This season on Gotham has been dubbed “Rise of the Villains” and it’s no wonder why. With the confirmed additions of Hugo Strange, Mr. Freeze, and a genderbent Firefly, Gotham City is just getting a taste of what the future holds for the city’s rogues gallery. One of the more interesting revelations of the series this season though has been Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma embracing his “Dark Nygma” persona.
Major spoilers inclosed for those not caught up, but for fans who saw last week’s episode know it’s quite a game changer for Smith’s future as the Riddler.
Previously on Gotham, Nygma had killed Officer Tom Dougherty, who was abusing Ed’s love interest Ms. Kristen Kringle, played by Chelsea Spack. With Dougherty removed, Ed sought after the mousey lab worker and after a night of passion, Nygma confessed to killing her former lover. Then, when Kringle tried to leave, realizing that Nygma’s mild mannerisms were a front to his potentially psychopathic tendencies, he accidentally choked her to death all the while professing his love.
Newsarama caught up with Smith to talk about Nygma’s double murders and what they mean for his character and if this is indeed the start of his criminal career, as well as where does his character go from here.
Newsarama: So, Cory, Edward kills Ms. Kringle in a crime of passion after he revealed to her that you were also behind the murder of Tom Dougherty. What do you think where his head is now? Do you yourself almost feel sorry for him?
Cory Michael Smith: [Pauses] Well, what do you mean? Because now this is two homicides, but done unintentionally. That’s pretty awful. He’s a murderer and doesn’t even intend to be. Do I feel sorry for him? I mean, I can’t. I think the only way for him to recover, or to move forward, is to make sure you don’t get caught doing something horrible and just buck it up and move on. So he’s not really taking care of the scar tissue, which I think will come back to bite him.
When you kill somebody, you know the next thing to do [laughs]...not that I know this personally...is figure out what to do and not cry over the body. What we’re going to see is his alter ego, which of course is Ed himself, but this other part of him is the one that is going to be instigated.
Nrama: Ed still has a long life ahead of villainy, but with this season is being called the "Rise of the Villains," do you think this is Ed’s turning point?
Smith: This is certainly one of them, yes. What was so exciting is where we started Ed Nygma, which was so far away from this as possible. He was nimble, light, giddy, well-meaning...and you want him to be this outrageous super villain, there’s still quite a ways to go. If we’re speeding down hill a large mountain, this is one of those times you get some air, you know? This is certainly a major turning point.
Nrama: What was your first reaction when you got the script? How much in advanced had you known this was their fate?
Smith: I knew it was coming. I had been warned of it. It was very, very sweet. I adore Chelsea Spack and we’ve had such a great time together and I hate to see her go. There were other ways for the story to go, on the other hand this is the more exciting choice. I love that it was another unintentional death. I love that the one person who had shown andy sincere fondness for me, I have destroyed. It’s quite tragic! This has now set up some exciting storylines for the rest of the season that stick.
Nrama: So what is the creative process of you making this transition from this mild-mannered individual to go to this person who has such...I don’t even want to say luck, but who is faced with these situations?
Smith: Well, it is pretty bad luck for sure. You know I feel like everything is dominoed into the next event. There’s a really exciting next step in the evolution of the Riddler that comes in episode 7 that will help him in the future adopt his identity of the Riddler. It’s really a brilliant surprising choice where the brilliance of the writing astound me. It’s a very unique choice and at first he’s very “I don’t understand it”....but what you’re asking though is that 7 plays a major part in the evolution of Ed moving forward having murdered Kristen and what that means to him in having to get rid of the body.
Nrama: Right! He’s not a career killer of any sort. He’s worked in forensics so he knows his way in that science, so where does he go from here? What is the next step in all of this for him?
Smith: We will see. It’s a very exciting episode because there are two parts to this story as well as Ed himself. Maybe, just maybe, they have different ideas on what to do with the body and how to respond after. Part of him wants to get away with it, but the other part wants him to quietly turn himself in because the horrible stuff he’s done will weigh on his conscience for the rest of his life. Or he could try to get away with it and try to move on and recover. These two options, these two parts of him, are going to be at war and we know one part of him is more aggressive and strong-willed than the other.
Nrama: Do you think Ed considers himself a villain?
Smith: No, I don’t think so. No, because he didn’t mean to do that and the whole reason for sharing with her that he killed Dougherty was because he thought she underestimated him. He loved her so much, he wanted her to know everything. He’s not a bad guy. Everything he’s done has been out of love including trying to keep her in the apartment and try to explain to her that he loves her. Everything has been out of love, so know, he doesn’t feel that way yet.
Nrama: Riddler hasn’t been seen in a lot of live-action interpretations. There’s Frank Gorshin, Jim Carrey, and you. So when you’re trying to get into the mind of Edward Nygma, not Riddler, where do you turn to?
Smith: In terms of his spirit, it’s not difficult for me to be enthusiastic and giddy about things. Where the fun comes in is when people respond to his childlike glee and the awkwardness that comes after. Now, the really fun part is in episode 6 he changes so quickly and working towards to becoming a supervillain and a lot of the qualities that this person has start adopting. His spirit darkens a little bit, his voice starts to change a little more into the other Nygma. They start to become the same, which has been really fun for me. This is him dropping all sorts of adolescence and start becoming into adulthood.
Nrama: There seems to be this dark evolution for most of the cast. Is that darkness something you want Nygma to embrace more?
Smith: What is going to be really fun is as Edward becomes engaged into the crime culture of Gotham, the people he gets enthusiastic about starts to shift. Work was the thing that I loved and the people I loved were at work. Now, or in the future, work can be a dangerous place to because I am a criminal, though unintentionally, so that’s not a happy comfortable place. How I behave there will be changing very quickly and the fun thing about the Riddler is that he’s such a joyful villain, but the joy is found in other ways and the type that people start to be attracted to.
Nrama: When you got the role and things started coming along, were you given any specific Riddler stories to look to if you needed it?
Smith: Yeah, absolutely! The first person who gave me comics was my rep, Darren. He gave me a little care package. One I really liked was Run, Riddler, Run! and one that really freaked me out was The Riddle Factory.
Nrama: Oh, that’s a good one.
Smith: Yeah, because that one in spirit is similar to episode three where Jerome locks everybody in and plays ringmaster and really just fucks with people. It was the one where, in a modern day context, that I understood how the Riddler can be the energetic, joyful character, but also cause a lot of havoc and be incredibly dangerous and in no way remorseful for his actions.
Nrama: I mean, I’m biased towards him, but I think he’s absolutely a legitimate threat.
Smith: Yeah! The thing is earlier on he was fun and games, you know, and as we’ve evolved and moved forward I guess the level of danger needs to be turned up a notch which I think is a good thing. For better or for worse, I think the media and storytelling today is incredibly aggressive and violent and for somebody to actually feel like a genuine threat, they have to be terrifying.
That doesn’t mean that they have to be automatically gorey or the person with the highest body count, but there has to be something sincerely disturbing about them. When you read The Riddle Factory...there’s something about that it is truly disturbing. It just shows how somebody’s whose trademark is a riddle, which arguably could be a very silly thing, how that could be transformed into something haunting.
Nrama: If there could be anything from the Riddler’s mythos, whether it’s Echo and Query, or a cane of some kind, issues with his parents, what would you want to bring into the show?
Smith: I like that question, thanks for asking that! I had initially thought that there would be a scene with parents and childhood as there’s certainly a theme of parents in the show. We’ve met Oswald’s parents and we know that his father is coming and Paul Rubens will be playing him. We know that Selina doesn’t have parents around and Bruce lost his. Ivy, her parents are gone as well. We haven’t touched or talked about Edward’s childhood, so maybe we’ll visit that, or maybe not. I don’t know if it’s necessary or helpful at this point. It almost seems like it would cloud the momentum going forward, but that was something I thought we would visit.
Query and Echo is something I am very interested in. Early on I was like I wonder if their intention with Kristen Kringle was to be one of these women, but that is clearly not what happens. I’m very interested in that because I think that’s so cool. I find their relationship so interesting personally because there’s these two beautiful women and there doesn’t seem to be a sexual relationship. Will we see Edward deal with reconciling losing the one love of his life and what that means for him? It’s very interesting to me because it seems like we could see Edward become asexual.
Nrama: See, I agree with that! That’s who Eddie is to me. He doesn’t care about that sort of thing because he just thinks on a higher plane than most people.
Smith: Right! Earlier on I had this woman scream at me [via Twitter] when we introduced Kristen Kringle “This is SO wrong! THIS IS SO WRONG!” saying he doesn’t have any romantic endeavors. So I texted her back and said do you wonder how somebody gets to be that way and that’s the story we’re telling. For him to swear it off as this is his one weakness...and if you don’t want to be a weak person anymore, you cut off anything that could potentially harm you.
Nrama: Completely agree there. So, lastly, I want to have some fun. I have a riddle for you, let’s see if you can solve it.
Smith: Oh, God! [laughs]
Nrama: What is the beginning of the end, the end of time, the middle of yesterday, but nowhere in tomorrow?
Smith: [pauses] Oh, E! [laughs] That’s awesome.