I’ve been eagerly awaiting the summer press tours for the fall TV season, because there are a number of big comic book shows coming. A new Constantine series is interesting. A The Flash series is a no-brainer. But bringing Batman back to television, and doing it in a gritty TV landscape post The Dark Knight and mid- Arrow is really something.
Gotham is the story of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who begins as a detective investigating the murder of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz)’s parents. Gordon is partnered with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and already faces villains like the Penguin, Carmine Falcone and a budding young Catwoman and Poison Ivy.
The creators of Gotham screened the pilot episode of the series last night and I got to interview them one on one, or one on two as it were. Bruno Heller created the show and Danny Cannon directed the pilot. They spoke openly about their plans for Batman’s most famous villain, and even introducing some others. I have to issue a minor spoiler warning as a matter of course, but I was really careful about anything beyond what's already been in every Batman story, so if you trust me, read on.
When approaching the world of Batman, what made you single out Jim Gordon as the story that had a lot of room earlier on to tell?
Bruno: Because he’s the human moral center of the Batman myth. If Commissioner Gordon doesn’t allow Batman to operate then Batman doesn’t operate. He’s the link between the two worlds, between the dark and the light world. He had a career in a procedural sense. He’s a framework. He’s not a wacky character who goes off to do odd things. He’s a steady paternal figure inside the myth so he’s the natural lead there.
Did it have to start with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Could it have started even earlier?
Bruno: Yeah, it could have, but storytelling for a big audience, you need to start with, in this case, the nativity. The moment everyone knows and understands and connects to.Did it have to start with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Could it have started even earlier?
How did you cast the roles of Bruce’s parents, being such a significant scene, but those actors know they only get one scene?
Danny: [Laughs] Well, I think that’s a tribute to the franchise. They don’t care. It’s like Greek mythology. You’ll get to play that play once and people will talk about it for the rest of their lives, back in the day. I think that’s the power of this franchise. People just want to be a part of it.
It seems like you’re not shying away from the wacky characters. We see Oswald Cobblepott, Edward Nygma, Selina Kyle. Did you want to embrace all that we know about those characters?
Bruno: Yeah, you have to. We’re not trying to turn it into Peter Sellars, the opera director. We’re not trying to do “Oh my God, this is a whole different bizarre take on the whole world.” Like it’s set in Nazi Germany or something. The beauty of these characters is that everyone knows and loves them. It would be foolish not to embrace both the comic book aspect of it and the psychologically dark aspect of it, the funny aspect of it.
How long will you hold off on introducing The Joker?
Danny: [Laughs] Heard that question a few times.
Bruno: You win the prize for asking the prize question.
Danny: Million dollar question.
Is there any kind of vague answer you can give me?
Bruno: I would say he is, for everyone involved to a degree because it’s about the villains, he’s the crown jewel in the villains’ crown. So we’re going to be very careful and thoughtful about how we roll that character out.
Danny: We have the luxury in nobody’s ever really delved way back. The amount of thought and time we’ve been allowed to give that is terrific because when we finally do reveal the “real” joker, and that’s a tip, it will be very thought out and worth the wait.
There’s a reason people have avoided the backstory, because he’s such an enigma. Is that daunting to take on?
Danny: It is daunting but the way to take it on is not to go, “Here it is” but “Here it might be. Wait, it’s not that. It’s something else. Wait, it’s not even that.” I think that is the greatest tribute to the Joker, the fact that you may think it’s one thing, it ends up being something else because that guy, I think should never be able to be figured out.
There’s a lot of action in the pilot. Will Jim Gordon be a man of action week to week, always getting in fights and chase?
Danny: No, absolutely not. No, I think his true fight is how does he keep his integrity? How does he maintain that? How does he stay within that corrupt system and still find his humanity. So I think that’s better than any action sequence.
I agree, but was there a network note of “Make sure there’s a lot of action in the pilot?”
Danny: It’s amazing how much support we got from them. I think their favorite shows are our favorite shows. We all love slow burning cable shows and their support for us has been wonderful.
Is there a procedural element, a case of the week?
Bruno: Yeah, as a kind of framework, the central character is a policeman, so it’s a kind of natural skeleton if you like for what we do. It gives both the writers and the audience and the actors a framework to work from, because this world is so rich and free and big, that without that, it could go in any number of directions.
Who are some of the unsung, lesser known Batman characters you would love to give an episode or two?
Danny: I have a big pitch for Bruno of doing Mr. Freeze, the origin story of Mr. Freeze. I’m very excited about that one.
Has there ever been a legitimate, grounded origin story of Mr. Freeze?
Danny: No. So, we’re wide open on that one. The support from DC has been wonderful. Geoff Johns has been a really great person to work with because he knows everything, but he also empowers everybody to go, “Hey man, that’s wide open. Go, go, go.” He really empowers us.
There were two shots in some of the chase scenes that I would call the “Jim Gordon Cam.” It looks like you have a camera attached to him. What is that shot and will it be something you come back to?
Danny: Again, I’m constantly treading this line between reality and camp because that’s always been the franchise, with capes and masks and what not. I was trying to find ways to have a visceral experience but also a cinematic, enjoyable experience. So I would call that my POV cam.
Just to mention another comic book property, you did the first Judge Dredd movie. When the new Dredd movie came out, did you have any feelings about their approach, or was it something you would’ve wanted to do yourself had you been given the leeway?
Danny: That’s a very political question, but I will say this. I was 26 when I did Judge Dredd. I wasn’t old enough, but there was so much of the remake that I wanted to put into the first one and couldn’t. But, in watching the remake, it made me, it made me...
Bruno: Proud. Proud that you had created a character in films that had a life and continuity. Until he’d done that movie, that was a very small, cult, British comic book figure.
Danny: I will say this. It’s funny. I read that comic from 11 years on onwards. I get a lot of fan mail still from that movie and I’m proud of that.