For the past three years, Robin Lord Taylor has portrayed Gotham City’s prime crime boss Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. the Penguin) on the pre-Batman world of Fox's Gotham. This past season, it was revealed that Penguin had feelings towards Riddler (which shippers of the NygmaPot pairings were more than excited about). His feelings were not exactly reciprocated, and spoiler alert, Nygma shot Oswald and left him to die in the harbor after he found out Oswald had killed somebody he had loved.
Newsarama caught up with Taylor at a recent Gotham press event, and got into this this characterization and what this sort of representation means to him as a fan and actor.
Newsarama: Robin, did you know that Oswald would take this direction when you initially signed on for Gotham?
Robin Lord Taylor: No, I did not. Honestly, I feel that part of the reason why I don't like to say that Oswald is gay per se in the sense that I'm a gay man, I've known I was gay my entire life, and for someone at the age of 28, 29, or however old he is to just suddenly question his sexualization wasn't something I totally understood. I had also approached the character as someone who had shut that part of himself off, having gone through the horrific abuse I believe that he had been through. It was part of his characterization as a person.
I didn’t know, but had I known, it would have been there since episode one. Again, maybe there are elements that are sprinkled in that I didn't know or wasn't aware of that the writers took with. I'll never know, but for me personally, I had no idea.
Nrama: Okay so you don’t think Oswald is gay per se, what would you say he identifies as, if anything?
Taylor: I don't know only because to say that you identify as something means you see something in your community that speaks to you or that you relate to. I think he is a self-absorbed narcissist driven to the point by societal images and so in that way, I feel that unless it wasn't serving him or making him feel safe, he has no interest. So I don't really feel like I can say what he would say he was, but I don't think it is a movement in Gotham City in the time that we’re telling the story. We're sort of approaching Gotham City in this sort of nebulous time and in my mind, it is an earlier time we didn't have words to describe how these things are.
He's coming to his feelings from the human perspective as opposed to a societal construct like “this person is this” or “this person identifies as this." I don't even think he has that kind of vocabulary, so a lot of that was ultimately unlocked when the Riddler decided to be his friend.
Nrama: You identify yourself as a gay man, so do you feel like you have representation with this infamous and notable character?
Taylor: It feels good only in the sense that being out gay man I am very attuned to see things how they are viewed and digested. In that way, I feel responsible where the character goes. The last thing I want for this character is to go into the stereotypical gay-man-gets-spurned-by-his-romantic-interest and decides to kill everybody. That's boring. It's boring, it's been done, and it's offensive. I feel good in the sense that I can hold and carry this to make sure the character doesn't go into that offensive route.
Nrama: Like a malicious trope?
Taylor: Right, or go cruising or anything like that like. I think you said it better.
Nrama: How has the fan reception changed from the initial reaction of when Oswald had the epiphany of his feelings towards Edward?
Taylor: You know…
Nrama: I mean, I know you had strong words for some people who voiced their, shall we say, concerns about how they thought Oswald should be portrayed late last year.
Taylor: Right, and those are the same words I have today. These characters have been a part of Batman for almost a hundred years and been around for so long, ya know? It's mythology. It’s meant to be changed and evolved and reinterpreted in the same way that any sort of mythological story goes through to reflect the times. Honestly, you know, it's about f****** time there's more queer representation in Batman. I'm happy to be that person. If that's who I'm going to be, I'm happy to be this person because now is the time.
Nrama: Do you feel like you have a stronger connection to Oswald now?
Taylor: I feel stronger connection to Oswald now but I not because of any sort of storyline. Well I mean sort of because of his character development, but mainly because we’ve done this for three years. I just wrapped 66 episodes of Gotham. S***, man! Three years, 22 episodes. Nobody does that. Man. it's amazing, the s*** that we have done. It's amazing to see what one character can go through. It's been quite a human experience, so yeah it's been incredible.
Nrama: How do you think these three years have changed you as an actor and a person?
Taylor: Honestly, it’s inspired me to be better than I already am because I worry about complacency and I’ve never had this experience before. I’ve really only known auditioning and getting small things here and there, and when you’re working twice a year or not at all, when you get that one job everything goes into that one job. Well, I’ve had this job for three years and everything I have is going into it. Now I’m like, what next? I want to be transformative and in a way, just the continuity of playing the Penguin over and over again for three years, has unlocked this desire in me to completely change me.
Nrama: Lastly, do you think that Oswald will find love... much less deserve it?
Taylor: You know, it's funny. I think he is worthy of it. I absolutely do. Clearly, I think everyone deserves love. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemies. Obviously I want him to find love, but at the same time it's like, you know, in this world we've created, love equals betrayal, love equals death and violence. We have a lot of violence in our show and it should be seen as something personal. So anyway, I don't want him to because of that, but we'll see.