Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot cut his way to the top of the criminal underworld in the first season of Gotham, but with the new seasing being billed as "Rise of the Villains," he has some new company -- and he's making some surprising allies.
Newsarama spoke with Taylor as part of a roundtable press conference ahead of the new season's debut Monday on Fox, and the first question was about Cobblepot's teased alliance with James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie).
“I think part of Gordon’s growth and transformation as a character is basically reconciling with himself that he has to align himself with certain unsavory players in Gotham in order to get what he wants done,” Taylor replied. “I think this could go on indefinitely because he is slowly coming to realize that he needs Penguin. Aand Penguin is realizing that, even in the first season, he needed Gordon as well.”
Taylor mentioned that there’s a transitional shift in their relationship from the first season.
“Penguin was looking to Gordon as somebody he could trust and could be an actual friend, but now after what happened in the finale of the first season with Gordon basically left him to die in the hospital, the relationship is much more strained.”
Speaking more to the big picture, Taylor said his character's plans acceleterated quite a bit from the show's debut to where they are now.
“[Penguin] set out to achieve something in the first season and he did it,” Taylor continued. “He became his own boss and own man and proclaimed himself the new King of Gotham. As anything else in Gotham City though, nothing is easy.”
Taylor mentioned that Cobblepot has a whole new set of issues in trying to maintain that status and to stay at the top.
“This whole new season will be about challenging him, his intellect, basically everything he has in order to stay the King of Gotham.”
The next question expanded on Cobblepot’s alliances and if him being alone makes him stronger or weaker.
“I think, essentially, he’s used to being on his own.”
The actor said that with Cobblepot, it’s always been him against the world, but is going to learn that he does need people.
“He’s somewhat isolated and I do actually believe that has weakened him. He is going to have to learn how to invite people in and to rely on them to a certain extent. That’s part of his transformation this year, I think.”
Taylor then expanded some about Cobblepot’s relationship with Selina this season.
“Selina kinda does her own thing. She switched in and out and what I love about her character is that she has no real allies, except for maybe Bruce Wayne. I think Oswald is very intrigued to have her around. She brings a new energy and she also enjoys the fact that she has that ability to infiltrate all sorts of groups. I think he wants to use that to his own advantage. Selina might not be down with that, but that’s where Oswald is coming from.”
A question was then asked about any influences from Penguin’s appearances in the comic books, video games, and the like that might have helped Taylor expand his character to become more of the Penguin we currently know.
“In terms of inspiration, I think we’re all blessed on the show to have over 70 years of material to draw upon. The comics have been extremely helpful in helping us understanding these characters and where they’re coming from. Also, for my performance I look to my acting idols; the people who I grew up watching like John Malkovich and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both of whom whose acting style and their approach to characters who have a dark side, I think that is definitely something that has influenced me.”
He continued with his own process of making the decades-old character his own for the show, he credited Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller with a lot of how he’s presented.
“He has created such a clear vision for Oswald and where he’s coming from that drives him. I honestly just feel like I’m a vessel. I just trusted him and I feel like if I think too hard about it, it’s going to start being not as authentic.”
In terms of which comics that might have inspired his performance, Taylor had a few that came instantly to mind. The big one being Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski’s Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, which was actually sent to him by Geoff Johns.
“That really delves into Oswald’s past and also it’s him as an adult looking back on his life. You also see how evil and truly manipulative he becomes in the future. That helped influence my approach to the character and where he eventually ends up years down the line.”
The next question concerned Oswald’s mother, played by Carol Kane, and what her reaction will be to her son’s new role in the Gotham City crime hierarchy.
“There was the moment in the first season where Marone basically told her about the murders and all the darkness inside of him, but I think like many parents they are incapable of seeing the dark stuff. It’s almost like she closes her eyes and ears and it’s just out of sight, out of mind. She only wants to see what she believes he is, which is a good person. She will be confronted with really how dark he is, but she believes the choices he’s made he had to in order to survive.”
Since this arc has been subtitled “Rise of the Villains”, Taylor was asked who he has enjoyed watching as a viewer.
“Well, my main man Corey Michael Smith as Edward Nygma. I just love what they did the character in the first season in that it was very, very slow. You got to see the seeds of madness that were planted there. That just really comes to the forefront in season two. I find Corey to be a very inspiring person to work with and I’m just thrilled to see him embrace the character. Yeah, that’s who I am most excited to see.”
When asked if there was anybody who viewers will be thrilled by, Taylor praised Cameron Monaghan as Jerome, who he called the Joker.
“I think everybody is going to be thrilled, including myself to see how that progresses.”
With this being the second season, Taylor was asked if he’s gotten used to playing Oswald yet using the small techniques he used last season like having a bottle cap in his shoe to help with the limp and waddle or if things are coming more naturally to him.
“It’s definitely coming more natural now. The really fascinating thing is that I’ve never been a regular on the show before and also having all this time to play this character and create a relationship with the writers of the show. The most amazing thing is that now it’s almost a symbiotic relationship between us. They have my interpretation in their minds so when they write the scenes, I can tell they are writing it for me. So it becomes a lot more easy and the words just fly and it’s almost effortless in a way.”
As far as the bottle cap for assistance?
“There was a bottle cap in my shoe, but now it’s been downgraded to two quarters stacked on each other. [Laughs] The bottle cap was becoming a lot to deal with.”
Following up with that, he was asked if we are going to see any more pieces of Oswald’s patented appearances like a top hat or a monocle added. Taylor wasn’t sure it would be anytime soon, but “anticipates there will be” some things like that down the line.
“I’m really excited about that, too because in terms of the monocle if you look at the comics, it’s an actual physical injury he receives. I don’t know if we’re approaching that this season, because I only know a couple of episodes in advance before we start shooting, but it’s something I would love to keep exploring.”
Touching on Oswald calling himself the King of Gotham, a reporter wanted to know if we will see his character rise to the level of social status that he’s known for in the comic books.
“Oh, definitely,” Taylor replied. “One of the things I’m most excited about this season is his continuing relationship with Jim Gordon. Jim has to save the monster he had a hand in creating. Jim is coming to realize that he needs Oswald as much as Oswald needs Jim. Tension between the two of them is really exciting and for Oswald it’s very satisfying to see Jim have to need him.”
Expanding on that, Taylor was asked about Oswald’s relationship with Edward Nygma and if those characters will become closer this season.
“Oh, absolutely,” Taylor responded enthusiastically. “It’s really, really exciting, and it’s one of my favorite moments of the season and how the two play off of each other.”
The next question came from an individual who has screened the first two episodes and mentions that the villains this season so far makes the last season’s “seem like a bunch of schoolyard bullies”. The two-part question that followed was about Taylor’s rise to fame and that he’s now associated with the character of Oswald Cobblepot and if he were to describe himself, who would he see himself as. After that, if Taylor could bring in any actor on the show, who would he bring in. The question seemed to have stumped Taylor.
“Oh, man. Geez...okay, so nothing’s really changed in how I see myself because I’m a working actor in New York City, which is ultimately all I ever wanted. It’s intimidating and a little terrifying to me and I can’t really think about it because it goes against us as actors are trying to achieve, which is you’re given a role and you want to disappear into the role. You don’t want people to see the person behind it.”
Taylor mentioned that he lives his life pretty much the same way he always has except for one big detail.
“I have health insurance!”
On bringing somebody into the Gotham fold, Taylor has at least one idea for the show for a person that already has Penguin ties.
“I had the immense pleasure of meeting Paul Rubens the other day and I’ve been a lifelong Pee Wee Herman fan and I’m sure as you know he played Oswald’s father in Batman Returns. I would just love it if we could establish Oswald’s parents and have him be Paul Rubens, that would be incredible.”
Next question dealt with Taylor’s interactions with his fans and if they influence his performance.
“I think we’re all really good about separating the two. Interaction with fans is an amazing thing and I never thought I would any fans [laughs], so it’s, you know, hard to wrap my brain around that, but it’s incredible. In terms of their feedback, it’s always welcome. Whether it’s good or bad, the fact that you have people talking is an amazing gift. That’s what we all set out to do: create art.”
He brought up the topic of live-tweeting and what he thinks of that.
“I go back and forth on that because part of me really loves that interaction, but the other part of me I feel like it’s really hard to really watch the show and the amazing work that goes into every episode...your attention is split, ya know? I would like to find a healthy balance because you want people to be absorbed in the show and not to my Twitter feed about any particular moment.”
The question came up about who got Taylor into comic books, if it was a friend or his own personal curiosity.
“I think it was third grade and there was this new family next door, and his name was Brian Cobb. We immediately bonded over our shared love of G.I. Joe and through that he introduced me to the comics. I wasn’t quite the young aficionado as he was, but he definitely opened up this whole world to me. So, big shout out to Brian Cobb!”
Lastly, Taylor talked about being now part of the comic convention circuit and what his first experience was like.
“When I got the job, it wasn’t until months and months later that one of my representatives told me oh by the way, there’s this whole other world out there. I couldn’t even think about it. I was just happy I got a job! With this job, though, this whole other world opened up and it’s just been fantastic. The interactions with fans, getting to talk to people, it’s been an amazing experience. I wish all actors had this ability and were on a show with such an articulate and devoted fanbase.”