SURE, FRANK GORSHIN may look like a banker from suburbia, tucked in the back of a Manhattan cafe in a black overcoat and plaid scarf. But even without the green leotard, Gorshin’s laugh — thick as resin, laced with a cackle — is a dead giveaway to his bad-guy past. Back when Jim Carrey was nothing but a class clown, it was Gorshin who snickered to fame as the Riddler on TV’s Batman series. ”It afforded me a lot of things, in the way of financial success and recognition,” Gorshin says. ”But being known as the Riddler all this time, there’s always that feeling: ‘Gee, I wish there was something else they would recognize me for.”’
There’s still hope. Like old Batman baddies from Julie Newmar to Eartha Kitt, Gorshin has been cooking up a kind of comeback by banking on his camp clout. He recently played a lawyer who tangles with Superman on ABC’s Lois & Clark; in 12 Monkeys, he plays a creepy, lip-clucking shrink who interrogates Bruce Willis. ”He’s a wonderful dramatic actor,” raves director Terry Gilliam. Despite a lucrative life doing impersonations in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the 62-year-old Gorshin had been wasting his cackle on screen oddities like Meteor Man, Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers, and Mr. Payback. ”When something of less quality comes along, and it’s a chance to do something, it’s tough to say no,” he explains. Monkeys is a big step up, but he confesses that the time-twisting thriller left even the Riddler perplexed: ”I was confused when I read the script!”
Gorshin, who lives in Connecticut with his wife of 35 years, Christina, creates his own kind of time warp. He freely refers to Las Vegas luminaries like Perry Como and Buddy Hackett, but still hasn’t watched Batman Forever. ”I really wasn’t crazy about seeing somebody else playing a role that I had done before,” he says, ”but I was flattered to know that Jim Carrey was going to play it.” Nor is he sure why that lip-smacking scene in 12 Monkeys has the crowd in stitches. ”I didn’t do it to be funny. Of course, you’re always flattered to hear that your work is enjoyed, but I couldn’t imagine why.” Riddle me that.