It’s been 17 years since George Clooney played Batman, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he keeps saying sorry for it. At a surprise appearance at New York Comic-Con last week, Clooney joked that he’d been “disinvited” from fan conventions ever since starring in Batman & Robin. “I just met Adam West and I apologized to him,” he told the panel for his upcoming Tomorrowland. “Sorry for the nipples on the suit.” The apology was just the latest occurrence in Clooney’s years-long campaign to rid himself of the guilt he apparently feels for taking the role. Read a history of Clooney’s mea culpas below — there are heroes of Victorian novels who get over things easier than this guy.
Clooney’s Batman apologetics started in earnest in the early 2000s, after Ocean’s 11 had proven he was bankable and his directorial ambitions had proven he was serious. His status assured, Clooney could afford to be gracious about past missteps. When asked by the New York Times about the low budget for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney told the paper, “I’ve been in those Pluto Nash kind of movies — Batman & Robin cost $160 million — and you know they’re a waste of money.”
In the era of Brokeback Mountain, the actor facetiously tried to reinvent his Batman as the first gay superhero. As he told Barbara Walters, “I was in a rubber suit and I had rubber nipples. I could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay.”
In between watching “2 Girls, 1 Cup” and Wikipedia-ing himself, Clooney spent time with Esquire’s A.J. Jacobs, reading Amazon reviews of his worst movies. The one for Batman & Robin calls it “the kind of thing Ed Wood would have directed if someone had handed him umpty-million dollars and not applied any adult supervision.” At that, Jacobs writes, “Clooney [unleashed] a big laugh. ‘That’s hilarious.’”
In a long interview with Total Film, Clooney explored his Batman feelings at length. “With hindsight it’s easy to look back at this and go ‘Woah [sic], that was really shit and I was really bad in it,’” he told the magazine. Still, he took pains to note that when he mocks the movie, he’s really mocking himself: “It was a difficult film to be good in. I don’t know what I could have done differently. But if I am going to be Batman in the film Batman & Robin, I can’t say it didn’t work and then not take some of the blame for that.”
Clooney returned to the topic of the bat-nipples during an Inside the Actor’s Studio interview. This time, he pled ignorance: “They put nipples on the Batsuit. I didn’t know they would do that,” he told James Lipton. The reason? Clooney was physically incapable of moving his head: “If Batman had to wear the suit that [I] had to wear, everyone [in Gotham City] would die.”
While doing press for Gravity, Clooney was barraged with questions on the Batfleck phenomenon. He demurred, telling Empire, “I am the least qualified person to comment on anyone playing the role of Batman since I so terribly destroyed the part.” By the end of the promo tour, he’d gotten into a groove, riffing to MTV, “The spacesuit [in Gravity] was just uncomfortable for me; the Batsuit was uncomfortable for all of the world.”