SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers for the March 14 episode of “Gotham.”
In 1995, “Orange is the New Black” star Lori Petty made the jump from starring in films like “A League of Their Own” and “Point Break” to comic book-based fare with the cult-classic “Tank Girl.” In the animated realm, Petty is known for electrifying DC Comics fans as shock-jock DJ turned supervillain Livewire in the “Superman” and “The New Batman Adventures” animated series. Now, Petty returns to the DC Universe — and her wicked ways — as “Gotham’s” newest bad apple, Jeri.
Though new to the Batman mythos, Petty’s character proves to be a crucial one. Jeri and Bruce Wayne meet in tonight’s episode, “This Ball of Mud and Meanness,” when the young billionaire’s growing thirst for vengeance leads him to the clown-faced Petty in search of information on his parents’ killer, Matches Malone.
Ahead of her “Gotham” debut, Petty spoke with CBR about Jeri’s flamboyant appearance, what she sees as the major differences between Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon, and whether she’d like to continue to bring Jeri’s unique skills to life in future episodes.
CBR News: Jeri certainly has a provocative appearance. Did it evolve at all from when you were cast to what made it into the episode?
Lori Petty:Oh, it was just a blast creating her. That was the producers and makeup department. It was so much fun. I was still filming “Orange is the New Black” when I did “Gotham.” To go from six months of wearing no makeup at all — they even try to make you look worse than you actually look in real life — to go from that to having Emmy Award-winning makeup artists making this beautiful character, I loved it. It took a whole day for everybody to decide on her costume and her look. It’s really intricate. It took three people to put me in that outfit every time.
There’s definitely a Harley Quinn/Joker vibe going on. Was that something that was openly discussed?
Jeri’s look is definitely a cross between Joker and Harley Quinn, but that’s only her appearance. I don’t know about her relationship to those characters at all. She’s in that pantheon of awful villains, so I’m sure they are all messed up in there somehow together.
Jeri’s place of business isn’t your typical evil villain hideout. What was it like, belting out some tunes in a club setting?
Oh, it was so cool. I was standing on the stage. First of all, they told me I had to stage dive. I was like, “I’ll do it. I don’t care.” Then I see the stage isn’t really that high. It’s kind of low, and I said, “How do I stage dive when the stage is low?” Then this 22-year-old stunt girl jumps up in the air like a high jumper and lands on them. I’m like, “Okay, that’s not going to happen.” “You said you would do it.” I was like, “I will do it. I will fall into the stuntman’s arms. Of course I’ll do it. But, I don’t jump like that anymore,” especially in five-inch heels, backwards and up — and then I’m wearing about 10 pounds of clothes. We did it, it was great. I didn’t have a double. I did it all myself, and it was super-fun.
When I was standing on the stage and looking out, these extras — every single one of them — could have been a guest star on the show. They looked so amazing and I felt like I was Prince in “Purple Rain” going, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life.” I would do that to mess with them and just have fun. It was a live mic, so I was having a good time. I sang all that stuff. They may have over-dubbed it, but it was live guitars and drums. It wasn’t like being locked up in my bunk with no makeup on!
What would you say Jeri’s role in Gotham City is? Who is she, and why does Bruce Wayne track her down?
When you hear through the grapevine who to ask about something, people know that Jeri knows what is up. She’s been dealing with the underworld forever, enough to have a huge fanbase and have people she could [crowd]surf over. It’s like when game meets game. She’s a bad guy who knows where the bodies are buried. She literally knows where they are buried. She does that for Bruce Wayne; Jeri lets him know who killed his mom and dad.
She realizes that once they get to talking, he’s not some little punk. He made it all the way down there and through these people. He wasn’t intimidated and held his own ground. Jeri could see this tough kid and respects that he’s a real person to deal with. He wasn’t just some silly boy.
Jim Gordon interrogates Jeri, but she’s ends up getting under his skin. Is Jeri that good at reading people? What did you enjoy about the back-and-forth between them?
Here’s the deal: it’s kind of like how easy it is to make Donald Trump mad. It’s like, “Really? You’re that easy to get riled up?” Nobody can make you do anything. You can either behave like a normal person, or you can react and be an animal. Jim is just mad when he walks in. Jeri’s like, “Well, what are you upset about? I’m a bad guy. You’re a good guy. What do you want?” He’s so upset, that kind of tickles her. “Really? A girl in a bustier makes you upset? I’m really sorry for you, dude.” Bruce Wayne was the opposite. He wasn’t put off or afraid. He was there to get his work done.
Jim appeared to lose his cool when he said, “Don’t make me hurt you.” And then Jeri responded, “Do you want to?”
I thought that was very “Tank Girl.” “Oh, please. Come on. I’m bored.”
There seems to be a lot of untapped potential when it comes to Jeri. Would you like to see her fleshed out further in future episodes?
Again, I’m here to service whatever they want to do. I’m down for it, of course. Would I love to see where she lives? Would I love for you to see her homies or friends? Would I love to see her do some dirty work? Yeah, but that’s not on me. That’s up to the writers.
Another project on your plate is the horror film “Dead Awake.” What is it about, and how does make seeping scary?
It was a low-budget film, which these guys were really passionate about doing. In my life, I’ve had this three or four times, but there’s sleep paralysis, when your brain wakes up and your body isn’t awake yet. It’s a real thing. When you go to sleep, your brain shuts down your body, so you don’t walk around and fall out the window, like with sleep walking.
My character plays a doctor who says, “Look, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal.” What we find out is there is a supernatural force at work doing this to people and it’s not what they say it is. It’s a monster kind of thing. There are a lot of dead people in this.