There’s a reason Arkham Asylum, the psychiatric hospital housing some of Gotham’s most dangerous and mentally unstable individuals, exists.
Case in point: The conniving Jack Gruber, played by Christopher Heyerdahl. The “grade-A psychopath” complicated demoted Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) security job at Arkham by performing electroshock on other inmates in order to control them before he, along with his brainwashed accomplice Aaron Helzinger (Kevin McCormick) recently escaped during a prison riot. Now on the loose, the two wreak havoc across the city while matching wits with Gordon in tonight’s episode of “Gotham,” “What the Little Bird Told Him.”
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Heyerdahl spoke with CBR News about Gruber’s agenda, including his growing rivalry with Gordon, the constructing the Electrocutioner’s special costume and his desire to become a force for good in the world of “Gotham.”
CBR News: It’s been a while since you guest-starred as Zor-El on “Smallville.” What’s it like, stepping back into the DC Universe?
Chris Heyerdahl: It feels great. I watch the show, so it’s kind of exciting from that perspective as well. There’s so much to draw on. Aside from Penguin, Two-Face, Cat, Ivy, Riddler and Falcone that are already entrenched in the series, they have so many great villains to bring into it. I’m waiting with bated breath for Mr. Freeze to come in. It’s great. To start with the Electrocutioner, who is so much fun to play, especially “Gotham’s” take on him — it’s been a blast. He’s like a teaser character. I like to call him the minor member of the supervillains.
There was plenty of speculation that Jack Gruber could be “Gotham’s” version of the Electrocutioner. Did they spell that out to you in the beginning?
I think they put out a teaser where Nygma plays with that. I don’t think I saw a breakdown. I had a conversation with Bruno Heller the first day of shooting. I asked him point blank, “Who is this?” He was very kind to let me know I was going to be an incarnation of the Electrocutioner. That’s the fun thing with this character, is that he’s been brought in three or four times as different incarnations. The fun thing about the next episode, “What the Little Bird Told Him,” is we’re going to find out which incarnation of the Electrocutioner our man is.
How, if at all, did the comic books help prepare you for the role?
It’s an interesting question, because whenever you have access to the lore or the DC Comics, there’s so much there. Then it’s a question of knowing that this is “Gotham’s” version of this character. They are taking elements of what we’ve already seen of the Electrouctioner and bringing similar traits, but with a really cool twist.
Arkham Asylum has a lot of crazies locked up. What separates Gruber from his fellow inmates?
I’d have to say his conviction and vision. I don’t want to give away too much here, because it’s going to be fun to get all this information, as our hero Gordon is going to find out. I would say, ultimately, Gruber’s ability to get out. I would also say the reason he is in there.
In their initial meeting, Gruber seemed to push Jim Gordon’s buttons. How does he view Jim and what did you enjoy most about that scene?
Again, there are two sides. One is my own, personal side. That was the very first scene I did. I had never worked with Ben before. That was our opportunity for the characters to not only sniff each other out, but for us as actors. Ben is a phenomenally generous actor. Every single thing I threw at him he knocked back. I think the same holds true with the characters. Gruber sees young Jim as a man who has had some injustice thrust upon him. He sees him as great and complicated. Gruber sees him as someone he can relate to on a personal level, someone who has an injustice thrust upon him and maybe someone he can create a kinship with in the future. That’s the interesting thing about this world of “Gotham,” is the line between hero and the villain at this stage of the game. They have to work together. Gruber definitely wants to see if he can lift Jim back to his full potential and work as a team.
What did you make of that letter Gruber left for Jim at the end of “Rogues’ Gallery?” Was it just a taunt?
That’s part of it. I think of it as a “Dear Jim” letter. Not “Dear John,” but “Dear Jim.” It’s an inspirational letter. It’s a rant, but it’s a challenge, an invitation and a bit of a goodbye.
Gruber was a master manipulator in Arkham. In what way does his plans escalate now that’s free?
He’s cranking everything up a level. His convictions are very strong, and that’s what got him out of Arkham. Now that he’s free, we’re going to find out what his master plan is, so that he can get on with his life. When life’s challenges come before us, we need to exorcise our demons. That is what Jack is going to do.
He has been waiting a long time. Gruber was in Arkham for years.
He was in Arkham for a while. He’s been in a few places for a while. This is what we’re going to find out. I have high hopes Jim is going to figure it out. When the evidence is compiled, we’re going to find out where Jack has been, what Jack has been doing and how he’s going to exorcise his demons.
Electricity is Gruber’s shtick. Now that he no longer has patients to experiment on, how will his electrical modus operandi continue to manifest in tonight’s episode?
Well, there aren’t that many people to experiment on in Arkham, but there are so many interesting people to exercise his powers upon and toys to use and creative gadgets to bring to fruition. We’re going to see Jack really lighting things up. He’s charged and ready to go.
What’s the device attached to Gruber’s chest?
This is one of the things we know about the Electrocutioner. His suit is the important part of his power. His brain is going to create something that is going to allow him to harness electricity. That is “Gotham’s” version of that electrical suit. I had a blast with the costume designer. I was wearing nothing, and neither was Kevin McCormick, who plays Aaron Helzinger. We were wearing nothing that could conduct, from top to bottom.
You’ll see that he wears this fantastic suit, and it’s not conductive. It’s very difficult to find a tailor to make a non-conductive suit. When I walked on set, everybody wanted to — I wouldn’t say grope, because that wouldn’t be allowed on set — but they were amazed. The shirt, the vest and the jacket — everything was non-conductive. It was very cool.
There seems to be this cat and mouse game going on. How does Gruber put Jim to the test?
I think there’s a promo of one of my favorite characters, Nygma, holding up two pairs of shoes. Again, these are non-conductive. He gives people very good advice. Let’s just say the person who is going to take advice is going to do well in this episode. Jim dismisses the obvious and doesn’t dismiss what everyone is going to ignore. That’s what makes him such a fascinating character. He’s such a black sheep. Jack is going to challenge Gordon’s convictions.
These “Gotham” introductions serve as the building blocks for the Batman characters. If Gruber does survive, in what capacity would you like him to return?
What I like about the history of this character is the whole vigilante angle. He actually believes he is doing good. Villains who get away or are allowed to continue on or are not punished to Gruber’s acceptable level, he will come back and play with the whole vigilante do-gooder element of the character. I think that is a wonderful moral challenge for Gordon.
Besides the powers, what’s different or similar in portraying a Batman villain to a Superman foe?
The commonality is intelligence. All of the villains on both sides of the DC canon, whether it be Superman or Batman, have a high level of intelligence. They have a great strength in their convictions. At the same time, they have great delusions of grandeur. I think that’s it. The conviction and intelligence crosses the border.
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