If you’ve ever watched the movie adaptation of DC Comics’ The Joker, then you know the character actor known as the Riddler, Harvey Keitel. Keitel portrays the infamous gangster with such conviction that it’s easy to understand why the world regards him as one of the greatest film villains of all time. Few other celebrity cameos in film history compare to Keitel’s work as the Riddler. And while his performance is certainly memorable, it’s his reaction to the casting news that truly makes the encounter unforgettable.
The news that Keitel would be appearing in a Batman movie was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter in early September 2016. At the time, Keitel was still making headlines for his part in Quentin Tarantulin’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantulin had originally intended for the scene featuring Keitel to be a silent cameo. But after the actor read the script, he demanded to be included in the movie.
The appearance of Keitel as the Riddler in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was initially met with widespread praise. But that quickly turned to criticism when fans began comparing his performance to that of another actor: Robert Pattinson. Here’s a clip of the Riddler capturing credit for the Joker’s 1989 television season premiere:
The Riddle Of The Season
In the scene, Keitel delivers a monologue about the Joker: his elaborate scheme, his fondness for balloons, and how he will eventually murder the entire Batman family.
But perhaps the most memorable bit comes at the very end, when he asks, “Who’s the riddle man?” To which the Joker responded, “You are, Harvey!”
Fans were quick to point out the apparent similarities between the two characters. But many also felt that Pattinson stole the scene, particularly the last line. He reportedly recorded multiple versions of the line with different accents and with or without the word “the” in front of it.
Keitel’s memorable performance as the Riddler has left an enduring impression on viewers. But what’s more impressive is that he turned in a performance that critics and audiences alike have said is very similar to the late, great Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character in the 1980 movie The Shining. Here’s a clip from that movie:
A Closer Look
If you study both actors’ performances in closer detail, it’s easy to see that Nicholson and Keitel both capture the essence of the infamous character: The Shining and its sequel, The New York Shines. Both movies are about a haunted house and the horrific things that happen inside it. But while The Nightmare Franchise is largely famous for its over-the-top performances and special effects, it’s the quiet, subtle way in which Nicholson and Keitel’s performances change throughout the film that makes their characters so memorable.
And similarly, while most people know Robert Pattinson from his acting work, it’s his work behind the scenes that have won him a dedicated following. The Twilight Saga: New Moon, in particular, became almost immediately popular after its theatrical premiere in 2009. The soft-spoken actor delivered an Oscar-worthy performance as troubled teenager Jacob Black. It wasn’t just about the acting though. It was his dedication to the film that saw him put in twelve-hour days, often shooting several scenes in a single day. Because of this, he developed a deep, dark tan, spending much of the movie with a sunniness around his face rather than full-spectrum grayish-brown skin as the rest of us mere mortals.
What’s most impressive about Nicholson and Keitel is not just how closely their performances as the Riddler and the Joker resemble each other. It’s how much they managed to keep in while still keeping their true personalities. At the time of this writing, Keitel is the oldest actor to ever play the role of the Joker. He is now 83. But it’s clear that he still enjoys working and continues to be committed to his craft. And while there’s no question that he’s lost a bit of his sparkle, his talent is still undimmed.