GOTHAM Cast Talks Comic Book Inspiration, Character Evolution

Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin on Gotham
Credit: Fox / WBTV

With Gotham on the air for a month now, fans are getting a little bit more of an idea of who these characters are and where the story could be headed. At New York Comic Con Sunday morning, Newsarama visited the Gotham press room featuring members of the cast. Ben McKenzie, Erin Richards, Donal Logue, Robin Lord Taylor, and Sean Pertwee were in attendance and gave some insight on what lies ahead as well as their inspirations for portrayals of some incredibly well-known characters.

"The whole MO, I think, for me at least, is to bring some real human pathos to these characters we've all grown up with and known and to show sides of them that you've never seen before," said Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot on the show. "That's definitely what I'm trying to do with the Penguin here. Every iteration of the Penguin, you know, like in the future when he's established...the way the scripts are written, it's sort of all right there.

He continued with how Cobblepot has been sort of the easiest job he's ever had. "It's my job to make him human, but I don't want people to sympathize with this psychopath, but you can't help but understand why he does the things he does. I think there's a vulnerability that comes through that, yeah."

On whether he added something to his character that was originally unscripted, Taylor has pretty much stuck to the script so far. "I don't know, not really. I mean, everybody adds a little something here and there in their character's personality because of the actor they are. There are certain things that I have brought that if they had gone in a different direction, there might not have been something there that I did. Like I said, it's fully-realized, though. I put on the nose, I put on the suit, the hair gets done, and I feel like half my work is done. It is transformative, it's like stepping into his skin in that, in a strange way."

Taylor had such high praise for fellow actor Carol Kane, who had picked up some of his character traits in her performance. "She's such a fantastic actress and that's the thing about her is that she pays so much attention to the people she's playing with. She and I rehearsed together in her dressing room and we worked out some stuff." He went on to talk about how they bonded and talked about their own family for a little bit more inspiration. "It makes my job all that much more fulfilling to be working with somebody like her."

Erin Richards, Barbara Kean on Gotham
Erin Richards, Barbara Kean on Gotham
Credit: Lan Pitts

Next up was Erin Richards and what drew her to the role of Barbara Kean, Gordon’s fiancée and eventually his wife. "I was just saying earlier that Bruno Heller has created some great women characters in this series. That was one of the main things that drew me to this role." Richards called Barbara "strong, intelligent, and independent" and very in love with Jim, but there's more to Barbara than what there appears at first. "She has all of these layers of darkness and secrets that will become more obvious as the show goes on. I think playing a role like that is a gift."

And what about those secrets she has? Richards stated that they will eventually drive a wedge between her and Jim down the road. "Even though she is so devoted to Jim, and dedicated to their love, they are both hiding things in their lives that when things are revealed, there's going to be a big clash. So yeah. they are trying to get it together, but that's the big question in this series is will their relationship stand the test of all of these secrets."

One of the bigger secrets, that was just revealed to Gordon, and teased in the premiere, is her former relationship with Renee Montoya. "They obviously have a background and she had her time with Montoya and that is obviously affecting her now. She's questioning why she did that and what sort of led her to that and how that affects her and Jim. You'll just have to keep watching to find out."

Richards commented on the fact that she and Jim have to remain together since the two have a daughter, eventually. "That's true, but you never know what's going to happen in the meantime. We have to stick to the story somewhat, but DC has given us quite a free range here. I wouldn't be so sure that things go well in the long run."

Apparently, though, they aren't going to have Barbara clash with Sarah Essen, who had a brief tryst with Jim in the comic book Batman: Year One. "Yeah, I don't think we're going along that line. We're allowed to do some weaving of our own, so not entirely sure about that one."

Richards did tease a particular moment coming up for Barbara that may take some people off guard.?"Episode seven is a big one for me, and everyone, because she does something there that is a bit of a wrench."

Richards also said she was hardly a "Bat-virgin" going into this project. "I was a really big fan of Batman. I used to actually dress up as Batman as a kid and put on plays for my family and made them all watch. So, no, I was a really big fan and watched all the movies as they came out. I was a huge fan of the Burton films when they came out; they were great! Batman has always been my favorite character. I know it might sound like I'm just saying this, but he really was." She continued laughing and told the story about how there is probably a video of her dressed as Batman somewhere. She did admit to not being too informed about the original comic world and did some heavy research. "I still went back and read over some of the comics. I wasn't as familiar with the comics as I was the films, so I rewatched them as well, even though I made a New Years Resolution that I wouldn't rewatch any movies this year, I let that one slide. Then I went back and read Year One."

She then talked a bit about what her working relationship is like with Ben McKenzie. "It's so lovely to work with somebody who I get along with so well and really trust. I feel like every scene we do, there's a sense of excitement and I think he likes our scenes because he has his every day detective work that he has to be the hard detective man, but when he gets home he gets to be softer and have this other side to him revealed."

It was also noted how badly Jim needs Barbara's support right now, Richards laughed. "I know, it's a shame that he can't really trust her, either. Poor Jim. The only good man in Gotham."

Ben McKenzie, Jim Gordon on Gotham
Ben McKenzie, Jim Gordon on Gotham
Credit: Lan Pitts

Speaking of Ben McKenzie, when he was asked about providing the voice of Batman, for the animated adaptation of Year One, and if it gave him any idea on who Gordon was, McKenzie agreed.

"Maybe, it does," he said. "It was nice to read Year One while we were doing that and to sort of refamiliarize myself with the mythology as an adult as opposed to when I first read that as a kid because it does change. One of the signs of the story is that it's universally loved and you can appreciate it at whatever age you're at. A 10 year old boy or girl can appreciate Batman in some certain elements and an adult can appreciate the same story for different reasons. One of the things that is great about performing in this role in this context is that it’s kind of acting out your fantasies, being 12 years-old and playing with your brother in your backyard of your house in Texas, playing cops and robbers," McKenzie smirked, "but playing with an adult sensibility, which is what Gotham has. It has fun, but it's still adult, which gives it the best of both worlds."

As for looking to other portrayals for inspiration for his character? McKenzie was keeping it pretty close to how he envisioned it "because you can't do an impression of somebody else." He continued with how he grew up watching the old Adam West show and others in the same role. "I'm also familiar with Pat Hingle's performance, and of course Gary Oldman, but you can't study other people's portrayal of this character even if they were portraying them at the same time, it wouldn't really help. It would block you from personalizing the character."

As for Gordon's trademark 'stache anytime soon? McKenzie is pretty doubtful. "Maybe at the very last season," he chuckled.

It was observed that Gordon is constantly going through this evolution where he's a good character that has to take a dip in the dark side. Did McKenzie think there was a point where he goes so deep that there's no turning back? "That's a lot of what the first season is about because he makes a decision in the pilot that is the morally correct decision, which is to not take the life of Oswald Cobblepot, only to have Oswald return three weeks later and immediately he realizes the ramifications: he's created a supervillain, essentially. So he learns from experiences like that and unfortunately in Gotham, the morally correct decision is not always the decision that will yield the best results."

He also talked about Gordon's sudden interest in Bruce Wayne. "Jim sees Bruce in himself as Jim lost his father when he was Bruce's age and that's what bonds them at the site of the Wayne murders. He just senses that this young man is in pain. In addition to that, Bruce being the son of Thomas and Martha Wayne, he is a figurehead in the community. He is the Boy Prince, in a way." McKenzie stated that he sees Gotham having some sort of medieval political structure with everybody now wanting to be in charge with the Waynes removed. "The Waynes were this moral force in Gotham and so with their murders, that goes away, and Bruce has to rise to the occasion. Jim is trying to save him from effectively sliding down the same moral slope that he himself is slipping on."

Finally, McKenzie talked about Jim's relationship with Barbara and if the trust is there. "I don't know if he's suspicious of them now, but the episode that aired [Monday, the 13th] things happen and he may have a new understanding on who she is. Where we've picked them up, they're both sort of lying to each other and lying to themselves. They're approximating a successful relationship between two successful people, but they're hiding things from one another."

Donal Logue, Harvey Bullock on Gotham
Donal Logue, Harvey Bullock on Gotham
Credit: Lan Pitts

Donal Logue, who plays Harvey Bullock in the series, is the first live-action version of the character and he was asked how he's trying to make him more empathetic. "You know I think that's kinda the deal with every character you play," he said. "I mean. a great example, and I'm not comparing myself at all here, but when you see Ralph Fiennes in "Schindler's List" for the first time, he's not playing some cardboard cut-out Nazi. Every one is human, so how does he rationalize what he's doing is right? You have to be slightly empathetic for people to feel you and to have it sort of cloudy and difficult. Once you're a straight up bad guy and there's no redeeming qualities, it's boring for you and boring for people to watch. I also think that sometimes in the comics that Harvey Bullock came up and saved the day!" Logue called Bullock a "complicated guy."

Logue also mentioned how he had a better idea of who Bullock was while reading Gotham Central. "It's like whoa this guy's an asshole! He's certainly non-PC, and that's the universe we can't produce on TV on 8 o'clock, but what makes it easy, too, is that what I do is sort of dictate it by the scenes that are coming down the pipe that we get. They kind of tell us where my relationship is supposed to go in that scene and, as you know, Ben and I are super close so that makes it really easy for us to play antagonists. I do think that Bullock is more of a comic foil in this world than he is in other worlds."

He commented on how tight a ship showrunner Bruno Heller and director Danny Cannon run and allow the actors to have an incredible amount of input. "It probably makes their life a lot harder, but it's fun for us."

If Bullock reflects the city differently than Gordon, as he's a long-time resident whereas Gordon is a transplant, Logue completely agreed. "Oh, absolutely, yeah! It's like with any big city, with any engrained culture, of old school criminal elements and Mafioso types. Sometimes he goes 'you need to work with those types so that you can stop somebody who might be dirtier and darker'. I think that's Gotham."

Logue also talked about Harvey's evolution from self-serving to what is the best for Gotham. "At first I think he really thinks what's the best for Harvey Bullock. He's in survival mode, but he's seen a lot of Jim Gordon types come through and crash and burn and this guy is like the alpha version and I think he recognizes that and it reawakens that 'I used to be that kind of guy'."

Sean Pertwee, Alfred Pennyworth on Gotham
Sean Pertwee, Alfred Pennyworth on Gotham
Credit: Lan Pitts

Sean Pertwee, meanwhile, has a very different kind of Alfred than what's typically seen on page or screen. He began discussing his casting process to the show. "I'm sure you've heard from the other guys that the process of casting was very generic. We read these generic pieces, and all I knew is that my character was from London, and we went down to LA and they basically take away all your electronics and give you a script and of course, then I found out what it was and fell in love with it." He went on talking about how and why Alfred seemed grittier this time around. "I tried to stay away from as much literature as possible. I'm fully aware of the movies, I loved all of them, from the portrayals from Michael Gough to Sir Michael, no pressure there, know what I mean? I just sort of presented my theory behind Alfred. The fact that he was a Commander in the SAS, saw some really dark [stuff], came to his ailing father's aid who was the Wayne's man. Then, who took over his role as the family valet when he passed away. I was sort of delighted to see that's what actually happened in many versions of the books." He praised Heller's notes to concentrate on his characters through a psychological lens. "So there's a lot of pain and a lot of drive."

He was asked about Alfred being more than just a butler, but more of a guardian and mentor. ?"Yeah, that's one thing I sort of presented to Bruno is that there is like a Bushido-type oath thing, so it's not so much the guardianship, it's the oath that he pledges as he blames himself. He was in the car around the corner, is my theory. He basically donates himself to raise Master Bruce and it turns out, he's his legal guardian. The responsibility there is huge."

Alfred has taken on so many roles so quickly in Bruce's life. Guardian. Mentor. Butler. Father figure. Teacher? "There's some of this stuff that we discovered, that he, in many respects, is the enabler. You'll see this later on in further episodes, as their relationship develops, as any young person he had to find a way to communicate with him. It takes a very vicious turn in some respects and it's just bad parenting skills, but obviously Thomas saw something noble in Alfred that he wanted to instill in his son. It does go a bit haywire, but they find their way of communicating."

Gotham airs at 8pm, 7 Central Monday nights on Fox

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