Fox’s new series, centered on the decline of Gotham City in the wake of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, features a James Gordon audiences haven’t seen on screen before: young, tough, sexy, ambitious and, McKenzie suggests, soon to find himself in a moral quagmire. Speaking with a small group of reporters during the Television Critics Association press tour, McKenzie revealed a few more secrets about the man who would be Commissioner.
This is the first time Jim Gordon has been truly front and center, on screen at least. He may have had his own issues of comics, but will this spotlight drastically change his role in the Batman universe?
Ben McKenzie: Well, as Bruno [Heller, “Gotham’s” executive producer] has been saying, over the 75 years that Batman has been around, this mythology has been interpreted and reinterpreted over and over and over again by countless artists, writers, illustrators, actors on screen. So I think we’re adding our twist on the mythology, but we are just a part of it. We just sort of become subsumed by the greater Batman mythology as it exists already…Yeah, it’s obviously unique, to my knowledge, in the canon. I don’t believe Jim has ever been — on screen anyway — as central a focus. I think if you were going on certain pieces of the literature, he’s been more of a central focus. What we’re telling is a noir-ish story where the world, the larger world around him, is full of people with very little moral center, or you would say lacking in a moral compass, and he does not lack that compass. He has a very firm, rigid idea, you might say, of what’s good and what’s wrong. That will be tested and it will be compromised as he goes forward, you see in the pilot alone. So he is the iconic hero in the fallen world.
Yours is a sexier take on James Gordon, and you’re not rocking the glasses or mustache.
Thank you very much, I appreciate that — we’ll work on the glasses and the mustache some other time.
The filming more traditional than your previous series, “Southland,” which was a more guerilla style. Has that taken some getting reacquainted with?
It has. The references, filmicly, are towards a more composed palette — a ’60s or ’70s feel — but it’s a very composed pilot where you have very big colors, big world, very tightly put together as you would in a heavily scored film. So the acting style is actually different and it’s taken some getting used to, but I’m enjoying it. It feels like you’re creating this, hopefully, beautiful movie each week. It’s challenging to do on a schedule, but it’s fun.
How does Jim balance his roles as both “hero cop” with fiance?
With Barbara? It’s a balance. In some senses — since I think the nearest approximation genre-wise is a noir — when he’s on the job and he’s in the world of criminals, he obviously has to be incredibly tough and ruthless, really. [He’s] still morally rigid, at least initially, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Then when he’s back with Barbara, it’s an opportunity to really relax, to some degree. He clearly finds some stability with her, some love. I could go into the psychoanalysis of why he is with her. I think she may remind him of his mother — that’s another conversation — but I think he finds solace in her. She’s caring, she’s kind and she loves him completely.
It appears that Barbara has some secrets.
She has some secrets! She has secrets, and then of course he has secrets almost immediately. As you see in the pilot, the moral decision that he has to make, where there is no correct decision in regard to Oswald, secrets that he will be hiding from her will bubble to the surface very quickly, so they’ll both be lying to each other. This is not a great platform on which to base a relationship.
Is this similar to “Scandal,” where some characters are “good” corruptors and others are “bad” corruptors?
Well, the conversations I’ve had with Bruno revolve around the notion that, as is often the case in noir, the world around the main character is simply beyond being salvaged. “It’s Chinatown, Jake.” It is not a world in which our hero is ultimately going to succeed. However, along that broader, longer path, there are victories. There are defeats. He arises from the ashes time after time after time to advance up the ladder and become Commissioner. So I think it would be unrealistic for him not to develop a morality that is specific to the circumstances.
Do you imagine as Bruce Wayne gets older, Gordon’s resistance to him getting physical and violent will wear down?
Well, their relationship will be very complicated. It is very complicated because obviously, one of the beautiful things about the conceit that Bruno came up with is that Jim himself suffered a tragedy similar to Bruce. When he was a young man, he lost his father, which is such an underlying thread of so much of the superhero mythology. Some young person, usually a young boy, suffers a horrible trauma and then deals with it in ways that are violent, at least in Batman. So in Bruce, Jim sees himself and so he is trying, from an older perspective, from a more seasoned perspective, to give him guidance, to show him the error of his own ways and to try to push him onto a better path.
And, ultimately, it’s not going to work.
Well, yeah. You see the ultimate result, but it’s fascinating to watch, and the conversations that that can have can allude to the larger philosophical questions of what is right, what is wrong, in a world in which there are no easy answers and standing on your high horse and preaching from on high is not going to do the world a bit of good. You’ve got to get in the muck and get dirty.