The Penguin is coming.
And so is the Catwoman, Riddler and more villains from the story of Batman, which we’ll see this fall in the new Fox series, Gotham.
The series follows a young Jim Gordon in his early days of law enforcement, chronicling how his relationship with a pre-teen Bruce Wayne - who we know will grow up to be Batman – begins.
The unique drama - which Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith - was screened last night in New York and Los Angeles and TV Fanatic was on hand to grab a few minutes with director Danny Cannon and Executive Producer Bruno Heller.
Read on to gather up insight into this new take on a very familiar franchise...
TV Fanatic: Talk to me about expectations. Even I came into this with expectations but how do you keep that in your head or not in your head when shaping Gotham?
Danny Cannon: We met at Thanksgiving and we were both on other projects and Bruno had just pitched his idea and we had a long conversation about ‘where is this?’ The thing about it is we wanted it to be absolutely nondescript. We know it’s 20 years before [The Dark Knight director Christopher] Nolan. We know that and thank God because I wouldn’t want to touch that work of art.
What we did was we said if New York had not moved forward from the late 70s and early 80s when it was in trouble before Koch, before Bloomberg, before Giuliani, when every subway train had graffiti on it, when Blondie was playing and when hip hop was created. Before Public Enemy. We were so turned on by that notion and I ran with that.
Bruno Heller: Beyond that, the expectations are really just a good thing because everyone has an idea of this world in their head so you’re tapping into a common pool of culture. All around the world people could make their own Batman movie or imagine their own Gotham. So when you’re presenting that world everyone knows that you’re really presenting your take on it.
DC: Bruno said early about the Greek myths. They were always performed live in ancient times and every performance was different but they were telling the same story. So everyone when they were telling their friends and sharing the story, it was different then, too. I think that’s a beautiful thing. So if we can keep that up, I think Batman is the best franchise in sci-fi history.
TVF: Talk to me about the Jim Gordon character. We’ve known him in other works and in Gotham as such a noble, good person. Is he ever going to cross a line or will we always see him step just before that line?
BH: I would say, yes, he’s going to cross a few lines. It’s part of the journey of Gotham and if that’s the journey he has to take to get to the point he’s accepting a slightly psycho vigilante in a mask as a legit part of law enforcement, that’s crossing a line!
TVF: Talk about your directing style, Danny, and how you approached it.
DC: This is the first television pilot where I sat down and I drew frames. I’d never done that in television because you work at such a breakneck pace and normally everything you’re doing is based upon some kind of reality. But one of the first things I did was to find a visual effects company that shared my vision and we talked about the 70s and 80s in New York. And we talked about a world that was rundown – it could be now – and yes there are cell phones but it’s non-descript but they didn’t get it right. There’s no Steve Jobs. There’s no hope. It hasn’t quite gotten there yet. It’s a town with no hope and no prospects so I ran with that and I kept my feet on the ground and my influences were all the movies.
TVF: Talk about the villains here. How much will you be creating your own on top of the ones we have from the Batman lore?
BH: Both. We’ve got great partners in DC and Geoff Johns. He knows his stuff. From the technical point of view, there’s a freedom in creating your own and a value in recognized name. In each case we’ll find a balance. Fish Mooney, for instance, is a fresh character because we needed the freedom to play so, yes, both.
DC: And I think [Jada] nailed the tone. If anyone nailed the tone it’s her. Camp is right around the corner but she didn’t go there. Instead, she had a body language which was beautiful. I worked with her, and so did Bruno, extensively with Bruno where we watched her shape it. Her work was spectacular. Literally, she and Penguin can have a show of their own!
BH: She’s does this thing that is totally believable and completely graceful and sexy but scary and not everybody can do that.
TVF: Why was Ben McKenzie the right choice to play Jim Gordon?
DC: [Bruno] said it in the first meeting. ‘Watch Ben McKenzie’s work.’ It was bizarre!
BH: The thing is TV doesn’t lie. Movies can lie. He has genuine honor and integrity in an old school way and he reacts that way. To me, he’s up there with Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart as a guy who really embodies the best American old school values and that just comes and thrusts everything he does.
DC: I went to his house and there was a beautiful picture of his entire family and they were so happy. He’s from good stock and he’s raised well. He understands the word integrity. He knows what it means. I can’t imagine anybody else playing this part.
BH: He doesn’t give you a false note. He won’t give you something that isn’t true to what he’s playing, which is a really rare quality.
Gotham premieres this fall on Fox.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.