Riddle me this: How does Gotham City Police Department’s Edward Nygma transform from quirky forensic scientist into one of Batman’s most diabolical foes? That’s one of the puzzles helping to keep viewers glued to Fox’s hit TV series “Gotham.” So far, in the show’s freshman season, Nygma has been odd, if not relatively well-behaved — except for a retaliation that got the medical examiner fired. However, Batman fans know his eventual fate, and it’s one he could get pushed over the edge of sooner rather than later, when Nygma experiences something truly foreign to him — love, and possibly, rejection.
Cory Michael Smith spoke with CBR News about “Gotham’s” spin on The Riddler, Nygma’s crush on Kristen Kringle, his introduction to Oswald Cobblepot, naming the villains and his character’s status at the end of season one.
CBR News: Over the course of the roller coaster ride that is the first season of “Gotham,” with so many things happening so quickly, there’s actually been a slow burn for Edward Nygma instead of him swiftly becoming the Riddler.
Cory Michael Smith: I’m in such a fortunate position. They are taking their time with my character. A lot of the other villains, especially with Penguin and [Fish] Mooney, they’ve charged the series from the very beginning. It’s been their responsibility to bring the terror to Gotham City. We’ve relied on that to shock us and stun us. They are running the city in their own way.
Then there’s sweet Edward Nygma, who is playing with bodies when he shouldn’t be doing that. It’s a completely different world that I’m living in. At times, I get super impatient because I know how fun this character can be on the other side of the game. As soon as I get my patience in check, as an actor, I really couldn’t ask for anything more exciting than to have a full, long, healthy, complex fall from innocence. He’s so enthusiastic and full of well intention. He loves his work. Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack) has played a big part in putting him off center. We’re going to find him in circumstances that are far less than fortunate, and he’s going to have to respond to those.
How do you go about putting your own stamp on such an iconic Batman foe?
What is more terrifying than approaching a character on the national stage after Frank Gorshin was celebrated by an older generation? Certainly, my parents talk about him. This man had a very celebrated performance in a show that is stylistically and tonally quite different than ours, but still the same universe.
And then, following one of my favorite actors, Jim Carrey, is a bit of an undertaking. I guess I have bigger balls than I thought I did. These are the origin stories. The whole point is to show how these people become these characters. For me, that’s the most exciting part, certainly psychologically, how someone changes and evolves. I wanted to be able to tell a story of someone that was forced to become this way or chose to.
[Executive Producer] Bruno Heller made it very clear to me that Nygma is someone who is working on the good side, is someone who loves his job and likes Jim Gordon. We were starting with no reason whatsoever for him wanting to cause anyone harm. I wanted to stay as far in that corner as possible. That was a goal, early on. Then, what is my job as an actor? I have to play the role in the world that I’m given. The circumstances that we built were, he’s in the GCPD. No one understands him and no one appreciates him. They find him quite irritating. They give him responsibility because he’s undeniably brilliant. You’ve seen him give tidbits to the cops that have solved a number of crimes thus far. They will say, “Thank you. That’s good work Ed.” But, it’s still Jim Gordon who gets the handshake at the end of the day. The little things will add up.
What was so exciting for me was when they introduced Kristen Kringle, because I’m like, “It’s great to see this guy that is loving his job and doing it well.” But, then, when I got to show his social ineptitude and his inability to feel people, to interpret what they are really thinking, that was great. Perhaps he’s a complex guy, but he doesn’t think he is. All of this stuff has been really fun. Is it perfectly matched with the comics? I don’t know. I like the version we’re creating.
Kristen seems like she can bring out the best in Nygma — and quite possibly the worst.
We spend a lot of time with Kristen, now. Very soon, we’ll see Ed try to stop dancing around the issue and go for it. He stops flirting and just goes for it and sees where he stands. We’re going to see slight confidence, and when you get more confidence and more brave, the reaction to what happens is either a bigger celebration or a bigger letdown. We’re going to see his behavior executed with more confidence. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger.
In “The Scarecrow,” Nygma and Oswald Cobblepot come face-to-face in the police department. Despite both of them being destined to be some of Batman’s biggest foes, how are they different? And what were your thoughts on their first encounter?
Their standing in the city is quite different. In terms of survival, Oswald is playing the two biggest mob bosses in the city. I’m trying to survive my feelings for this girl and not be humiliated. Nygma is circling around Valentine’s Day. But I’m certainly curious who Oswald is when he comes in. I have this position in the police force, so I know what’s going on. I know who Jim has interacted with. So, when this strange creature comes in, this odd little bird, I am too curious not to interact with him. His antagonism from the very beginning is slightly off-putting, but interesting.
We had so much fun shooting that. I was kind of freaking out. I talked to Bruno about it. When I read something like “Edward Nygma and the Penguin meet,” my chest gets heavy. I don’t want to screw this up. This is the first meeting. I feel very responsible for this to be interesting, if not brilliant. There’s some weight to that, but I feel really good about this charged-moment that we gave each other where at the end, it could still go many ways.
Besides Nygma’s crush on Kristen, what else is going to further lead him down the rabbit hole?
It’s mostly circumstances that are directly related to that relationship. Nygma gets a little quiet in the next two episodes. In episode 18, “Everyone Has A Cobblepot,” that’s when he gets some confidence and puts on his A-game. By the end of this season, Nygma finds himself. For the first time in the series, he’s going to have a giant secret, and what he does with it will be very shocking.
Will the show continue to explore Nygma’s infatuation with riddles and puzzles?
Oh, certainly. There will be a figure coming up soon, who is related to Kristen Kringle, that is going to be asking Ed riddles. His lack of enthusiasm for being asked riddles will be very apparent.
Nygma dubbed Jack Gruber “The Electrocutioner.” Would you like him to be the guy who coins the other villains’ codenames?
That would be great. You have a villain known for his word play. I think it would be amazing for him to claim the responsibility of naming villains.
Lastly, are you dying to spout that iconic line, “Riddle me this?”
That line comes in the comics when Nygma is a fully-fledged villain. The appropriate time, and I certainly hope that’s in the lifetime of our show, should be reserved for when he’s a man in charge and feeling like his identity as the Riddler is clear and haunting. That line should drip with glee. That is the raising of the gun before the race. It’s like, “Bring it bitches, and let’s get this on.” That can’t come before he feels, at least at the beginning of a game he sets up, completely fearless.
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