Love is in the air on “Gotham.” Edward Nygma, played by Cory Michael Smith, recently bumped into librarian Isabella at a wine store and fell head over heels for her – and why not? She happens to be a dead ringer for Edward’s former girlfriend Kristen Kringle (who he accidentally killed), and that can’t simply be a coincidence.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems happy for the new couple. Oswald Cobblebot (Robin Lord Taylor) is showing signs of jealousy now that Edward’s time is divided. From the sound of it, Edward’s broken heart might finally push him over the edge of sanity.
Smith spoke with CBR about Riddler’s rebirth, what he and Penguin mean to each other, Nygma’s run-in with Lee and how love could ultimately devastate him.
CBR: Season 3 opened with Edward still a resident at Arkham Asylum. How did his stay there further shape who Edward is becoming?
Cory Michael Smith: One of the things that I really love about Edward is his glee, especially when he thinks he’s in control of something. He gets giddy and excited. There was something quite punishing about being locked up for months and months and months, so I was able to show a deflated, miserable Ed. That was a brand we hadn’t seen yet. We had seen a young guy who had been picked on and felt friendless, but we had never seen someone who started to feel some confidence in himself and then, all of a sudden, was relegated to loneliness and maltreatment. I thought it was nice to see his spirit completely deflated. Him getting out and having this rebirth of innocence and being absolved of all his sins and crimes – that was done solely by Penguin. His loyalty now belonged to this person who gave him new life.
Penguin visits Edward, and the two engage in a fascinating conversation. Besides working with Robin Lord Taylor, what have you enjoyed about how that relationship has progressed?
It’s been out of character for what we see as the Riddler, in my opinion, which I like. It signals he’s not quite there yet. By that, I mean someone who is severely independent and quite a narcissist and would never allow himself to be second, or, not be given credit for something. We’re seeing someone who is quite compassionate, whether it’s a sign of gratitude that Penguin got him out, or this genuine understanding of Penguin’s motivation. A lot of things that happened for Penguin – his success, this clean election – are things I manufactured and made happen for him or happen to him. I think there’s something quite satisfying for Edward at the beginning of this season where he’s kind of the architect of Penguin’s mayoral run.
Edward didn’t like Butch getting in there because Butch has no nuance or skill beyond being a brute force. Edward was just excited about running the show, but not taking credit for it. I think Penguin understood what he was doing, so they got along well because Penguin acknowledged Edward and how intelligent he was and how much help he was. It was only until we saw Butch try to get any sort of acknowledgement over me that I was bit sour. I’ve really enjoyed this season. It’s felt like a very non-volatile version of Riddler, which I think is kind of nice.
Lee literally didn’t pull any punches when she ran into Edward at the GCPD. What were your thoughts on that confrontation, and who should be afraid of who?
That whole episode where I go back to the GCPD was the other brand of Edward that I mentioned earlier. He gets a little cocky. He goes back to the GCPD and pushes people around because he’s in charge for the first time. This is so delicious. That interaction with Lee was particularly jarring because, first of all, she gets violent. It wasn’t even a slap – she roundhouse punched me in the face.
The news that Lee is somehow connected to Falcone is terrifying. He’s a genuine threat. As far as Edward was concerned, he thought Carmine was out of the picture for good. Just the knowledge of having Falcone back in the city is intimidating. Ed has plenty to be nervous about in the future. He has plenty to be worried about, knowing Falcone could potentially be making a play one day.
Oswald is currently the mayor and Edward is his right-hand man. Viewers have noticed this brewing bromance between them. What is your take on what they mean to each other?
I think what Edward means to Oswald is quite different than what Oswald means to Edward. It’s a tale of two emotions. There’s a genuine investment in the other. They’ve both helped each out at critical times. There’s this alliance that they have. Something that Edward had said to Penguin, which for me is very important to the character, is that their weakness is love and is the one thing that can destroy them. If they don’t allow themselves to feel that, then they are unstoppable. I like the idea that Edward could follow that because he’s a bit more cerebral and perhaps his mind could outweigh his heart sometimes. I don’t think Oswald has the potential to even live by that motto, no matter how much success it could potentially bring to him.
I can’t speak for Oswald or Robin in expressing exactly what he’s trying to portray – whether it’s a deep, deep love and affection that warrants a partnership – I don’t know whether Penguin is a sexual person, so I don’t if that’s what the relationship is. But, he’s used the word “love,” which I think is genuine. I think Oswald has fallen in love with Edward, because Edward is not subservient, but certainly has made it a point to cater to Penguin’s needs. I don’t know what brand of love this is. Nothing is ever traditional in Gotham. We’ve learned now that Isabella is in the picture. Edward is never going to be interested in Oswald that way. It’s already created some tension and when Oswald doesn’t get what he wants, he becomes a juvenile in the way he handles things. That’s what we’re in store for.
And going back to what I said is Ed’s motto about denying yourself love – What I think is interesting that the writers did was lean on this one woman, Isabella, who is so similar to Kristen, that it’s truly Edward’s Achilles’ heel regarding this motto. It’s really the one person that can pull him out of his constitution.
Do you believe Edward is saner when he’s in love?
He’s much saner. What was really important in his development with Kristen was it’s one of the few times Edward feels normal. His whole life, Edward has been picked on and underestimated and mistreated and abused at work. Kristen was available to him and willing to go on dates with him. It felt like the first time Edward had a normal life. He went on double dates with Jim and Leslie. They were friendly to his face and that felt nice. He felt happy. Edward lost his virginity in his late twenties. Although it was delayed, it was nice to feel normal for the first time in his life. What was so psychologically destructive was that he’s responsible for ruining the one thing that could have brought him normality. The mourning of Kristen was not just about killing his girlfriend, but killing his once chance at being normal. Now that he’s out of Arkham and absolved of his crimes, he hasn’t done anything horrible in Season Three. He fought for a clean election. He saw what Butch was doing, and took him to task for it. He’s been a pretty clean guy.
So here comes a second opportunity for normalcy, and he’s leaning into it. It’s been interesting to play him this season, because I haven’t felt like a villain. He’s been a decisive man, but, all of a sudden, love comes and he gets a little softer, kinder and sweeter. I think he has a good heart. I’ve tried to not make it seem like his destiny is to be a bad person. Fate just keeps making him respond by doing terrible things.
In what ways could Isabella’s rejection, secrets or death finally push Edward into become the iconic villain Riddler?
There are countless ways this could go wrong, and I’m sure the writers have considered most of them. Nothing stays rosy very long in Gotham. It’s just not a color we linger on. This guy does feel a certain security and happiness. If, and when, that is ripped away from him, I don’t know how many times you can tolerate losing a love. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying this isn’t going to end well. The path we have laid down for how and why is probably heading to one of the most destructive things that could happen to Edward and the city as it currently stands.
What else can you tease about what’s in store for Edward leading up to the winter finale?
Monday’s episode was so fun to shoot. We go deeper into the relationship between Edward and Isabella. What is inevitable is having to confront the fact that she really does look so much like Kristen. While Edward and Penguin are choosing houses, he comments, “She has a passing resemblance to Kristen.” Edward actually has to confront that, because it’s creepy and kind of freaky. That will be explored.
As the tide turns on Edward’s fortune and sanity, things go terribly wrong. His world gets turned upside down and he’s in a frenzy. That’s going to lead my storyline into the mid-season finale. There’s so much that changes for him over the next few episodes. There are new interactions. I have scenes with people I haven’t worked with a lot. Edward loses it for a minute in trying to figure out what happened.
At this point, how close do you feel Edward is to fully committing to being the Riddler?
There’s an interesting thing that happened with Oswald when he embraced the fact that people started calling him Penguin. Once he embraced that, frankly, there’s something that happens when you take control of the thing you hate. That’s what Penguin did. What is important to Edward’s development is not necessarily that brand, but him identifying with something he can wrap his identity around. I guess that falls down to riddles and what riddles mean, which is wordplay and games and tricking people and challenging people’s intellect and being in control of the situation. Being the Riddler means many more things, but claiming an identity is really important to his development. “This is who I am. This is my life. This is now what I’m doing. This is how you’ll know me. I am in charge. I ask the questions from now on.” I think once he makes that decision – which as far as I know will be happening this season – that will be a major turning point. The fallout we’ll be experiencing from the next three episodes will be the last straw for Edward. We’re going to start seeing someone who is far more independent, manipulative and out for himself.
Starring Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordon, “Gotham” airs Mondays at 8 pm ET/PT on Fox. The series also stars David Mazouz as young Bruce Wayne, Camren Bicondova as young Selina Kyle, Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, Morena Baccarin as Leslie Thompkins, Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney and more.
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