The hook of Fox’s new Batman series Gotham is that this is “Before The Penguin,” “Before Catwoman,” and “Before The Riddler.” We will meet all of these characters in their former incarnations. While Oswald Cobblepot becomes The Penguin right in the pilot, other characters will take their time. Selina Kyle is just a teenager on the streets of Gotham City, and Edward Nygma is working for the Gotham police.
Cory Michael Smith only has one scene in the pilot. He’s sharing some evidence with Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), but he’s giving it to them as a riddle. The grizzled cops have no time for jokes, but maybe they should humor Nygma a little bit more. We know where this is going.
I sat down with Smith in the bar at the Beverly Hilton Hotel after Fox’s presentation of Gotham to the Television Critics Association. While he is new to television and film screens, I have actually seen him before. He starred in the horror short film Dog Food which played at SXSW, and the feature film Camp X-Ray at Sundance. HBO’s Olive Kitteredge will play later this year, but Gotham might be your first chance to see Smith on Sept. 22.
Obviously you have one key scene in the pilot. Was that enough for you to go on to sign up?
Yeah, when you sign up for a show like this, I knew what I was getting into in terms that this would be all the formative years. So I was investing in being a part of an origin story, being a part of telling the story getting Edward to become The Riddler. The only paper I had was the pilot, but the story and the potential for this story was what I was investing in, what I was saying yes to.
I imagine if they offer you Edward Nygma, you could have no lines in the pilot and still say yes.
Right, and I signed on knowing that Edward is a good guy for a while. I’m going to be marinating in that for a while.
How did you audition for the part? Was it an open call?
My agents and managers got me an appointment.
Were you allowed to read the whole script?
No. The audition sides were also mock sides so they’re not actually in the script. They wrote sides specifically for the audition that kind of encapsulated characters’ behavior. It was just a very extended riff on my actual scene in the pilot. It was a really great side too, just a very extended monologue kind of flirting with a female police officer. It’s kinda great.
Are there any comic books where Nygma was a CSI on the police force?
I don’t believe so. I think that was completely new to the series. Certainly not that I have read, and I don’t believe. I think that is a new circumstance that Bruno and Danny created. I think it’s fantastic. I’m stoked about it, because starting as far away from The Riddler as possible, to actually be working alongside the good guys is further to go. To have positive intentions and want to be helping the good guys is fun. I hope he stays there for a little bit.
Do you expect there will be a lot of great scenes between you and Donal Logue where he’s just not having any of this joking around?
Oh, I really hope that blows up to something fantastic. I really would just like to have an intense scene with Mr. Logue. Yeah, that would be a treat. If it doesn’t go there, it’d be a real shame because he’s just constantly giving me the hand. That has to eventually build to something.
Have you asked DC to send you any research materials?
That’s actually brilliant. I have been paying for them. What the hell is wrong with me? There is a man that is self-proclaimed the biggest fan of the Riddler. There’s a website called TheRiddleFactory.com and I can’t endorse that on Fox/Warner Bros.’ behalf or anything, but the man who runs that very enthusiastically wrote to me the day that my casting was announced. He and I have been in contact and chatted. He’s been a huge resource for me in terms of guiding me on how best to research and study The Riddler in a very cool way.
You’re relatively new to acting, yes?
I mean, I graduated college five years ago. I’ve done eight or nine plays, five of them in New York and I have two movies, a miniseries and this series coming out in the fall.
I actually saw your short Dog Food.
Did you see Dog Food? Oh my God, you were at SXSW.
So has it been a big year for you with everything coming out, including Camp X-Ray at Sundance?
Yeah, I was doing a play on Broadway last spring and then after that I switched to TV and film. I’ve been doing that for the past year and it’s all coming out this fall which is very exciting.