The film, which was famously directed by Tim Burton and arrived as the sequel to the 1989 film Batman, starred DeVito alongside the likes of Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and more. The project turned out to be a critical and commercial success, DeVito heavily praised for his portrayal of the Penguin, a bile spitting villain who was attempting to kill all the first-born sons of Gotham.
DeVito, who was suggested for the role by his friend Jack Nicholson after the success of the first film in which Nicholson played the role of the Joker, took his commitment to the Penguin to the absolute limit and, on one occasion, it nearly left him with an eye-watering injury.
Given the amount of makeup and costume required to make the character complete, DeVito would spend four hours per day preparing himself to be on set. In one particular scene, in which an acting monkey was hired to deliver a note from the Penguin to Batman, it was that extensive costume that came to his rescue.
While appearing on The Graham Norton Show, the host brings up the subject of working with animals, prompting DeVito to recall the time he worked with the small spider monkey. “Yeah that was horrifying,” the actor said with a serious tone as the audience began to chuckle. “That was a horrifying experience,” he continued.
Detailing further, DeVito explained as director Tim Burton demonstrated how the scene was planned and asked the monkey trainer to run through the procedure. Moments later, as the test run was completed without any issues, DeVito was happy to step up to the plate and get into character. “I put this mouthwash, kind of black and dark green mouthwash in my mouth so that when I talked the Penguin stuff would ooze out and drip down,” explained DeVito while doing the voice of his now-iconic role.
“It was a long staircase and the monkey was delivering a note to The Penguin from Batman,” DeVito recalled. “They had a handler or whatever on the top of the thing and there was a person down below and they called the monkey with the note.”
He added. “They roll the cameras, monkey comes down the steps, I walk over in the Penguin… the monkey looked at me, froze, and then leapt right at my balls. Swear to God it was horrifying.
“Thank god it was a padded costume. We took off the suit and there was a huge chunk taken out of it,” he said. “So we did it again.”