NYCC: "Gotham" Mines City's Past, Builds Towards' Batman's Future

DC Entertainment has a number of television series on the air for the 2014-2015 season, and with the pre-Batman "Gotham" about to air its fourth episode ("Arkham") in the United States, the series brought a special panel to New York Comic Con that included executive producer Danny Cannon, and stars Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock), Robin Lord Taylor (Oswald Cobblepot), Sean Pertwee (Alfred Pennyworth) and Erin Richards (Barbara Kean). After sharing the opening scene from tonight's episode, the panel answered a number of questions about the freshman series.

The clip picked up where the last episode left off, with Oswald Cobblepot standing at Jim Gordon and Barbara Kean's door. While the bulk of the cold open dealt with how Gordon would deal with the future Bat-villain's return to Gotham, the second half introduced a mysterious man with a special cylindrical weapon that extends a stiletto blade from one of the ends, which he uses to kill a Gotham City councilman and his bodyguard.

Once the clip wrapped, Cannon discussed the violent sequence, the mysterious man and his weapon.

"It's another way that when -- when the lunatics run the asylum, the strongest one will win," said Cannon, referring to the popular phrase rather than Arkham Asylum. "It's such a corrupt town. The villains that will emerge from the ooze will always surprise us, I believe."

Cannon said he and showrunner Bruno Heller had the luxury of going back in time for "Gotham," and while they "had to make it our own," they were influenced enormously by everything that's come before. "We were making our own romantic poem to this canon of work."

McKenzie's Gordon is very quickly starting to feel the corruption of the city, with the actor saying that he's "feeling surrounded by proper villains like Oswald as well as people who just aren't on the same mission that he is." Gordon has a "warrior's mentality." "He will never give over to hopelessness," said McKenzie.

Bullock presumably didn't start out walking precariously along the moral line, with Logue saying that the character became "very cynical." "When you meet him, he wants to stuff his pockets with whatever he can and get to the finish line," the actor explained. "He's seen 100 of them come and go, but Jim Gordon is the best of them. It took someone like Jim Gordon to wake that up in Harvey Bullock and bring him back to the good side."

"Gotham's" future Penguin got a huge round of applause as Taylor discussed playing the character. "Even though there's no supernatural elements to this work... if he did have a superpower, it would be the fact that he is able to endear himself to a lot of people. That's how he works his way into these situations and is able to play people off of people and emerge triumphant between them."

Alfred is one of the major mainstays of the Batman universe, and Pertwee noted that the character's oath to defend Bruce Wayne is something he takes very seriously. "He doesn't have such wonderful parenting skills, as you'll see -- and they get worse! It was about finding a hook how he communicates with this young man who's going through a very stressful period in his life."

Richards said that when it comes to Barbara Kean's relationship with Jim, her character can already sense that something isn't right. "It's frustrating and also quite painful for her," she said. "I think it's hard for her to figure out what's going on in his head... She's just going through normal relationship stuff, but everything is heightened because we're in Gotham."

With "Gotham" a long way away from getting to even the earliest days of Batman, Cannon said mapping out the first season was "a delight," because the Machiavellian world of Penguin really gets the journey going. "To watch Gordon walk his way through that past was interesting," said Cannon. "We sat down with DC and said, 'Let's talk about the villains who may or may not have origin stories.' That's a meeting [where] you pinch yourself and say, 'I can't believe this is my job.'"

In terms of influence, McKenzie said he always wants to be faithful to the mythology and to the intent of the character "but absolutely not try to do a terrible impression of all the other actors that have played my part." Taylor watched "Batman Returns" many times while he was growing up, as well as the Adam West series. "There's no escaping Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito's incredible characterizations," he said. "When I walk away from this, I want to bring the sheer fun they brought to the character. That's something that I really want to bring to this character as well. They had the time of their life and I'm having the time of my life."

Pertwee's is a dramatic reinterpretation of Alfred, and the actor said that he tried to avoid reading or watching previous films "for a while." And while he was pleased to see that the paths crossed, he is "quite keen" on making sure Alfred represented the common man.

Logue, bringing his character to live-action life for the first time, said he "didn't feel encumbered" thanks to not having previous performances to be compared against. He'd heard the animated versions many times while his kids watched "Batman: The Animated Series" on road trips, however. "I'd heard the Harvey Bullock animated [character] coming through the speaker system while I was driving. But I knew for me, personally, that that approach wouldn't have been good. I couldn't have done that job. We're having fun creating these characters."

Richards said she has always been a massive fan of Batman. "Barbara doesn't show up in there very often. I read 'Year One,' and researched that a little bit," she said. "I think for me and Jada Pinkett Smith -- we and Bruno get to use our characters to bring out different facets in [the other] characters. Especially Ben -- with Barbara, we get to show a different side of [Jim Gordon]. That's the really enjoyable part, that element that I get to bring out the new things in [Jim] and find fun things to play with."

Oswald showing up on Barbara and Jim's doorstep brings a huge wrinkle into the young detective's life. "He's portrayed himself as killing Cobblepot, and obviously, Cobblepot is back," McKenzie said. "The noose will continue to tighten around his neck. He has to figure out how to save his own neck, and more secrets will arise. But one of the things that I think is brilliant about Bruno -- he starts the whole pilot off with Jim making the morally correct choice not to kill Oswald... Gordon is effectively responsible for Penguin, eventually.

"He has to learn that he can't always do the right thing," McKenzie continued. "That'll be fun to play."

Cobblepot is now a marked man, with Taylor explaining that he comes back to Gotham because "he knows nothing else." "His whole identity is wrapped in this city and in this environment. He needs to come back and in order for him to fulfill his dreams of what he wants with his life. He needs to be there."

Cannon didn't want to give away very much about the series, but Cobblepot's Machiavellian rise to the top is something the team plans to explore during the course of the first season.

Alfred suddenly finds himself with a son in Bruce Wayne, and both are incredibly traumatized by the events which lead to this new relationship. "There's a tremendous sense of love and loyalty explored," said Pertwee. "The relationship develops, but at a natural pace. They find a hook of communicating. It's the journey of the boy that turns into a man that dons the cowl." Pertwee praised David Mazouz, who plays Bruce Wayne, as "brilliant."

Richards said that Barbara is an "equal part" of a triangle, and the character has some deep dark secrets she's hiding from Gordon. "[Renee] Montoya is one of those," said Richards. "You find out about their history and how that's going to affect her and Jim. Montoya's just looking out for me."

In terms of the massive cast, Logue said "Alfred goes off" from what they've been doing lately, and the rest of the cast get to interact with one another -- though no more details were given. "We start to realize why he's such a great keeper of the gate," said Cannon. "It's because he's a badass."

The panel shifted into Q&A mode, and Cannon kicked things off by saying that it's some time away from bringing Bruce to the point where he's ready to explore what's hidden under Wayne Manor.

The question of whether we'll eventually see a young Harley Quinn came up, and Cannon was somewhat evasive. "There are other characters we will see," he said. "Some of them are Bruce's age, so it's hard. But episode seven, look out for Victor Zsasz. Episode nine, look out for Harvey Dent."

Taylor, discussing the audition process, said that when he auditioned, he didn't know what the project was. "I knew nothing. It was a great scene. I just went in and prepared that. The night before, I got the tip off -- I had prepared my thing... and it was remarkably one of the easiest audition processes I've ever had... I got the call the next day saying they were sending me off to Los Angeles to test.

"The character was so beautifully drawn and perfectly put together," Taylor continued. "On top of it, I go in and get my hair dyed black, get a fake nose -- all of that comes together, and it's like stepping into the skin of the character. I haven't felt like I'm struggling to fit into this. It just came about in a natural way. The waddle... it's great that it's a real injury we establish in the pilot. As an actor, that's something you can play as realistically as possible."

Cannon said that as the show was in development, they looked to New York City in the '70s and '80s. "It was that period of time in New York, before it got gentrified. It was a great mixed cultural time... We went back into that place and said, 'What if it just got worse or better from that point on?' One man's dump is another man's paradise. For me, Gotham was the New York I always wanted to visit... Our Gotham is an incredibly liberal and modern-thinking place. Nobody is sensitive. We go with that, and hopefully we keep going."

Richards said she is "so incredibly proud to be a part of this project," and believes television is leading the way with strong female characters "that are multi-layered. No longer are we in these boxes where we're either strong or weak. I get to be this strong, incredible woman, but also emotional and desperate."

"Gotham" was informed by Nolan's trilogy in that the director "changed comic book movies for the better," according to Cannon. "The pain that people go through is real. We feel it and we experience it. I believe that's the way to go with these comic books."

In terms of the dynamic between Bruce Wayne and each of the villains, "Right now, he's just a 12-year-old kid," said McKenzie. "I think Alfred and Jim see in Bruce an extraordinarily intelligent, sensitive, smart young man who has the potential to resurrect the city and keep it from falling apart. The villains -- I don't know if they're particularly focused on him."

Logue's "Sons of Anarchy" history was brought up -- "I'm getting applauded for killing a hooker" -- and he discussed how he went from that character to Harvey Bullock, crediting the creative forces behind the show with providing strong material.

McKenzie agreed with Logue, saying Heller wrote the part of Jim with McKenzie in mind. "He's just come back from the front lines, and he's just come back to the city to take on his father's legacy," he said. "He's a moral force finding himself in an immoral land trying to bring justice to a lawless place. Because he comes from a completely different mindset, he makes a lot of mistakes. He makes a lot of decisions that are morally correct -- like saving Oswald's life -- that will come back and bite him in the ass. That's what's beautiful; he stumbles through it. He's a young, pretty bullish, forceful police detective, who's just going to punch and kick his way through Gotham. He's so headstrong that he makes a lot of dumb decisions."

"Does it really matter?" Cannon responded to a question regarding the time period "Gotham" takes place in. "What year is a Western? I don't know. I think you'll have to look at Nolan's films and say, 'When is that set?' We're 18 years before that... [Bruno and I] talked about the Dickensian London and Grimm's fairy tales -- it was our poem to New York. The rock and roll books I looked at for costumes -- that was ageless, too. We've got to put rock and roll into 1970s Dickensian New York."

Cannon also addressed concerns about the series ending with Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl. "Let's not think about the end." There's a great moment where Bruce says, "I'm angry all the time, will that ever stop?" Alfred says, "I don't know." Bruce says, "Will you teach me to fight," and there's a long pause.

In terms of the Joker teases, Cannon said they were having "a lot of secret fun with it." "We're going to go way, way back -- I will say that. I don't think he would be telling jokes."

Before the panel wrapped, McKenzie addressed a question from a fan about the intelligence level of Jim Gordon -- especially given that the "Gotham" version of Gordon will have known Bruce Wayne since the night of his parents' death. As a relatively intelligent man -- a police detective, even -- wouldn't Gordon have a good idea who's under Batman's cape and cowl down the line?

"I think you hit on it -- Jim is 'supposedly' very intelligent," said McKenzie, jokingly. "I think both Alfred and Jim see this dark -- Danny was talking about Bruce in episode 8, asking Alfred if he'll teach him how to fight. Both Alfred and Jim know how to fight, [but] they fight differently. They're trying to steer this young man to this path they believe is the right path. They've offered different versions of what it means to be a man... In our version, will it be much of a surprise that he becomes Batman? It might not be."

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