GOTHAM's Future Penguin: Taylor's 'Weirdly Poignant, Totally Creepy' Role

Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot on GOTHAM with 40 lookalikes
Credit: Lucas Siegel

The world of Gotham opens to fans tonight, Monday September 22, 2014 at 8pm, letting them into a city full of twisted individuals, even before one of the citizens puts on a bat costume and terrorizes criminals. The pilot introduces a lot to fans, with a few moments spent with nearly every main character, all through the yes of Jim Gordon, the new cop in Gotham City. His interaction with a young Oswald Cobblepot provide the two standout scenes in the opening episode, and that’s in no small part due to the acting of Robin Lord Taylor.

Taylor plays the man who will become The Penguin in a much more twisted, yet vulnerable, take than we’ve seen in live action before. Don’t expect much comedy from this Cobblepot – when he laughs, it’s more likely to send a chill down your spine than make you chuckle along.

In a promotional stunt for the pilot, Fox hired forty lookalikes to patrol New York City, the closest thing to a real-world Gotham, giving out goodies and raising awareness about the premiere. Taylor appeared at the start of the event to have a chat with Newsarama about what to expect beyond the pilot, the unique challenges of the series and role, and how it has already changed his life.

Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot on GOTHAM with 40 lookalikes
Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot on GOTHAM with 40 lookalikes
Credit: Lucas Siegel

Newsarama: Robin, I want to get right into it: you get into some pretty dark places really early on here…

Robin Lord Taylor: (laughs) Yeah, we really start off with a bang.

Nrama: You have two scenes in the pilot that are just creepy. What do you do – what do you reach into to find that inside yourself?

Taylor: You know, as an actor you want to play all types of roles. It’s been said before but those darker roles can really be more interesting, because it’s a part of yourself that you don’t ever access in real life, nor would you want to – hopefully! No one should be doing the things that Cobblepot does.

And I’ve said it before, Bruno Heller has created such a solid world, and the words I get to say all make sense to me, and come from a real place. It’s an actor’s dream. It’s an amazing world to step into.

Credit: Fox

Nrama: What’s the most interesting aspect of Oswald Cobblepot as a character to you?

Taylor: To me, it’s his ambition. The size of his ambition is so much greater than he is. What he’s gone through in his life, the way he looks – he’s a bullied kid, all this stuff feeds into his incredible need to not be powerless anymore. That’s by far the most fascinating thing about him to me.

Nrama: In the pilot, there are a couple of small moments of vulnerability and maybe a little fear – are those feelings that Cobblepot is really having, or are those just part of his show?

Taylor: It’s interesting, because he is a person that puts on a show and manipulates people, and that’s his M.O., that’s his strength. But in those huge moments, he does have real fear. He goes right back to that place where he was a kid, not knowing if he’s going to make it. He is truly afraid in those moments.

I get amazing scenes with Carol Kane, who plays my mom, and those come subsequently. But those are also on the opposite end, where there is actual, real mother-son love there. It’s this whole other color that we get to play with. It’s really exciting.

Nrama: I know Bruno has told us that he really likes the idea of taking this origin and trying to see where these characters come from. How do you as an actor prepare to portray the origin of a character that’s this well known and iconic, that’s appeared in comics and movies and TV and video games?

Taylor: Right. Well, I have to say we’re so lucky, because there’s so much freedom here. We’re in really uncharted territory. We know where the Penguin ends up, but not a lot of people know where he starts off. So there’s freedom to make that, to create something that makes sense with what’s down the road, to who he becomes. Again, the way it’s crafted, the way it’s on the page, it reads so richly, it makes so much sense.

Nrama: What about this character have you grasped onto the most, that makes him real to you?

Taylor: I would again say his ambition – coming from just not wanting to be in a place of powerlessness. You feel powerless a lot in your life, especially for me as a working actor over all the years (laughs). I definitely hook into that. To have dreams bigger than what you are. People tell you “you can’t do this,” and to still dream beyond that is something that really inspires me about the character.

Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot/aka The Penguin
Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot/aka The Penguin
Credit: Fox/Warner Bros. TV

Nrama: So obviously, this is a DC Comics character – have you gone through and checked out any comics that feature The Penguin to prep a bit?

Taylor: I have! You see, I’m the luckiest nerd in the world, because I have a direct line to Geoff Johns, the CCO of DC, who is so incredibly nice, and so supportive and into the show! We were at an event, and I thought, “well, I’ll ask him – if anybody knows it’s him!” So I said to him, “If you know of any titles I should read, let me know and I’ll find them when I get back to the city,” and he said, “no no no, what’s your address?” Two days later I get a package from Geoff Johns! It had Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, Batman: Earth One, so I’ve been getting into that. I found an older comic too, one of the Secret Origin specials from like ’89 or something. It’s amazing how much is in there about the character that’s not generally known by people!

Nrama: He’s not the main character, obviously, but check out Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo for an interesting take on the character, and on a bunch of the Bat villains.

Taylor: Great! Yeah! Totally – hold on, let me write that down, I have to check this out. I keep notes – I talk to people and I just want to know everything I can to read.

Nrama: Give our readers one thing from beyond the pilot, one scene, one interaction that you’re really excited for fans to see.

Taylor: I kind of mentioned it before, but the scenes that Penguin has with his mom, played by the amazing Carol Kane. I have been a fan of hers forever; her performance in Scrooged was very formative for me in some way! Not to mention The Princess Bride and all of that. Again, I’m just sitting there wowed – we get to see where he grew up, and there are tender, quieter moments. I think it’s really good for people to see that aspect of the character. It’s great to see that other side of the Gotham City craziness. I think it’ll stand out and be weirdly poignant and also totally creepy, at the same time.

Nrama: Awesome. With this big cast of big people, has any interaction been surprising to you at all?

Taylor: Yeah, I just have to say – I’ve never worked with anyone, well, as famous as like Jada Pinkett Smith. And we have so many incredible scenes together. Our connection as characters is so rich and intense.

Then to have her as a person be so down, and chill, and cool, that was – I wasn’t surprised, but it’s pleasant. It’s a moment of “yes!” just so happy; she’s just as committed to the project as anyone else. There’s no ego on anyone’s end – we’re all just so into creating this world.

Nrama: Are we ever going to get a little Meredith quack in there?

Taylor: (laughs) Meredith quack! I know! I’ve been trying to work on it, to make it natural, but I think I might need a vocal coach or something. I really want to sneak it in there at some point.

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