As the breakout star of “Gotham,” Robin Lord Taylor knows that millions of eyes are watching his every move of the increasingly nefarious Oswald Cobblepot on his road to becoming the crime czar known as The Penguin — and there’s plenty more under Oswald’s umbrella, he says.
As the series, recently renewed for a second season, moves into the latter portion of its freshman season, Taylor promises no shortage of fresh challenges ahead for the frequently roughed-up but triumphantly manipulative gangland ladder-climber, including an increasingly symbiotic relationship with Jim Gordon, his first encounter with The Man Who Would Be The Riddler, a return of Carol Kane as his sometimes cringe-inducing matriarch, and the actor’s own hopes for Oswald’s long-term ambitions.
CBR News: You’ve received glowing reviews for your performance from both TV critics and comics fans alike. Did you feel a connection to this character right away? Were you immediately thinking, “I can do something with this guy?”
Robin Lord Taylor: I did, actually, yeah. The character, from the inception, from the pilot — Bruno [Heller] created something so special. And also, the research that I had done about the character, about his origins, he was a bullied kid and treated very differently because of the way he looks and his interests and everything — I totally identified with that. I was never bullied to the extent that he was, but I know what it felt like to be a different person. From the pilot, what he goes through, to see that he is vulnerable and that he is fallible and that he’s human, he makes mistakes — I was like, okay, this is a real person. You know what I mean? This I can get into.
We most recently saw Oswald in a position where things are really coming together for him, despite where it sometimes frays around the edges. Can you give me a sense of what he’s going to face in the back end of the season? What’s coming his way?
We know that he’s working for Maroni, but also, ultimately, working for Falcone. He’s a mole, so you see that tension between those two. And he makes mistakes — like he almost let’s it slip to Maroni that he’s working for Falcone. So you see that tension where he has to like cover all of his bases. And eventually, you’re going to see him torn between the two, and yet also trying to maintain his own integrity. Ultimately, he’s just in it for himself. It’s really just about self-preservation for himself and becoming a big player on the scene, is what he wants. So, yeah — you’re going to see more of that. It’s not easy with him. Like, it’s not an easy rise to power. It’s two steps forward, one step back.
In the process, he often gets the crap kicked out of him.
Yes! He does. Totally. He takes a beating. I was talking to someone, like, not to mix comic book worlds, but in a way, he must be related to Wolverine. Like, he gets punched out by a cop in the episode that aired two weeks ago. I made a joke on Twitter, I was like, “I’m surprised he’s not dead.” That cop is massive.
Tell me about the relationship between your character and Jim Gordon — and then acting that out with Ben.
Well, in a weird way, they both need each other. Even though they’re on opposite sides of the fence — Jim is on the legal side of things, Penguin is on the other side — they weirdly need each other as allies, because Gotham is a place where you have to use the bad to get the good to happen. There’s no just one good way of doing things. You have to get your hands dirty for the ultimate good of everyone. Their relationship is very complicated in that way.
It’s interesting too, because from Oswald’s perspective, Jim Gordon is the only person — besides his mother — that he trusts in Gotham City. I think he really does view Jim as a friend and does see him as someone that he would like to be close to. Jim does not feel the same way, obviously, but at the same time, Jim wouldn’t be where he is if he hadn’t saved Penguin’s life. It’s just interesting — again, they need each other.
Playing that with Ben, when we get a scene together, we check in with each other. We make sure that where he’s coming from is true to where I’m coming from. Like, in the moments where I’ve said I wanted to change a certain word of a phrase here and there, because I don’t think Penguin would ever want Jim to feel uncomfortable, because he actually really does value him as a person. He’s too smart and too empathetic of a person, in a weird way, to allow Jim to feel weirded out. It’s a really interesting dynamic. It’s so fun to play.
Are there any other actors on the show that you’ll get more time with than you’ve had in the first portion of the season?
Yes, there are. We haven’t done a lot yet, and I don’t know what’s coming, but Edward Nygma and Oswald finally meet, and it is, hands-down, one of the top three things that we’ve shot in the whole series. It’s one of my favorite scenes, and I’m so excited for more. They’re both such oddballs and so different, so differently odd. The dynamics between the two of us is just so fun to play and so different. To have two classic villains come together, I think it’s one of the first times it’s happened so far in the series. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
Is Mom back before the end of the season?
Oh, yeah. Mom comes back, definitely.
It is a relationship that, as evoked in the comics, I wasn’t sure could necessarily work on screen — and it worked on screen like gangbusters with you two. Was that really fun?
So fun. Carol is an absolute dream of a person to work with. I’ve been a fan of hers for basically my entire life, so find myself sitting across from her, like the way we are right now, and looking in her eyes, it’s incredible. We really do have a fondness for each other that makes the relationship between our characters so much easier to access and to make realistic and to make real, and also [Laughs] to make probably a little creepy. There is that aspect, too. But it’s interesting because basically, until recently, they were the only ones each other had in their lives. And that closeness, that intensity, that strangeness, creepiness, that’s where this stems out of. Just to go at it with Carol is amazing. Just a dream.
Have you gotten any word if her old “Taxi” co-star, Danny DeVito, a former Penguin himself, has checked out your take?
The amazing thing is that Carol is very close with Danny, so she’s come to set and said, “I just had dinner with Danny last night, and he watches the show.” I just completely flipped out!
The relationship you have with on screen with Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney has also been really special. Tell me about playing those scenes with her, because they’re so unpredictable and tense.
They’re some of my favorite scenes to play. She’s just an incredible presence, on screen and in person. And yet, at the same time, so down to Earth and kind and just game to go for it. Our scenes together are so loaded, and again, it’s so fun to play because she taught Oswald everything she knows about Gotham City, so there’s a motherly aspect there. But he has betrayed her — and yet, he still has a fondness for her, deep down, I feel. And so it’s like this really layered, complex relationship, at least from Oswald’s end. I think Fish is over it at this point. But at the same time, Oswald remembers where he comes from. Playing those scenes is very fun because it’s a really textured, layered relationship that they have.
Is there anything in your Penguin research from all that source material from the comic books that you would like to see come to the show?
Well, this is far in advance, but I would like to see a transition from this sort of nightclub-y, world that he’s operated in to more a political arena. I think he actually has ambitions that grand, now. If there’s any place where that could fly, it’s Gotham City. You know what I mean? Again, that’s far, far down the road, but something that I think would be really fascinating to explore.