ByFred Topel, writer at
Fred Topel

The Penguin usually has to play second fiddle to The Joker in Batman stories. On Gotham, he gets to be the star villain. With The Joker a long way off in the Gotham universe, The Penguin is the most well-known Batman villain, and the pilot of the show is essentially his whole origin story.

Oswald Cobblepot works for Gotham City mafiosa Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), a new character on the series. He’s already called Penguin by Mooney’s thugs because of his limp. By the end of the pilot, Cobblepot has already faced off against Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), and series creator Bruno Heller told the Television Critics Association that he’ll be coming after Mooney’s empire.

Robin Lord Taylor plays Oswald Cobblepot, and I got to sit with him at the Beverly Hilton Hotel after Fox’ Gotham presentation to the Television Critics Association. I’ve seen many of Taylor’s movie roles including Accepted, Assassination of A High School President, Would You Rather, but most notably Another Earth, which introduced me to filmmakers Brit Marling and Mike Cahill at Sundance. We got the scoop on [Gotham](series:1127075), premiering Sept. 22 on Fox, but I’ll thank you for indulging me asking about Brit and Mike at the end there.

  Robin Lord Taylor on the Gotham panel
Robin Lord Taylor on the Gotham panel

Most of the famous villains are just getting started on Gotham. Was it exciting to jump in the deep end as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s exciting but at the same time, I know that they’re just going to keep teasing things out as we go too. There’s so much to cover. All of these characters have so much ground to cover in terms of where they begin and where they end up. Yeah, it is exciting to be kind of the first one up.

Has Oswald already sustained a permanent injury in the pilot?

I mean, it is his signature walk. It is part of the reason, and the nose, why he has earned the nickname The Penguin. It becomes part of his identity. He was taunted with that name in the pilot and before, sure, being called The Penguin. Where he ends up, he actually I think comes to a place where he embraces it and even embracing the name that he hates, he becomes even more evil and relentless in terms of getting what he wants.

When they suggest a large part of the show will be a power struggle between Penguin and Fish Mooney, did you get that impression from the pilot or is that exciting news?

I got the impression of that in the pilot, especially in the sense that Fish is the one who’s basically standing between Oswald as a person of low stature as opposed to Oswald with all of the power. She’s in the way, so I knew that there was going to be a conflict there. Yeah, and she’s the one who does hurt him and give him his initial walk.

Since he worked in her organization, does he know some vital secrets he’ll use to his advantage?

Definitely, yes. I would say he knows, and even more than that, he knows the world. He know the big players. He knows who he has to pit against whom to get what he wants, which is the power.

  Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot
Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot

How did you audition for the part? Was it an open call?

The casting directors, Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas I think were pretty instrumental in terms of making sure that I came in and had an audition. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. In a lot of ways, they’re the reason I’m here.

Have you asked for research materials from DC?

I haven’t asked DC but I’ve looked through back issues and I found several Penguin comics where they actually approached his origin. I read those and I’m reading more and more as we go along.

Do you happen to know the names of those issues?

Pain and Prejudice.

How long did you have to do the scene at the dock with Ben McKenzie, and how intense was that?

It was intense. We had a day. We had a day to get it and it was definitely the most incredible location. We’re there on the water with the boats and it was cold. It was March in New York, a little snow in the air, but at the same time all of that I think fed into the energy of the scene. I mean, you’re there in that crazy place. It’s not that hard to get into that world or get into the state that our characters are in. It actually was very organic.

  Oswald Cobblepot and Jim Gordon
Oswald Cobblepot and Jim Gordon

How quickly does Penguin return?

Let’s see. Fairly quickly. He takes some time. There’s some time but it’s part of his identity. He needs to be back there.

When you were asked to be in Another Earth by these Georgetown filmmakers, did you have any idea what they were up to?

I had no idea. Well, I had kind of an idea because they didn’t have a full script written and it was just another submission that my agent set out. They had shot a bunch of B-roll stuff with Brit and Mike shot all the stuff of Brit walking around. From that, the look of the film, and a lot of that is in the film, the look of the film and just the idea behind the film were so captivating that all of us involved were immediately on board. It’s ultra, ultra low budget. We’re shooting in Mike’s mom’s house but we all knew that it was something really, really special that rarely comes along.

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