As one of “Gotham’s” wholly original characters, one with no links whatsoever to the legacy of Batman, seductive and deadly mob boss Fish Mooney was introduced as an unwritten book, and Jada Pinkett Smith has relished filling in her blank pages.
Now, as Fish faces a harsh exile from Gotham City after her failed gangland coup, Smith promises that rather than having come to an end, her character’s story grows even more intriguing in the episodes to come — including an unexpected glimpse at her softer side. In a recent conference call, Pinkett Smith offered a teasing glimpse at what the future holds for Fish, including the question of whether she’ll survive for the series’ second season. She also delved into the relationship between Fish and the up and coming Penguin, and shared details on her behind-the-scenes role in defining the character.
On how much more there is to Fish’s story, as she appears to be on her way out of Gotham City:
Jada Pinkett Smith: Well, it’s not quite over yet, but we’ll see if Fish survives the season. It’s a little tense from here on out. That’s for sure. It’s a little rough on Fish from here on out.
I think you’re going to see a lot more color from Fish in the next episodes to come. I think you’re going to see a lot more vulnerability. I think you’re going to see a lot more of a human side of Fish Mooney.
I see Fish Mooney as kind of an extreme version of a woman. A woman who wears many faces. A woman who is strong, but yet afraid. I would say that the Fish Mooney character has, especially in these coming episodes, been really fun and I love how smart and perceptive that she is. She just decided to use her skills — you know, she’s a criminal. She decided to be a criminal instead of a doctor. But I really love her, and I love what’s she becoming too. I think in the next few episodes, and definitely towards the end, you’re going to see a whole different Fish, and a woman that definitely has some heart. You’ve seen the ruthless, now you’re going to see some heart.
On preparing for a wholly original role in a well-established comic book universe:
I think one of the reasons why the role was so interesting to me was because it was something that Bruno [Heller] really wanted a partner in, creating this Fish Mooney character, and I love female gangsters. I just love them. I think that they’re really interesting characters and interesting people. There’s one, Griselda Blanco, who I had studied, and I also love the character from “Sunset Boulevard.”
I did kind of a mish-mosh of those two, because Bruno had some suggestions, and it’s coming together, and I was like “Wow, I would really love to do a mixture of these two women, because the one thing I love about the super villains and Gotham [City], is that they’re always so colorful.” I really wanted her to be grounded, but also have quite a flair.
I love comic books, so it’s been a real pleasure to be able to participate in this way, for sure.
On some of her key contributions in creating the character:
A lot of her mannerisms, and just some of those little added attitude phrases that Fish has. I would say that would be pretty much what I would add. Thank goodness I have a lot of room on set, just because Bruno and the writers know that we’re still trying to find the voice of this character, so I have a lot of room to improv at times when it comes to Fish. That’s been fun as well. Just adding those little flavors that I think make Fish Mooney Fish.
On her notorious preparation for the role, in which she brought in a man on a leash:
We were actually doing a work session about Fish Mooney and trying to find the character, and that was one of the reasons why I decided to do something as extreme as that because I felt like instead of talking about it, just show it.
I just felt like, from the psychology that I had put together in regard to who I thought Fish was, that’s something better to show than to explain verbally. That was one of the reasons why, for that particular creative session that I’d had with Bruno and Danny at the time, in which it had already been decided that I would play Fish, I decided to come in with the guy on the leash to just go, this is who this woman is. This is what I see, and they were like, “Okay — got it.”
It was a very short session, to say the least. They’re like, “Okay, done.” She was in a gown, and I was done up, and I had this guy on the leash with no shirt on, with “Liar” written across his forehead in red lipstick, and they were like, “We are clear,” and I was like, “Cool.”
On the moment she realized that she had “found” Fish:
Funny enough, it really felt like as soon as I put on that wig, Fish is there. I put on that wig and her gear, because it’s so specifically her, it is an immediate transformation. The first day, as soon as I put on that wig and that dress, I just felt like, “Oh, there she is,” and every time I do it she just arrives. It’s a really beautiful thing to have as an actress. Yes, you just don’t have to work hard for it, and that, I’m grateful for. That wig and those heels and the nails really conjure her.
On her input into Fish’s distinctive wardrobe:
Our fantastic costume designer usually just comes to me and says, “What do you think about these fabrics? What do you think about this idea?” So that’s pretty much it: I pretty much told Lisa [Padavoni] to just do whatever she feels, because she’s such a fantastic artist. We usually just talk about shape and color.
My favorite outfit would probably have to be the one that I wore when I went to see Maroni about returning Penguin to me. It’s the first time I realized that Penguin was alive, and the first time I see him after seeing him in Maroni’s restaurant, and think it was teal. It was this beautiful kind of antique fabric, but yet it had this kind of punk rock edge to it with the trim that she used, which was this kind of spiked teal leather. I just thought it was just a beautiful mixture of the old and the new, even with the shape of it — it was high-waisted, but yet it had this kind of like warrior-esque but quite feminine top that went to it.
It was pretty cool. It was really quite beautiful. Not that comfortable to wear, but beautiful.
On finding avenues to make Fish a character audiences love to hate:
I love how colorful Fish can be, but at the same time, you still want her to be relatable. You know what I mean? You still want people to be able to look at this woman, and [you] might not necessarily know her story, but be able to relate to her.
I think that this world of “Gotham,” sometimes in finding where you need to be emotionally or how grounded you need to be in a scene or how far you can actually go with the color of the Fish Mooney, that sometimes tends to be a bit challenging. That’s always a see-saw. It’s always trying to find that balance. But, I would say that aspect is the most challenging, of just keeping that flair, but at the same time, trying to keep her grounded and real. That can be really challenging.
On the volatile Fish/Penguin dynamic:
I think she saw Penguin as one of her adopted orphans, somebody that she kind of took off the street and helped them become something. I think that she felt deeply betrayed by Penguin. It will be interesting to see where their relationship goes from here. Right now, they’re not getting along too well. They’re pretty upset with him. But it will be interesting to see where it goes from here, with the two of them.
On playing Fish the thug vs. Fish the sophisticate:
You know, the thing about Fish Mooney is that you will see, especially in the upcoming shows, the many faces of Fish Mooney. I think Fish Mooney is a woman who, because of her background and because of who she really is, really has taken it upon herself to do a lot of cover-up. So I think she has all of these different kinds of personalities that she picks and chooses to use during certain times.
You have this kind of sophisticated Fish — or what she considers to be sophisticated. What a sophisticated woman sounds like. What a sophisticated woman looks like. But then there are times when she loses her cool, and you kind of see her original essence, which can get a little gutter. Then, sometimes, when she has to be influential with me,n you’ll see her put on her little sexy kitten voice, which is coming up.
This is a woman who has created all of these different masks to fit different times, just depending on what she’s trying to do at that particular point in time. It’s interesting, because when you watch people in real life, you’ll see that happen often. She just does it in a more extreme way.
On playing Fish’s apparently omnivorous sexuality:
Anything pretty much goes as far as she’s concerned, by any means necessary. It’s kind of her motto, but I definitely think that Fish doesn’t discriminate when it comes to her sexuality.
On what fascinates her about the bigger world of “Gotham”:
“Gotham” is so mysterious. There’s this kind of undertone to “Gotham,” the idea that this city itself is kind of this underbelly, and it’s just like, what is going in these alleys? What’s going on in these so called high rises? What is happening? Why is it that this place has some of the most incredible villains, and then you have one of the most beloved super heroes, which is Batman, and comes from this kind of dark, gritty atmosphere?
I’ve just felt that Gotham, itself, has been such a mystery, and I’ve always been drawn to it. Like, what is Gotham? What is the city about? Who’s there? Why is it this place? What is it about this place?
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