. But I wanted to create an iteration of him that felt distinctive and new, but went right back to the roots," Reeves explained. "So he's very much out of the Conrad Veidt mold and that idea of the silent film of The Man Who Laughs."

Most versions of the character depict the Joker as a criminal who falls into a vat of chemicals, giving him his clown-like appearance. The Batverse re-imagines Keoghan's Joker as a more grounded — and more tragic — version suffering from a congenital disease. 

"He can never stop smiling. And it made Mike [Marino, prosthetic makeup designer] and I think about — I was talking about The Elephant Man because I love David Lynch. And I was like, 'Well, maybe there's something here where it's not something where he fell in a vat of chemicals or it's not the [Christopher] Nolan thing where he has these scars and we don't know where they came from," Reeves said. "What if this is something that he's been touched by from birth and that he has a congenital disease that refuses to let him stop smiling? And he's had this very dark reaction to it, and he's had to spend a life of people looking at him in a certain way and he knows how to get into your head.'"

Reeves continued, "So [it's] this idea of him being very incisive and brilliant and being able to get into your mind and basically having this nihilistic point of view that's like from his inception, from his birth, life has been a cruel joke on him. And this is his response, and he's eventually going to declare himself as a clown, declare himself as the Joker. That was the idea."

Reeves described Keoghan's shadowy cameo as "a pre-Joker Joker," adding the scene is not necessarily a hook for a fully-realized Joker to be the villain of a second movie.

"That's just one example of how trouble in Gotham is never going to subside. There's always going to be somebody with a plan afoot," Reeves said of the scene teasing an alliance between new "friends" Riddler and Joker. "So the scene is not meant to be there to say, 'Oh, here's an Easter egg. The next movie is X.' I don't know that the Joker would be in the next movie, but I can tell you that here's what you're seeing, is an early days version of this character, and trouble, as always, is brewing in Gotham." 

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