One of Gotham’s most terrifying villains surfaced last week when Professor Pyg made his presence known. Played by two-time Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris, the demented villain sported a fleshy pig mask and killed crooked cops, but what proved truly unnerving was his predilection for slapping a disembodied pig’s head on the corpses.
In a move that demonstrated just how dangerous he truly is, Pyg managed to get the drop on both Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock. And while Pyg believed Gordon was a kindred spirit, he almost added Bullock to his growing list of victims. Pyg ultimately eluded capture, which means his reign of terror has only begun.
In the wake of his character's television debut, Cerveris spoke with CBR about Pyg’s unsettling appearance and his adversarial relationship with Gordon. The actor also opened up about Pyg's true identity, and the villain's inevitable collision course with Penguin.
CBR: Your character's co-creator Grant Morrison once described Professor Pyg as “one of the weirdest, most insane characters that has ever been in Batman.” Do you feel his Gotham incarnation captures the spirit of that statement?
Michael Cerveris: I remember reading that statement when I was preparing for the role. I went and bought all of the Grant Morrison comics, and all the others Pyg appeared in. I knew that was the bar we were hoping to clear, and that fans would be expecting to see something like that. I have to say, at every level, I’ve been amazed to see how the Gotham team have met or exceeded that challenge. I kept saying to the producers, directors and writers, “Are you sure you can do this on network television? This is on at 8 p.m. Are you sure I can do this?” “They were like, “Yep. That’s what we do here.”
For instance, the pig mask itself was a more comic-y, fun house-y sort of mask. That was the direction the mask maker went initially. Then, our executive producer, Danny Cannon said, “No. That looks great and I know that’s what it looks like in the comic books, but I want it to look like he cut a pig’s head off and stitched it together, so he could wear it and put them on people.”
It’s that extra step to make a world where the world we know can include the reality of the characters. That’s one of the things that makes Gotham so special, because it has enormous respect and reverence for the comic books, but it’s also putting them in a world where human beings and the audience live everyday. If anything, Professor Pyg is even more disconcerting because he seems like somebody we could actually know.
Pyg gives off a Leatherface/Hannibal Lecter vibe. How intentional was that?
It was not anything discussed, but I absolutely agree with you. He has that classic, psychotic serial killer vibe to him. There are little touches. He has a Hannibal Lecter-ish quality. The mask itself and the straps and the apron are very Leatherface. I don’t know that it was ever discussed -- it was just something that felt right.
Outside of the mask, can you talk about developing his voice and mannerisms, which are equally important to the character?
Some of that comes from the original comics. You can see and feel, even in two dimensions, the flair that he has. The way he speaks and the words he chooses give you a sense that this is somebody with an extroverted, flamboyant type of personality. In my explorations beforehand, I looked at some of the Arkham video games, and the fantastic voices from those appearances. They were also very character-y and slightly unhinged, and this odd combination of fanciful and disturbing. Those were the templates.
Then, it was a question for me, as it always is with any script, is hearing the writers’ voices and seeing what’s on the page and trying to flesh out what I’m seeing in the dialogue. With Gotham’s version of Professor Pyg, he’s clearly a highly literate person, and a very intelligent and well-read individual. We get the idea pretty quickly that he is a lover of opera and performance. He has a very theatrical bent. And, I think once they hired me, they thought, “Oh, well. We can’t resist taking advantage of his background and giving him more scenery to choose.