If there’s one thing viewers quickly learned about “Gotham’s” Mad Hatter, it’s that he knows how to make an entrance.
Yes, talented hypnotist Jervis Tetch wowed the audience at Sirens with his mind tricks. However, it was his encore that really grabbed our attention, as he mesmerized a wealthy doctor into murdering his wife and then shooting himself. Jervis followed that trick up by commanding an enthralled Jim Gordon to step off a building roof to his death. Luckily for the former GCPD detective, Tetch’s plan was thwarted by his sister Alice’s timely intervention. Of course, the super- confident Jervis obviously isn’t pulling any punches, so Gotham City’s residents better beware.
Benedict Samuel spoke with CBR about “Gotham’s” spin on classic Batman villain, his unique appearance, his unhealthy obsession with his sister Alice, and the importance he sees in smashing Jim Gordon’s psyche.
CBR: Matt Hatter’s comic book counterpart immediately evvokes certain images in the minds of longtime readers. What kind of research was required for the role, and how did it inform your performance?
Benedict Samuel: Obviously, I knew the Mad Hatter influence from “Alice in Wonderland,” which affected us one way or another. I looked into the lineage of the Mad Hatter in the Batman comics and realized he was quite an old, historic character that had gone through lots of different transformations, from a Looney Toon-type character with tricks in his hat to more of the mad scientist. There was a lot of amalgamations — I felt very supported by the history of the character. I know he means different things to different generations.
I didn’t want to muck around too much around with that. I just focused on the text, because the writers are extremely talented and give me wonderful words to work with. The Mad Hatter is still unfolding as we speak, which is exciting because usually a lot of characters are straight down the line. Mad Hatter is all over the place, which is a real pleasure to play with as an actor.
Mad Hatter sometimes comes across as a bumbling buffoon. What makes Batman’s incarnation so deadly?
The climate of Gotham has these fantastical villains like Penguin and Nygma. Mad Hatter takes a turn for the dark side. It’s all due to the time we are living in. Maybe that’s the reason.
Jervis made a memorable impression at the Sirens club and then at the doctor’s house. What did you enjoy about his introduction?
The first thing that excited me about his introduction is that at first, he’s presented as this quite talented hypnotist. Knowing how this episode ends, there’s great joy in going, “Okay, I’m going to present this quite theatrical, deliberate performance,” knowing full well it turns into a façade of menace. It was really enjoyable to play with this theater performance that quickly becomes sinister.
Jervis talks in poetic verse. In what ways does that add another layer to the character?
That theatrical verse or rhyming couplets comes out when the Mad Hatter is overly excited or threatened. In a way, it’s a slip of the tongue. What he often reveals in those rhymes, if he was smarter, he probably shouldn’t be revealing at all. I really enjoy playing those moments. I treat them almost as prophecies or confessions of what is about to happen. That’s how I look at them.
Mad Hatter also has a unique appearance. Can you talk about how that developed along the way?
I got taken to one of the best suit makers in New York. The head of costumes brought me into this warehouse in Brooklyn to get fitted. I immediately felt proper by stepping into that suit. The fabrics and all the stuff – it’s so lavish that you can’t help but feel immediately different when you wear something like that. The hat was from London. It’s a proper one from that era, a handmade masterpiece. That costume certainly supported my performances and the way I had to think about it.
Jervis appears to be fascinated with his sister, Alice, but she can’t stand him. What’s the deal with them?
I don’t want to spoil too much. As we learned in the episode, she has this virus that brings out the darkest parts, that accentuates the darkest parts of the human psyche. The other side is Jervis, who can see into your psyche and find the darkest parts of things you want to do. Together, they are quite a dangerous pair. It just happens that Alice occupies the half that is good. That’s what drives him because there’s an enormous power to be had there. Then, there’s the undertones of genuine love, which is a bit of a taboo subject, but also makes it even darker.
Penguin and Nygma are hardly Gotham’s ambassadors. How does Jervis size them up?
If he had anything to do with them, he would see the value of people for his own ends. He’s very Machiavellian in that regard. I hope that happens. Nobody’s told me anything. I hope the Mad Hatter does get to work with them side by side. It would a fantastically chaotic union.
Now that Jervis is in Jim Gordon’s head, what can you preview about tonight’s episode, “Mad City: New Day Rising?”
What’s exciting is that Jim has to go through an existential crisis to survive. What’s happened with Jervis is, he’s planted the seed of doubt in Jim’s mind. Once that seed has been planted, it almost can’t be broken. It takes a huge amount of will power and strength to undo the spell. The reason that it’s so difficult is the Mad Hatter can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s only things you want to do deep down. If someone knew what you really wanted, it could be a very, very dangerous thing.
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, Benedict Samuel as Mad Hatter and more.
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