"Quick" Debates and Secret Screen Tests: How Robert Pattinson Became Batman

Director Matt Reeves, who picked the 'Twilight' star over Nicholas Hoult, is said to have screen-tested both actors in a Batsuit from a previous Caped Crusader film.
Austin Hargrave
Robert Pattinson

Two weeks ago, a black jacket-clad Robert Pattinson faced flashbulbs and reporters at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of his period drama, The Lighthouse. When one guest approached him at the reception and said, “I heard you were the new Batman,” he offered only a sly smile and stayed mum.

In reality, Pattinson was not the Caped Crusader…just yet. Hours after his Cannes duties in designer duds, he would be on a plane to Los Angeles to face perhaps the biggest test of his acting career: putting on a Batsuit for director Matt Reeves, who is casting The Batman.

That test was officially passed Friday, when Warner Bros. announced that Pattinson had won the role. The decision was the culmination of an intense process that insiders describe as surprisingly quick. As opposed to most superhero casting efforts, which often include far-and-wide searches and dozens of screen tests for the likes of Superman or more recently, Spider-Man, the Batman process was notably smooth.

“It was quick,” says one Warners insider. “Quicker than normal.”

Reeves, who was hired to write and direct a new Batman movie in February 2017, was envisioning actors while penning the script, according to sources familiar with the filmmaker’s thinking. It helped that this new Batman needed to conform to a defined age bracket. He is written as around 30 years old, and the story is neither another rehashing of his origin nor the tale of a seasoned crimefighter ruling Gotham City. He is Bruce Wayne still trying to find his footing on his way to becoming the genius detective.

This, of course, eliminated Ben Affleck, as THR first reported back in July 2017. (Affleck and Warner Bros. denied the recasting at the time because the actor, who had played the role in Batman v Superman and Justice League, was to have headlined his own stand-alone movie that was sidelined when the studio began rethinking its superhero strategy.)

Reeves is said to have considered Pattinson, 33, early on in the process, says one source, even though no outreach was made. Reeves didn’t even know if the actor wanted the part. Since Pattinson shot to fame as a heartthrob vampire in the Twilight films, he has built a solid résumé in smaller, well-reviewed independent films like Good Time and Maps to the Stars. He has assiduously avoided big studio franchise films.

But that fact actually made him more attractive to Reeves and the executive team at Warner Bros. Specifically, Pattinson has not yet appeared in a Marvel Studios movie, and name-brand actors not working for the DC Comics rival are becoming few and far between. While there are no contract provisions prohibiting Marvel actors from appearing in DC/Warner Bros. movies and vice versa, execs believe that cross-pollination dilutes both brands and can cause confusion for audiences, especially from a marketing point of view.

Nicholas Hoult, 29, who became Pattinson’s chief rival later in the process, had been appearing as Hank McCoy, aka the Beast, in the X-Men movies. But Warners execs didn’t disqualify him because the X-Men flicks are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are ensemble in nature and Hoult spent large chunks of those movies unrecognizable as a furry blue mutant.

Reeves is said to have spent hours poring over the two actors’ work and met with them in April. Pattinson has far more name recognition than Hoult, but it was his work in Good Time and High Life, among others, that Reeves kept on coming back to. Hoult, too, had impressed the deliberate filmmaker, known for his thought-provoking work on the Planet of the Apes franchise, with The Favourite this winter.

The two actors in short order became the only contenders, and during the week of May 20, when Pattinson flew in from Cannes, both shot screen tests in costume on the Burbank lot. Each had a pre-negotiated deal in place, ready to go into effect for whoever had the final contingency lifted, the screen test.

Pattinson and Hoult put on a suit from a previous Batman movie, as has become customary in the Bat-test process. (Christian Bale, before landing Batman Begins, performed his test in the suit used by Val Kilmer in 1995’s Batman Forever, for instance.) Did they embody the character? How did their eyes look and act? Is there a specialness to them? Those were the questions Reeves and the studio wanted answered.

“(Reeves) wanted very specific things,” says one insider. “He knew what he was looking for.”

Reeves and Warners execs took the week after Memorial Day to deliberate their choices, and by Thursday night, made the calls to the actors. The Batman who would lead the studio into the 2020s had been found.

Pattinson now moves on to the next stage: getting fitted for his own Batsuit, and training for a shoot that will likely take place in early 2020.