The Case for Paul Walter Hauser, by Tyler Smith
It was recently reported that actors Josh Gad and Paul Walter Hauser have both launched their own social media campaigns to play The Penguin in the upcoming Batman film. And, while an argument could certainly be made for Gad, whose theatricality would be a good fit, I personally feel that Hauser could do wonders with the part.
At this point, Gad is certainly the better known quantity, with Hauser recognized more for his recent roles in I, Tonya and BlacKkKlansman. However, I feel that this is actually an asset for Hauser. While the audience would have a hard time not comparing Gad’s performance to his past work, our knowledge of Hauser is limited, which would allow him to more fully embody the role and the audience to more easily accept it.
Of course, it is more than Hauser’s public profile that recommends him for The Penguin. He is also a remarkably talented actor, able to play the humor of his characters while never negating the deep well of instability they contain.
As Shawn Eckhardt in I, Tonya, Hauser showed us a man who, while undeniably dim, is also very delusional. As Shawn puts forth one untrue story after another about himself, we wonder if he is lying, or has actually convinced himself that he is, in fact, a counterterrorism expert. These moments, combined with the character’s constant need to stay “four steps ahead”, work to create a deeply megalomaniacal person, constantly trying to prove himself and willing to go to great lengths to do so.
Similarly, in BlacKkKlansman, Hauser plays a character who is perpetually suspicious, while also gleefully open about his disdain for those he considers to be inferior. While this character also is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he is nonetheless intimidating, partially due to his physical heft, but also the cold, callous look in his eye when he feels insulted. There is a moment in the film when Hauser’s character, Ivanhoe, stares silently at the lead – a black police officer – before abruptly leaving the room. It is unnerving, because we are forced to imagine what this man may be thinking in that moment, knowing that it is likely very cruel.
That Hauser can play these types of characters – not to mention the dozens of others in his filmography – without an ounce of self consciousness is notable. It would be very easy to play these men with a wink, letting the audience know that the performer is, in fact, much smarter than the parts he’s playing. But Paul Walter Hauser never does this. Instead, he commits fully to the parts he is playing, never judging, always trying to figure out what drives them. This is what is required when playing an effective villain, and I think Paul Walter Hauser could play The Penguin in a way that is both entertaining and extremely chilling.