Portrayed by Erin Richards, Barbara Kean is arguably one of "Gotham's" biggest wild cards. Formerly an art gallery owner and Jim Gordon's fiancée, she tapped into her dark desires after an encounter with the serial killer the Ogre. Since then, she's gone off the deep end and embraced a murderous lifestyle, and a love of tormenting Gordon. Despite only a brief stint at Arkham Asylum, Barbara was proclaimed sane, even though "Gotham" audiences know better.
Ahead of tonight's episode "Time Bomb," Richards spoke with CBR about Barbara's lust for power, her turbulent relationship with Jim Gordon, pitting Edward Nygma against Penguin, and why she isn't Harley Quinn.
CBR: This season has pushed and pulled the "Gotham" characters in new directions. In what way has opening the club Sirens given Barbara a new lease on life?
Erin Richards: She started this season with power and influence. She and Tabitha have set up this club, right at the center of this criminal underworld. Anybody who is new in Gotham – like the Mad Hatter has come through and Penguin is in there and Jim comes to visit – it's a real hub. Barbara and Tabitha are at the center of it. Even though they are feeling this new sense of power, there's obviously still a way to go. This whole season is about them trying to harness that power and move up through the ranks of the Gotham underworld.
How do Barbara and Tabitha feed off each other and empower one another?
They offer different things to the relationship. Barbara is sort of the brains and the schemer. Tabitha is the brawn and the tough element. They really need each other in a way. That's why they started this club together and continue to survive and why Barbara is so gung-ho in this upcoming episode about going after Nygma and getting Tabitha back. Barbara realizes that as smart as he is, she can't get anywhere in this world without Tabitha. Tabitha is her safety. She has all the skills that Barbara doesn't have, and, similarly, the other way around. They really need each other.
There must be numerous snitches and sources in the city. Why does Jim keep turning to Barbara for information?
Because he loves her. Jim can't get enough of her. It's sort of like a cat-and-mouse game with the both of them. In a way, they kind of hate each other, but really love each other at the same time. It's so funny when he comes into the bar, because even though she doesn't want to give him information, she always ends up giving in to him. Underneath it all, she still has this tiny flicker of hope that they can be together. Then, on the surface, in her mad Barbara – or as powerful Queen Barbara mode – she wants to rise to the top and then get him back and make him dark again or make him evil with her. It's such a fun relationship and there are so many levels to it.
Barbara gets off teasing and taunting Jim.
Exactly. She knows all of his buttons that she can press. She's known him longer than anybody else in Gotham. It's like an old married couple: They are not having sex any more, but still know how to wind each other up.
Tonight's episode, "Time Bomb," finds Tabitha and Butch missing. What steps does Barbara take to get them back?
Well, she goes to Penguin because she knows he's the reason that they've gone missing. When she finds out he has nothing to do with it, she uses people, like a maid that works for Penguin. There's a guy in the sex shop she uses for information and finds out it's actually Nygma who has them. She goes on a rampage to find them.
When she busts in on Nygma, she could shoot him. But, she's always thinking a couple of steps ahead. Instead, she gets the information from Tabitha and Butch that Isabella has been killed and works out it was Penguin who has done that. At the end of the episode, we see this moment where she says, "We don't have to go to war. All we have to do is start one." She's realized that this is the moment she can really grasp and turn these two major villains against each other and through that rise to the top.
At the same time, manipulating Penguin and Nygma will put Barbara in the line of fire. How will that play out down the road?
It's obviously a dangerous route to play because both of those characters are incredibly influential. Penguin is especially very dangerous and has been up and down in Gotham, but still has a lot of power. She is treading a very thin tight rope. However, she feels like it's her time to rise and she also knows she has the people in place and the smarts to be able to do this. If she doesn't do this, it's still a dangerous world. As she said, she's tired of sitting at the kids' table. She knows she's just getting scraps. Eventually, those people in Gotham get killed off. The only way she can stay alive is if she buys into the top.
Barbara resided in Arkham for a bit, but she has that piece of paper stating she is sane now. However, audiences know better. How does that craziness make her so dangerous?
I think because she takes risks. It's kind of the mix of the crazy and the intelligence, which is such a dangerous combination. She has the intelligence to be able to work out what she needs to do and the intuitive part of her knows how to read people and use them. If you add the layer of craziness on top of that, she kind of becomes unstoppable. What crazy gives you is a carefree nature in the most dangerous sense. She doesn't really owe anyone anything. There's obviously Jim, but she's gone so far into this dark, crazy state of hers that you almost feel she would let everything burn. It's like a game. She would get to the top and then burn it all down because why not? You have that element of crazy, so what do you do if you get to the top? There's only one thing to do. Burn it all.
What were your thoughts when Barbara confronted Lee at her own engagement party?
I just love how absolutely crazy it was. Her focus has been getting on where she wants to be in the underworld and securing power. Lee was having an engagement party. I think what Barbara was doing was working out what exactly was going on between Jim and Lee. She always has one ear to the ground. "Where is Jim? What is happening with Jim? What does Jim want?" She was working out whether Lee was going through the motions of this wedding, or, whether she was truly not in interested in Jim any more. Not that Barbara cares because it wouldn't matter if she was. Barbara was just dipping her toe back in the Jim world. She's almost like a drug addict. She wants another hit.
What else can you tease about Barbara's arc for this season?
The second half of the season is her playing this game and using these two main characters to start a war against each other. It will boil over into the finale, but then it will also roll over that she is still going to keep trying to rise to the top.
Will we see Barbara and Tabitha's relationship evolve as well?
I don't know if you've seen the grindhouse video that was just released of Tabitha and Barbara. It's so fantastic and really highlights how great the duo is and how different elements of them mesh together and complement each other. You are just going to see way more of that and how important they are to each other. Butch is going to be in the mix as well. Babs knows Tabitha is the one she would confide in and Butch is a good person to have along for muscle.
Viewers still insist that Barbara is Harley Quinn. How does that fit in with your view of her and would you ultimately like for that to be true?
I think the difference between Barbara and Harley Quinn is that Barbara has a real plan. It's all very intellectual. She knows what she is doing. Barbara wants to get somewhere for a reason. She's interested in power, and that power bringing her security and a place in the world. Even though Barbara has this level of craziness, a lot of it is much more of a drive to arrive at a certain destination.
I think the thing about Harley Quinn is I feel she is a bit crazier for the sake of being crazy. She enjoys mayhem and causing destruction because it's fun. That element of madness is wonderful. I feel like Barbara had more of that in the second season when she was in Arkham and had joined the Maniax. Everything was crazy for crazy's sake. Barbara had lost so much and had gone through this bizarre turn of events with the Ogre and killing her parents. She was lost in her dark side, which was great. When she fell out of the church window and into the coma and eventually regained consciousness, she was kind of a mix of her old self and that dark element. That's what we have now. She's a bit more scheming and has purpose. If she was very to become Harley Quinn, something so major would have to happen again for her to lose that drive that has more to do with scheming, planning and getting to the top.
"Gotham" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.