Ever since “Gotham’s” second season was billed as “Rise of the Villains,” viewers have eagerly anticipated the evolution of mild-mannered Edward Nygma into the criminal mastermind known as the Riddler. Now their wait is over.
Over the past few episodes, Edward has fully embraced his panache for puzzles, riddles and crime. However, he was duped into confessing that he framed Jim Gordon for murder, a misstep that landed Edward in Arkham Asylum – for now, at least.
Actor Cory Michael Smith, who plays Edward, spoke with CBR News about his character’s gradual journey toward the Riddler persona, his agenda in Arkham Asylum, and the repercussions of his fallout with Penguin.
CBR News: In previous conversations, you’ve mentioned how much you appreciate Edward Nygma’s slow build from meek forensic scientist into full-fledged villain. But how stoked were you about the big steps Edward took toward becoming the Riddler this season?
Cory Michael Smith: It’s been amazing. When I read Episode 15, which is when he creates this big plot to frame Jim Gordon, that was like zero to 60. The capacity this person has to demolish someone, or just take them out, is already present. He’s just never exercised it. It went pretty well for him. That, to me, was really exciting, just because we essentially presented to people, “Hey, this man is crazy and has the ability to do whatever he wants. He’s the man with the plan.” It’s just about him focusing his talents and skills and using them. He kind of became the Riddler in 215, except he has no idea. Now, it’s unveiling to himself, “Oh, this question mark could be my emblem and my identity. And this very thing I tried once and pulled off quite well, I can do to other people.”
Edward previously murdered a few people, but what do you feel was his point of no return?
He’s been found out by the police. We don’t know when, how or why he would get out of Arkham, but, if and when he does, he can’t go back to the police department. Everything he has left is gone. He completely has to start over, so I do think it’s the point of no return.
Clearly, Edward suffers from some mental disorder. As a result, should viewers feel a little sympathetic toward him, or is this the real him, as he claims?
That’s a great question, because when I read those lines, when he declared, “This is who I am,” I, Cory, don’t believe him. I think he thinks that, but he’s actually very ill. He tried for so long to be a good guy and to make positive relationships with people. It was just failure after failure after failure. The only time he’s gotten any type of mileage, and any kind of relationship, was when he did unfortunate things to get it. He is delusional, but quite brash and vocal about it. I, Cory, do not think that is who he was meant to be, but Edward thinks so.
Edward did some master planning and manipulating with the art theft, bombing and framing Jim Gordon. What are his greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Over the next four episodes, he clues into some of his strengths. We’ve seen him have a lot of social issues. However, as we see him at Arkham, we come to find out he actually understands people very well, or, at least sick people. He knows how to make people feel OK or wanted. He begins to grow some social skills. The thing that is innate in him is anything detail-oriented. He could make that plan, the plot. He is a brilliant, quick mind with puzzles, games, science and math. When he starts using his problem-solving skills, and combines it with this newfound awareness of social gymnastics, we’re going to start to see a different kind of human being. His way of manipulating people is now going to go beyond tricks, games and puzzles – and go to being a better liar like the true psychopath that he’s meant to be.
How about a weakness? Sometimes Edward comes off as over-confident.
Absolutely. He’s remarkably narcissistic, which will only increase. He has a lot of pride. He has quite a temper that he has grown out of the beginning of Season 2, when he was talking to this other version of himself. He embraced this quick temper that is going to hurt him with any kind of partnership he has with Penguin.
Last time we saw Edward, he was admitted to Arkham Asylum. How is he faring there?
He wants out of the damn place. He’ll do anything he can. This is when he understands that when using people, make them feel important and that they need you. His goal is to break out or work his way up. Hugo [Strange] is pretty strict and suspicious of anyone in there. I think Edward’s intelligence is going to help him burrow his way into the system.
Photos suggest Gordon isn’t done with Edward. What brings them into each other’s orbit again?
Gordon has suspicions of Hugo, so he’s going to be coming to Arkham.
How has Gordon and Edward’s relationship evolved?
The thing that is so delicious is now the level of competition and retribution is really high. I ruined his life temporarily and now he’s ruined mine. That’s the beginning of our hopefully long, vicious tug of war.
Gordon did seem to be Nygma’s friend – or maybe he only tolerated him.
I think Ed could tell he was being tolerated. That’s a great word. Yes, he was engaged at work, but there was never a full embrace.
What have you enjoyed about Edward’s interaction with Oswald this season?
It’s been wonderful. I think Oswald forced Edward to man-up himself. The speech that he gave to Oswald was something that he probably hadn’t voiced to himself, which is, “If you are not tethered to anyone or anything, and you don’t hold love for anything else except yourself, then your love can never be broken. You can never be emotionally paralyzed.” Helping Oswald understand that helped Edward understand that as well. The thing it kind of foreshadows is these two people, who could be dear friends, that at the end of the day, have no alliance to each other because they have agreed together to never have a significant allegiance to anyone but oneself. It’s just that friendships are always temporary. It’s interesting to see a relationship begin that way.
There was almost a role reversal there for a moment, too.
It was really fun, and actually half that scene got cut out. There was some more stuff, but I’m pretty sure I know why they cut it short. It will be interesting when they reunite, because the Penguin is quick to seek revenge. We’ll see how he responds to Ed after being rebuked.
How exciting would it be to have Edward and Oswald team up at this stage in their lives? Have you and Robin Lord Taylor discussed the possibilities?
Yeah, Robin and I would love that. We get along so well at work and outside of work. It would be really fun to see what havoc they could wreak together. It will be interesting to see how sensitive Penguin is to being given the cold shoulder from Ed. I think it’s out of character for Penguin to forgive easily. I don’t know, but we could also be heading down a contentious path.
We’re in the homestretch now with only a few episodes left. Where do we find Edward in the remainder of the season?
He’s going to try to figure out how to get out of his three-foot by four-foot cell. That is his plight. If it doesn’t work, he needs to engage with Strange and Peabody. That’s his goal. He needs out of being a prisoner.
What can you tease about the finale, “A Legion of Horribles”?
There are some surprises in store for Edward. The alliances he thinks he’s building do not necessarily pay off for him.
Edward’s embraced his murderous ways. He’s spouting riddles and wearing some snazzy threads. Where are you hoping the writers take him next?
We’ll see a flavor of showmanship pop up in the next episode. I’m interested in that color of him. There are so many villains that are psychopaths and are violent in nature. I like when Nygma talks to people, and tricks people, and has a lot of joy and fun in that. I like the idea of him being a showman and being outrageous.
I found a lot of glee in embracing the riddles. There’s especially been some with Jim Gordon that have been so delicious to deliver. Edward starts to realize that with the very things he’s good at, he doesn’t have to go outside of that. Those riddles can just be his motif and he’s continually going to be more outrageous. I look forward to that.
“Gotham” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
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