The series, which as the name suggests takes place in the Dark Knight’s future stomping grounds, instead focuses on building the infamous city’s mythology from the point of view of a young Detective Jim Gordon, who has joined the police force and been partnered with gruff veteran Harvey Bullock. The two solve crimes, piece together evidence surrounding the murder of the parents of 12-year-old Bruce, contend with corrupt politics and inevitably come into conflict with an array of colorful characters, including Selina Kyle, Ivy Pepper, Fish Mooney, Edward Nygma and Oswald Cobblepot.
Ben McKenzie, who brings Gordon to life on the Fox series, spoke with the press during roundtable interviews at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The former “Southland” actor spoke about what makes this version of the character tick, the future Commissioner’s relationship with those who will one day vex Batman on a regular basis and his role in expanding the Dark Knight’s universe.
How did you become involved in Gotham?
Ben McKenzie: Last year, Bruno [Heller] and I did a pilot for CBS Warner Brothers that didn’t go to series, but I guess Bruno kept me in his thoughts. He called me earlier this year and said, “I’ve written this script, ‘Gotham.’ I’ve written the part of Jim Gordon with you in mind. I’d like you to take a look.” That’s how I got involved in it. Bruno and I really like working together and have a good shorthand. That’s how it started.
How do you view the Jim Gordon character?
He’s the last good hero, he’s the last good man, in a city falling apart. A city where the references are sort of 1970s New York. Nothing is really quite working the right way. Everybody is a little bit on the take. The cops are a little corrupt. The judges are corrupt. The politicians are corrupt, so there’s all these villains around, and potential villains coming around. And he’s an honest guy. He’s a guy who was a war veteran and his dad was a D.A. He’s just trying to make sense of the world and trying to keep it from falling apart, but he may not succeed.
Is it safe to assume Jim’s relationship with Bruce Wayne is going to be a significant part of the series?
A huge part. He meets Bruce when Jim and Harvey are charged with investigating the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. He bonds with Bruce because Jim lost his father when he was Bruce’s age. His father died right in front of him in a horrific car accident. They form an emotional bond immediately when Jim confides to Bruce that he understands the pain.
They have a father/son relationship. At the same time, Bruce is being taken care of by Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred is also an ex-soldier of the Royal Forces. There are two contrasting philosophies. They are trying to teach Bruce how to be a man in the world, but they differ on how to do that.
How would you describe the Jim Gordon/Harvey Bullock partnership?
It’s fun. It’s a fun twist on that old, two different partners, with different attitudes. Donal is just such a great actor and so perfect for this part because he can be both dangerous, but also hilarious, in almost the same line. He can do both. Jim is a rookie when we meet him. He’s a war vet. He’s got a real sense of moral authority. Harvey does not. Harvey knows how the city works. He knows how to get along. He knows how to grease the palms. He knows how to shake down some folks that he has to. They have a grudging respect for one another, and at the same time, they will be at serious odds, often. It’s fun. It’s like a great, wonderful love affair that is also really turbulent. Not that I would kow anything about that.
Executive producer Danny Cannon said they were still working out the mixture of procedural and the serialized nature and the character moments. From what you’ve filmed so far, what has it felt like in terms of how things have developed? Have you had time to get to those character moments?
As you see in the pilot, it’s not like we can just make the pilot that we’ve made and go straight into a procedural show. It wouldn’t work, which I love. I like procedurals, and this will have a procedural element. We’ll have a crime most episodes, if not every episode, that Harvey and I are trying to solve. That crime will almost always tie into larger themes of what we’re talking about. Those are multiple things.
One of them is a city completely falling apart and who is going to emerge with power. There’s a massive power grab, because the Waynes were helping to keep the city from falling apart. There were good people, with real money, doing good things. They are gone. It is chaos. There will be a crime each week, most weeks, and there will be the serialized storylines, which is everything from Oswald’s rise to be the Penguin, Fish Mooney trying to figure out how to make her way up the crime family, to Jim and Barbara’s relationship, which is going to be rocky at times. It’s all those things, and we try to do it in an hour. It’s challenging, but so far we’re pulling it off from the scripts I’ve read. We’re only at episode 4.
So you haven’t had one where the character gets a whole episode?
Yeah, exactly. You have to, obviously, lay a lot of foundation here. The world is just so big. You have to decide — Bruno is really brilliant about this. Bruno and the rest of the writers really figured out what story we’re going to focus on initially and what we’re not. You can’t do everything at once. It’s incredibly challenging because fans of this universe are invested in all of the characters. They want to see all of them, all of the time.
Has it hit you that you are part of this legacy now, that you are part of this giant thing?
Yeah, it’s weird. You can say, “This is probably what’s going to happen,” or you can think it. Until you’re here, literally here at Comic-Con, do you realize, “Oh, right. The train has left the station. We’re on our way to somewhere. I don’t know where we’re going. I bought a ticket. I don’t know where we’re going, but it’s going to be an interesting ride. Hopefully, a long one.” Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like a weird dream. It’s cool.
Any concerns or worries taking on this material?
Yeah, for sure. You don’t want to F-it up. Fans are really intense about this stuff. I understand why. I would be too. You want to do it right, otherwise you’re “Wonder Woman,” or whatever, that failed, whatever that TV pilot was. Ohh — really. Oh, boy. Now I’m going to get so much grief from somebody who made “Wonder Woman.” It was bad.
That’s where this all comes back to, for me, to the relationship with Bruno. Bruno and I really do see the world similarly in many ways. His sensibility is perfect for “Gotham.” It’s not fairytales and it’s not for kids, exactly. There are kids in it and younger people will like it, but I wouldn’t recommend children under a certain age watch the show.