Ben McKenzie Teases Gotham Premiere, The Evolution of Jim Gordon and More

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Gotham is finally here.

We've seen the posters, the ads and we think we know the world surrounding the city of Gotham. But try to put all those preconceptions on a shelf and dive into the world created by Bruno Hello (who is also the man who brought us The Mentalist).

On Gotham Season 1, we won't be seeing Batman or Robin... at least in the form we know them. However, we will see a city that's in despair, overun by crime and villains. And rookie Jim Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie, is making it his mission to clean up the area around him.

And we also happen to meet the people who eventually will become the Penguin and the Joker, along with new villains such as Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney. 

But, as McKenzie told me in a recent interview this series is not about Batman as much as it is about a journey that will include many things we don't know about the Gotham from the DC Comics nor the many films in the Batman franchise.

McKenzie also talked about his thoughts in taking on a high profile after years on Southland, as well as the expectations he knows people have and how Jim Gordon's personal life will be touched by the criminal world of Gordon's work.

Oswald and Gordon Face Off - Gotham Season 1 Episode 1

TV Fanatic: How long does it take for you to get a sense of who Jim Gordon is in the series now that you’ve been shooting for a while now?

Ben McKenzie: I’m starting to really understand the character better. I think you’re right and previously I would’ve said like, ‘Oh, no, no. You’ve got to understand him from the jump,” but you can’t. Initially, all you have is that pilot script and you have this really crazy system in pilot season with this nutty, nutty idea to create this incredibly pressurized environment where all these people have to come together for this one time and make this one show really fast in a stressful environment and if anything goes wrong the whole thing could fall apart.

Thank God it all worked out but now that we’ve gone to series and the pilot turned out, in my opinion, really strong it’s allowed me just to take the pressure off and just focus on what it really should be about, which is the words and the other actor or actors in the scene and just acting 101. Just old school as it should be with anything else and not get lost in the kind of, ‘oh, it’s a Batman show,’ which is stressful.

TVF: And I’ve talked to you for years on Southland, which was always this under the radar kind of show and now you’re on one that’s completely the other side of that.

BM: Exactly.

TVF: Were you ever have any trepidation in just talking about the role and thinking about the project as a whole? It’s a big change.

BM: Yeah. It was. But if you’re going to say, ‘Well, I’m just never going to do anything in this genre or anything that’s related to some of these vast mythologies of Batman or Superman or what have you,’ then I think if you’re saying it with that blanket then I think that’s probably a window into your own fear of it, which would be unfortunate. It wasn’t that.

It was, however, a recognition, which we all had, which is why the pilot was such an intense experience [and] a recognition we all had that we really needed to do this right because a lot of people were going to be watching and if we didn’t it would be a huge missed opportunity and it’d be sad because it’s such a great group of people. It’s such a brilliant idea by Bruno to do it this way, such a rich fertile ground for a series, that we’re so glad that it’s come together and the scripts are strong, everyone’s really clicking and it’s good.

TVF: And there are so many expectations and preconceptions for this show. What do you have to say about that?

BM: Occasionally you get that criticism that if the end is that there’s a Batman then that means [Jim] failed in his mission. So, why are we watching the show? And you’re like, ‘Have you watched a Greek Tragedy? Have you watched The Wire?’ The fact that the ultimate mission fails doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t absolutely fascinating. I mean, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch all of these different characters that we think we know but we don’t know them from this point in our lives. The ups and the downs, twists and the turns. I mean to say that because you know the end, keep in mind all you really know is that there’s a Batman eventually. That’s what you know. You don’t know any of the rest of it so that’s not interesting to you? Oh, my God. I would hate to be you then. You must find a lot of things not interesting.

TVF: The one thing I’ve taken from Bruno is that he so has this world in his head.

BM: Oh, man. We met last year doing a pilot for CBS, The Advocates, and it was right as Southland was ending and we just bonded immediately because he’s such a smart, just incredibly articulate but he also understands story, he understands how to make a television show run and how to avoid the very common traps that shows fall into that they never recover from.

And one of the things that he’s done brilliantly is to just take on this world from a completely different angle, which is Jim, a rookie cop assigned the murder of the Wayne, but the one good man in a city that’s fallen into moral disrepair. And jumping in at that angle just opens you up. You can walk down any alley in Gotham and there’ll be another colorful character that he’s going to interact with and another origin story that you can explore and the challenge is cramming them all into 42 minutes.

TVF: Do you think weekly it will be Jim kind of seeing his morals tested? We see in the pilot that sometimes you have to do some bad things to do the right thing, which was something we talked about a lot on Southland.

BM: Exactly. It’s procedural in a sense that’s there’s a crime of the week that they’re solving or not solving but it’s also heavily serialized. You’ve seen the pilot and he’s established so much forward motion and so much back-story in the pilot alone we have to continue to pay that off. So each episode will, particularly in the first year I think, really test his morality and his belief and the kind of rigid polarity that he’s always thought of the world. There’s good and there’s bad and there’s an awful lot of shades of gray too.

TVF: The Jim and Harvey relationship, which is really cool in the pilot. Can Jim learn from Harvey even though they are so different?

BM: Yeah. Absolutely. Jim can learn from Harvey that the ‘morally correct’ thing to do in the situation, the immediate present, is not necessarily the thing that will accomplish the greater good.

TVF: Will Jim’s personal life run parallel with all the crime fighting or will they cross over?

BM: They’ll definitely overlap and you see the seeds of it in the pilot alone. Jim and Barbara are already lying to each other. She has a past with Renee that she’s not telling him about, he’s already morally compromised with what he’s done and he’s not telling her about that to keep her safe right? So that’s going to blow up. I mean, it’s noir so the relationships don’t have happy endings either.

Gotham Season 1 Episode 1 airs at 8/7c tonight on Fox.

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Gotham Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now, there will be light. There will be light, Bruce.

Jim

Somebody takes a cop’s gun, you shoot him. That’s basic.

Harvey