After opening WonderCon’s “Gotham” panel with a video recap of the season so far, along with a sneak peek of the first seven minutes from the next new episode, moderator Damian Holbrook of “TV Guide” introduced executive producer and writer John Stephens and actors Ben McKenzie, Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith to the assembled attendees.
Asked when they fisrts realized the show was connecting with viewers, McKenzie responded, “I was walking down the street in New York. I think one episode had aired, and I heard, ‘Hey! You’re that guy in that show!’ And I looked around and it was a guy hauling trash. When you’re yelled at in New York, on the streets, that’s connection.”
“It’s also when you catch people on the subway taking creeper shots of you,” Taylor added.
Going back to the beginning, Holbrook asked McKenzie about the origins of the show.
“Bruno Heller conceived of the idea,” McKenzie answered. “You’d have to ask him what bizarre place in his brain that come out of. He wanted to do an origin story set in the world of Batman but revolving around a rookie detective by the name of Jim Gordon. He met Danny Cannon, who directed the pilot and is another executive producer. I think we can rightly credit him with helping to create the visual style of the show and the world, creating a very specific world that is similar to ours, but slightly in the past. And then they asked me to play the role.”
Holbrook mentioned that Heller wrote the part of Jim Gordon with McKenzie in mind. “He did,” McKenzie affirmed. “Bruno and I did a pilot the year before that didn’t go to series. I went back to my couch, he went back to ‘The Mentalist.’ And six months later he called me and said, ‘I’ve got a job for you,’ and I said, ‘I’ll start tomorrow.’ It’s crazy flattering. No one’s ever written anything for me. My mother wrote me a postcard once.”
“They wrote a fake scene, and it was the ‘Untitled Warner Bros. Project’ or something,” Taylor said about the secrecy of auditioning for the show. “The night before, my agent called me and she was like, ‘By the way, this is a show called “Gotham,” it’s the prequel to Batman, and you’re auditioning for the Penguin.'”
“The sides that we auditioned with weren’t in the show,” Smith added. “It was pretty vague. I think they called the character Ned. It was actually a really great side. I want to do a show about Ned!”
Asked how they go about keeping such familiar material fresh, Stephens said, “It’s something we keep in mind whenever telling any of these origin stories. From the movies and the comic books, we know very clearly how certain people became certain people, so we want to arrive at that in a fresh and new way. We try to be true to the emotional truth of what caused these various characters to become the characters that we all know.”
“We haven’t seen his origin story in particular,” McKenzie said of Jim Gordon. “Bruno made one huge decision, which is to put a young Jim in charge of the case of the Wayne murder, to bring him into contact with a 13-year-old Bruce. That forms the emotional core of the pilot, and in some senses the core of the entire series. How does Jim mentor the young and future Dark Knight, and at the same time try to maintain order in a city that’s falling apart?”
Smith talked about big changes coming for his character, Edward Nygma, in the final four episodes of the season. “There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up. You get to see a different kind of person in Ed. He meets a crisis, and the way that someone responds to a crisis is very different than how they behave in their daily life. You get to see colors of this person that have not been seen at all this entire season. It’s been very exciting to film.”
Asked about the research the actors did when preparing to play characters with such long history, McKenzie was the first to respond. “When I got the part, I reached out to Geoff Johns,” he answered. “He sent a bunch of material, and we had lunch and I asked him, basically, how do I do this? And he said, you’ve got to make it your own. As an actor and an artist, you are supposed to interpret anew. You are supposed to play the given circumstances you read on the page and bring life to it. And I think that’s what we’re all doing.”
Taylor and Smith spoke enthusiastically about their recent first-ever scene together. “It was one of those things where — I think we were at about episode 10, and we said, ‘I don’t think those two guys have ever been in the same room together,'” Stephens recalled. “Once we had it, we were like, ‘Let’s put them in the room together all the time.’ Because there is an element of electricity that they have with each other.”
“Robin and I have become really good friends and fans of each other,” Smith added. “There’s a responsibility, too. Now, in the mythology, that’s the first time that they meet, and we got to do that. That was horrifying and exciting.”
Asked about the impending return of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney to Gotham City, Taylor responded, “It gets intense! My favorite thing about the relationship between Oswald and Fish is that, even though they are each other’s nemesis, Oswald still respects her and does owe her so much. He learned everything about Gotham City from her. It’s a very complicated dynamic. It’s fraught, and it’s dramatic, and I can’t wait for you to see it.”
“One of the things we want to do in the show is always find the line of how far we can get inside the reality of our world, walking up to that line of where supervillains live,” Stephens said when asked what the writers are planning for Season 2. “There are a lot of characters from that Batman lore that kind of fit that bill. People like Victor Fries, who’s a science villain. You can play a lot of his abilities without going to the world of superheroes.” When it comes to the show’s existing characters, “We all know where their endpoints are. But having signposts along the way will be exciting for the fans to see us getting closer and closer [to their Batman reality], so we don’t feel that we’re [remaining in] stasis. All those characters are going to move forward, and we’ll also revisit the Jerome story that we saw this year as well.”
“Gordon will never become corrupt per se, I don’t think,” McKenzie said, replying to a fan’s query. “What is the more complicated question is, how far he will go to achieve — at what point will he believe that the ends justify the means? How much bad will he do to do good? I think that’s the evolution or devolution of the character throughout the series. In order to fight the bad guys, he has to get into the muck and become a little dirty himself.”
Several fans asked about the possibilities for more familiar characters, starting with the development of Bruce Wayne, with Stephens responding, “That’s one of the fun things we can look forward to next year. The Bruce Wayne that we all know — there’s Batman and there’s Bruce Wayne. There’s the fake playboy, light, carefree Bruce Wayne, and in Season 2, you’re going to start to see that Bruce Wayne develop, as he starts creating a public face to hide who he actually is. So we watch that schism start to take place.”
Next, a fan asked about the possibility of lesser-known Batman villains appearing on the show. “Clayface and Mad Hatter are both villains that we’re going to be bringing in,” Stephens said, to a loud, positive response from the crowd. “They both have great back stories and great personalities. Clayface especially is a character I want to bring on. He’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“We’ll see the ongoing development of Bruce Wayne,” Stephens told a young fan who was wondering if we’ll ever see the character’s Batman transformation. “When everybody thinks about who Batman is and what he’s become, he’s the world’s greatest detective. We’ll never see Bruce Wayne put on the mask and the cowl, but you will see the young Bruce Wayne develop those strengths and characters, guided by Alfred and by Gordon, that will allow him one day to become Batman.”
Another fan wanted to know if she could expect to see the Court of Owls on the show, a query that drew more audience cheers. “The Court of Owls is something that we’ve discussed a lot,” Stephens said. “We keep getting up very close to it without pulling the trigger. It’s clear there is a group of shadowy individuals who control or are influencing Wayne Enterprises and have great power in Gotham and may or may not be connected to Carmine Falcone. Is that the Court of Owls? Maybe — I don’t know. Keep watching, and those questions will be answered.”
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