Nobody was laughing when Cameron Monaghan made his “Gotham” debut.
In “The Blind Fortune Teller,” Monaghan played Jerome, a young man working at Haley’s circus who killed his mother over her sexual promiscuity. Many of Batman’s foes have been introduced this first season at one stage or another in their lives, including Scarecrow, Penguin, Riddler and Poison Ivy. So when “Gotham” promos teased the sinisterly grinning Jerome with his crazy cackle as “no joke,” it certainly appeared that the Caped Crusader’s arch-nemesis, the Joker, had finally arrived on the scene.
Monaghan opened up to CBR News about the versions of the Joker that inspired him, Jerome’s downward spiral, mastering that maniacal laugh and which Joker cornerstones he believes the series should address. Monaghan also talked about his upcoming horror film, “Amityville: The Awakening,” and why he’s drawn to these darker roles.
CBR News: How much inspiration did you draw from the comic books and past incarnations of the Joker for your turn as Jerome?
Cameron Monaghan: I turned pretty much exclusively to the comics. Basically, I got the role right before everyone went on winter break for two or three weeks, right before Christmastime. I was very thankful to have that time, because I got to really educate myself on the character. I read pretty much every comic I could get ahold of. There were the obvious ones, like “The Dark Knight Returns” or “The Killing Joke,” and some older ones like “The Laughing Fish.” I looked at pretty much every writer you can think of, from Grant Morrison to Brian Azzarello. I was trying to understand how the Joker is portrayed throughout the media.
What I find interesting about the character is how every actor who plays him is going to bring something different, every time a writer writes him, he can be very different. Similarly, there’s how he is drawn. One of my favorite versions is in “The Long Halloween.” I don’t know if he was drawn like this in other issues around that time, but in “The Long Halloween,” he has this giant row of bottom teeth that stick out and are all jagged. He almost looks like a shark. He barely even looks human. It’s really fascinating to see how this character evolves, depending on someone’s perspective of him while they are writing or drawing him.
What was your take on the character, then?
I very much adore the sadistic nature of him. There’s his ability to remain cool and calm and cunning. He enjoys making other people squirm, which I think is fascinating. He enjoys pressing buttons a little bit. I only had that one scene to really show off, so I wanted to take advantage of it as much as I could. I was playing with the character’s intelligence a little bit there. I was lucky to get that scene where we get the turn, where we get that last punch line, where it’s revealed he’s been scheming all along. That moment is great. Like any actor, I was relying on the script to carry me, and I think it works.
How much practice did that Joker laugh require?
I’m surprised my neighbors didn’t call the cops on me because I spent those weeks constantly laughing and staring at myself in the mirror. Even if I was driving in my car to get food or something, I was repeating the monologue. I allowed myself to be a crazy person.
Why do you believe Jerome snapped and killed his mother?
That’s the question, isn’t it? Maybe he did snap. Maybe he just felt like doing it at the time. I’m curious to see if this was a guy who was born bad and has no reason for being the way he is. Or, maybe his childhood did play into it. Maybe he did have such a miserable life that it broke him. Who knows?
Did the Gotham producers indicate Jerome would be back? Has that door been left open?
When I was on set, we discussed the possibly of me coming back in the second or third season. Nothing is set in stone yet. I think the producers have a firm plan for what they want to do, but I was not privy to it while I was filming. I would love to come back and do some more.
You mentioned “The Killing Joke” — would you be interested in Jerome somehow running into Barbara Gordon? Or, perhaps, they could introduce a younger version of the Joker’s sidekick, Harley Quinn?
Those characters would be so much younger in this timeline, although “Gotham” has its own canon. There’s such an amazing rogues gallery for Batman. I’d be interested to see how some of the more grounded characters like Calendar Man fit in. Or, if some of the more fantastical ones like Killer Croc or Clay Face are going to be introduced into the mythos.
Relating it to Jerome, I’m so curious to see where they take him. Batman is so integral to the Joker’s origin, and we don’t have that right now. However, Jerome is a person who existed in some capacity before that. There’s no reason he couldn’t have been that person before all of this happened. It will also be interesting to see if they want to go the route of the vat of chemicals. In Christopher Nolan’s films, he was a man who chose to simply put on make-up. Perhaps that’s even scarier, since he made the decision to be this creature.
Comic book properties have flooded into movies and television over the last few years. Was “Gotham” the first superhero project you auditioned for?
I can’t actually even say that, because I didn’t audition for “Gotham.” My agents got a call from the show. It must have been because I worked with the showrunner Bruno Heller on “The Mentalist” a while ago. Or, maybe they watch “Shameless.” I’m not sure, but I got a call and they said, “Hey, there’s a character that could potentially be the Joker. Do you want to play it?” I immediately said, “Hell, yeah.” Then I was like, “Oh, wait. That’s a lot. Let me think about it.” I took the weekend to think about it, got back to them and I decided I definitely wanted to do it.
Shifting gears, you have the “Amityville: The Awakening” waiting for a release date. What makes it such a terrifying addition to the franchise?
I had the opportunity to do some ADR, some voice looping, a few days ago. I finally got to see a lot of the film. It’s frightening. It doesn’t hold back. It’s not safe. I feel a lot of horror these days has lost its punch and danger. It can be a little standardized or follow a formula. Our director, Franck Khalfoun, also directed the “Maniac” remake from a few years ago. If you’ve seen that movie, you know he’s quite willing to make the audience uncomfortable and squirm in their seats. He does it again in this one. It’s horrifying. The character I play is an original movie monster. As evil as the character I play in “Gotham” is, this guy is pure animal. He’s horrific. It was a lot of fun to play.
Your “Amityville” character, James, starts out comatose. How does his condition make him more susceptible to the house’s evil?
He’s been in a coma for at least two years. I don’t think we’re giving too much away by saying he wakes up and he’s still a quadriplegic. He’s still locked in. The entity of this house slowly, but surely, starts seeping into him. I don’t think he has any defenses to stave it off. He’s just trapped there. That’s the basic idea.
While completing ADR, was there a scene that really creeped you out?
I’m not sure if there’s just one. The first time you see the character moving and coming off the bed is a really great moment. I had really intensive make-up every single day for the job. Some days, it would take four hours in the morning to put on all the prosthetics and to paint it. The guys who did it are absolutely incredible, and it does pay off. It looks amazing.
Between “Gotham” and “Amityville,” what has been creatively rewarding about exploring these dark corners of a character?
As an actor, you want to be able to explore the many facets of the humanity and the psyche. Sometimes that means comedy and being light and having fun and being silly. Sometimes it means going to dark places. Sometimes it’s a combination. What always attracted me to this job was wanting to tell interesting stories about people. There’s something interesting about trying to find the humanity, or the lack of it, in the darkest corners of people. And, you can’t get much darker than the last couple of characters I’ve played.