Saturday at WonderCon in Anaheim, Californiz, Fox hosted a panel for its series Gotham and gave those in attendance a rare live Q&A with cast and crew, as well as a advance look at scenes from upcoming episodes.
It all begins as the lights dim and there is a thunderous boom in the arena as a sizzle reel of every major event in Gotham up to now. Then they show the first seven minutes of the new episode due April 13. Damian Holbrook takes the stage as moderator.
Executive Producer John Stevens is first to the stage. He is followed Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Oswald Cobblepot), and Cory Michael Smith (Edward Nygma).
Holbrook breaks the ice and points out that this is the first west coast panel dedicated to Gotham. He follows up by asking the actors when they realized that Gotham was connecting with fans. McKenzie says a guy stopped him on New York City street and just yelled “Hey- you’re on a TV show." Taylor says when people try to take ‘creeper’ shots of him on the subway with their cell phones.
Holbrook follows up by laying the groundwork for the panel. He asks how this show came about. McKenzie replies and says Bruno Heller conceived the idea and approached Peter Roth at Warner Bros that he wanted to do an origin story for Batman that surrounded around a young James Gordon. Heller put together a team that built the world of Gotham. After that, McKenzie and Logue signed on and it just snowballed. Heller actually wrote the role with Ben McKenzie in mind. Heller wrote another pilot with McKenzie in mind as the lead before Gotham but it never went to pilot. McKenzie goes on to talk about watching all the origin stories for Batman and how it is imbued with mythology.
Smith acts like he only had a vague idea of what he was going in for when he auditioned. Taylor says he was given blind sides in the audition, which didn’t have any details on the show; it was just the Untitled WB Project. His agent called and said that he was auditioning for Penguin on Gotham but that didn’t affect any of his acting choices. He jokes that he went in for any job because it was all about the health insurance. Smith says that he knew it was Edward Nygma before going in. He says he was called Ned and there were not a lot of details in the sides.
Holbrook asks Ben about how they changed Jim Gordon. McKenzie points out how Bruno Heller put young Jim on the case of the Wayne’s murder to bring him into contact with Bruce earlier. He does this to show how “Jim mentors a young Batman while trying to maintain order in a city that’s falling apart."
Holbrook asks Robin Lord Taylor who Oswald is based on. Holbrook insists that it’s someone real. Taylor charmingly stutters at the acquisition and says he learned that Penguin was a bullied kid, discounted and treated badly. Taylor knows what that feels like, to a degree, and tapped into that to make him more human. “That’s the core of Penguin,” Taylor says.
Holbrook agrees and says that Cory Michael Smith does the same thing: you add a sympathetic humanity. Smith jokes that Jim Gordon is at fault for the Riddler becoming a villain - for not thanking him once! McKenzie says that what’s great about the show is that you root for the villains too. “You want them to succeed and you want to root for Gordon too."
Holbrook asks when Nygma will hit his tipping point. Smith replies that a lot of exciting stuff is coming up and you get to see a lot more coming up in the later episodes. “He is a light guy and enjoys people. But when he reaches a crisis you get to see colors of this person that you haven’t seen this entire season."
Holbrook asks the actors how much research they did and if DC Comics hooked them up with free stuff. Smith says at first they didn’t and then as soon as he asked, DC Comics sent a giant box full of stuff. McKenzie said he actually had lunch with Geoff Johns. Johns said you have to make the character up. “As an actor, you are supposed to interrupt anew." The actors all confirm that they have DC’s full support.
Holbrook holds up the Jim Gordon action figure from DC Comics Designer Series and points out how McKenzie will have to turn into that someday. McKenzie says that this Jim isn’t a boy scout. He jokes that he still wears the wife-beater from The OC, “and I have evolved past The OC,” he jokes. McKenzie finishes, “I get to eat my way into that role but I will have to earn the mustache."
Holbrook points out that even with everything that has happened to Gordon, the character has had two girlfriends and he never leaves work. McKenzie quips “he is still a man."
Holbrook brings up that the audience has finally gotten to see Taylor and Smith together on screen. Stevens points out how there is electricity when they are together on screen. Penguin becomes the Alpha for the first time when Riddler is around. Oswald does not like how much the Riddler knows about him. Taylor adds that “It was a page long scene but it was a lot of fun." Smith chimes in, “we have become fans of each other."
Holbrook asks who on the cast is the most likely to crack up and the panel all agrees that it’s Donald Logue.
Holbrook asks the panel what they thought when Jada Pinkett Smith signed on to the show. Taylor said that Jada is by far the most poised, famous, actor he has ever worked intimately with. “From day one she was so down to earth. Ready to go. No ego at all. Hugs and everything,” he said.
Holbrook jokingly point out that Pinkett Smith has a weird sexual chemistry with everyone on the show. He asks the panel how bad it will be when Fish Mooney gets back Gotham and almost in unison the panel replies, “really really bad”. Taylor says, “It gets intense. My favorite thing about Oswald and Fish is that he still respects her and owes her so much. It’s a complicated dynamic. It’s fraught when they meet and dramatic.”
Smith says, “I would like to see what my interaction is with Bruce Wayne- that’s an interesting piece of mythology."
Holbrook asks McKenzie about the younger actors. McKenzie says that they are some of nicest people. “Just good kids with good parents. Great actors. They listen. There is a great dynamic.” He says, in Gotham, the adults are all screwed but there is hope in the children. “It shows the stakes of the series." Taylor jokes that Ivy freaks them all out. “[Clare Foley] made cookies and everyone was wary of them."
Holbrook asks if the audience can get a couple of hints for what will be on the show in season two. Stevens relents that there are a lot of characters like Mister Freeze that that can play that line of reality before being a villain. “We know where they are headed but having sign posts along the way that will signal we are getting closer to where they end up”. He adds that Jarvis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, is another possibility.
Holbrook asks how have the fans been today on the convention floor. Smith says that no one recognizes him, which is accompanied by pity moans from the audience. “I wore glasses out once and it was a very different experience.”
Taylor says he hasn’t been out today but everyone recognizes him all the time. “Oswald looks like he crawled out of toilet but everyone recognizes me!”
Holbrook asks what the geekiest thing they like is. Taylor, perplexed, says Calvin and Hobbes. “That was my jam.” Smith jokes back, “I can’t believe you got bullied in high school.”
The Q&A session starts. The first question comes from a young kid dressed like Bruce Wayne. He asks how it feels to play such a cool, yet creepy, character. Smith says, with a wink that “I don’t think he is creepy at all.”.He then goes on to say, “It’s great. I think all of us have an inner creep that we don’t get to let out so it’s like therapy."
The next question was about what the actors like about their characters. McKenzie says Gordon’s moral center. “I wish I had it at that depth."
Taylor says he likes Oswald’s ambition. Smith says that it’s been fun to indulge in Edward’s enthusiasm. “People find it odd, but it’s the thing that he uses to terrorize Gotham.”
The next question was for John Stevens on what the audience can expect from Bruce Wayne. Stevens says that Bruce has a duality. There is the Bruce and Batman. “In season two, we will see the public face of who Bruce Wayne is as the playboy. David will like playing two different people."
The next questioner points out Penguin’s high body count and asks where is he hiding the bodies. John laughs, “He kills a lot of people and Bruno says he puts them in the river!”
Another audience member takes the mic and asks if they kept the non-fans in mind when making the show. Steven replies, “Absolutely. We want people to engage who have never heard of Batman but we want to carry on the torch.”
The next question is if there will more B-villains on the show. Stevens says that Clayface and The Mad Hatter will be brought into the show. “Both have great back stories and exploring the origins is a lot of fun.” Holbrook follows up, asking if there will be other DCU characters on the show, to which Stevens replies a flat "no."
The next attendee asks if Batman will be showing up. John says, “We will see Bruce’s development and all of the different elements but we will never see him in the cape and cowl. You see him grow but not put on the outfit.”
Another member of the audience asks what it's like to set up for role. McKenzie says they were all nervous. “They are iconic characters and the fans are passionate- we didn't want to screw them up. The further we get the more relaxed we get.” Taylor adds that the scripts are amazing and the characters have their own language. “Personally I have spent a lot of time in makeup and it helps me physically make Oswald.” Smith adds that it is super helpful reading the comics. “We were given the allowance to make big choices. I realized how different the characters are each decade. Riddler has been a showman and terrorizing. Choose to make someone that is capable of both things”.
The last question of the afternoon is for John Stevens. The audience member asks that since there are so many eras and various technologies in the show, what the exact time period is. John Stevens replies that Danny Cannon created a world that was timeless. “It goes back to world creation. We can push reality in different ways. We want it to feel real. The performances are so emotionally grounded and it makes the world feel more real.”
Holbrook reminds the audience they can catch the next Gotham episode Monday, April 13, 2015, and the panel is met with uproarious applause.