In Episode 13 (called “Welcome Back Jim Gordon”) of the Fox series Gotham, which has already been picked up for a second season, the key witness in a homicide ends up dead while being held for questioning by the police, and Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) suspects that it’s an inside job, looking to an old friend for information. With the lines becoming blurred, as far as what the good guys and bad guys are willing to do, it will be anyone’s guess for where the power will shift.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Ben McKenzie talked about the biggest surprises in being a part of this show, being told about the season arc prior to the start of filming, the power that an early season pick-up gives them, how great his working relationship with showrunner Bruno Heller is, that he’s more interested in the how than the who, as far as the villain origin stories they explore, the newfound strength and power in his character, and the darkness in finding out that his father wasn’t exactly who he thought. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
BEN McKENZIE: Just all of the resources that we have at our disposal. That’s been really lovely. The fact that we actually did an entire episode set in a circus with the Greysons, and we were there, watching a full circus. That’s just amazing. It’s really incredible. And each week is a new surprise. It’s really wonderful to come to work and have each episode be different, in a way. They have similar structure sometimes with the villain, but we can go in any direction we want. If we want to do an episode set in the circus, we can do that. If we want to do one in Arkham Asylum, we’ll do that. It’s fun. You know how precious that is. That doesn’t come around a lot.
How much information are you given, and how far ahead are you given information? Is it on a very need-to-know basis, or do they tell you about the upcoming pivotal moments?
McKENZIE: Bruno [Heller] and I sat down, at the beginning of the year, after he had mapped out the first season, and it certainly wasn’t exhaustive, but he gave me a definite arc to the season. It’s an arc we’ve stayed true to, for the most part. Particularly, the first season of a show, or any season of any show, you really don’t know how you’re going to get there. You hopefully have an idea of where you’re trying to get to and roughly the manner in which you’re going to get there, but so much of it depends on what works. You shoot scenes with a bunch of different characters in a bunch of different settings, and some of them work and some of them don’t. And you need to go do more of the ones that work and less of the ones that don’t. It’s true of the storytelling. It’s true of everything. It is a very fluid process. But he sat down with me, at the beginning of the season, and said, “This is what I’m thinking.” I thought it was great. And that’s what we’ve done. So, Season 1 is mapped out. Season 2, he has not been concentrating on, purposefully, because getting 22 episodes done of a show like this, or any show, is a real challenge. We’ve gotta nail each and every episode.
McKENZIE: It’s wonderful. Just logistically, it helps on a fundamental level because he’s now able to think about his writers room for next year, effectively now. He’s still focused on the season, but they’ve mapped out the rest of the season and they’ve only got a few more to shoot. The assignments are paneled out. We can lock in directors for next year. If you’re first to be picked up, you get a better pick of directors for next year. You can put a pin in them for specific episodes. That leverage and power is all really helpful for a show like this, or any show. Plus, it feels good. It’s a validation.
Do you feel like you’re in a position where you can come up with a list of things you’d like to see and bring that to Bruno Heller, or do you leave that to him and the writers?
McKENZIE: We have a really good working relationship. I just adore working with him. He runs the show. It’s not like I sit in our writers room with him. But, he listens and cares. I never try to give him any note that I don’t think is important. Some of it may seem minute, but it’s important to me, in terms of the playing of a scene. He pretty much says, “When you’re on set, you can do, within reason, what you want.” What I’m saying is that I think he’s such a brilliant guy that, for the most part, I’m happy to see what he comes up with and go, “That was good.” Occasionally, I weigh in and go, “I’m not sure. I don’t know.” And then, we just talk it through. Most of the time, he ends up convincing me, but occasionally, I get a word in. It’s a good relationship. It’s the best relationship I’ve ever had with a showrunner. So many showrunners are so protective of their word, and they take a lot of ownership over that and it’s all about doing exactly what they wrote on that piece of paper when they were sitting in their office in Burbank. But he’s not that way, at all. He welcomes collaboration and encourages it, and god bless him for it. I don’t think I could do this show without that.
There were all of the villains introduced in the pilot (i.e. The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy), you’ve had some villains-of-the-week, we’ve met Harvey Dent, we know the Scarecrow is coming, and there’s been talk of Harley Quinn, in the future. Is there anyone you’d love to see your character interact with, in some way?
McKENZIE: No. I like a lot of the villains from the mythology, but we’re sowing the seeds for them now. We have an upcoming episode involving the origins of the Scarecrow. We have teases for who the Joker might be. These are all seminal villains. To me, it’s not so much who, but how, and what the actual dynamic is with Jim. The only boring part of it is finding the fact that got you from point A to point B. Most actors, if they’re being honest, are not going to say that that’s the most stimulating acting work they’ve ever done. But the dynamics of staring into the face of evil and it looking back at you, and seeing yourself in that or not, is interesting. So, wherever that takes us with which ever character it is, that’s what I’m interested in. As comforting as it might be to have Jim be the moral center of a world falling apart, and always have him do the right thing, it must be so boring. Neither Bruno nor I want to do that. These things take time, so we’re not rushing into it. We’re going to do things where you go, “I didn’t know he was going to do it that way. I didn’t think he’d ever be capable of doing it that way. And if he’s capable of doing that, what is he capable of doing next?” That’s fun to play.
Jim Gordon came out of Arkham Asylum more confident and self-assured, and caring less about what other people think about his choices. What’s that been like to play?
McKENZIE: It’s so fun. It’s good for me, personally, because it just un-encumbers you. You feel like you can just go right to the problem and attack it. You don’t have to apologize for it, and you don’t have to justify any of it. There is strength and power in that. Those are fun statuses to play.
What can you say about where Jim Gordon is headed, in the future?
McKENZIE: He grew up with a father who’s very powerful, and who he idolized, but the realization, earlier on in the season and throughout the season, that his father is not exactly who he thought he was and that he did things a little bit more skillfully that Jim was aware of, means that there are all sorts of interesting parallels with that. He’s becoming his father, but not the father that he thought he had. He’s succeeding, but he’s becoming a pale imitation of the heroic guy that he started out as. And yet, it’s working and he likes it. It’s fun. There’s a little bit of darkness in that. Not a lot. We’re not going to go overboard with it, but I’d like to get there, eventually. That’s what those power systems do. Eventually, you have to buy in or you’re out. If you don’t do what it takes to get it done, whether that’s greasing palms or cracking heads, you’re out. So, Jim is not going to live on the outside. He’s going to work his way up.
Gotham airs on Monday nights on Fox.