Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith Talk GOTHAM, Playing The Penguin and The Riddler, the Audition Process, and More

     October 13, 2014


From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome), Gotham is the origin story for a number of the characters in the Batman universe, including Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler and Poison Ivy, as it shows what made them the formidable adversaries that they will eventually become.  At its core, it is the story of Detective James Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil, and it chronicles the birth of one of the most popular superheroes of our time.

During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Robin Lord Taylor (who gives a memorable break-out performance as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin) and Cory Michael Smith (Edward Nygma, aka The Riddler) talked about how they each came to this show, having to read a fake scene for their auditions, the anticipation and excitement they have in being a part of this show, how excited their mothers are, that the episodes just keep getting better and more epic, and finding the physicality for their characters.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

gotham-poster-riddlerHow did you each come to this show?

CORY MICHAEL SMITH:  It was very secretive.  They had mock sides and wouldn’t let anyone read the script.  I knew who I was auditioning for.

ROBIN LORD TAYLOR:  I knew, too, but it was a fake scene with a fake name in the scene.  At one point, my agent was like, “It’s The Penguin.” 

SMITH:  They were trying really hard to keep people from knowing what they were auditioning for.  The Penguin was one of the first character’s cast, and I think that casting was announced when I was auditioning.  But, I knew by the time that I went in what I was auditioning for.

TAYLOR:  The casting directors, Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas, are based in L.A., and they were incredibly supportive.  I owe this all to them, for the most part.

SMITH:  They were lovely.  I had never met them before.

This is the first long-term TV role for each of you, correct?

SMITH:  I’ve never done TV before.

TAYLOR:  It’s insane! 

And you end up on Gotham, which was one of the most highly anticipated shows of the season.

SMITH:  It’s all right.  There are puddles and there are oceans, and I say, it’s all water.

TAYLOR:  It’s all water, baby!

Were you nervous, going into it, or was there too much excitement to be nervous?

TAYLOR:  Well, nervous makes it sound a little negative.  It was more anticipation and excitement. 

SMITH:  We want people to love it.  There’s so much passion in the Batman community that we just want to satisfy and impress.  We want fans to be genuinely proud and happy and excited, and ride this wave with us.  I feel responsibility to live up to the brilliance of this entire canon, which I hope that we’re going to do.

gotham-poster-penguinWho in your lives is most excited that you’re a part of this universe now?

SMITH:  My mother loves Batman.  I don’t think there a show that she could be more excited that I’m a part of.

TAYLOR:  That’s fantastic!

SMITH:  Her friends are stoked.  She’s like, “My son is doing a new Batman show!”  She’s very excited.  Also, there’s a guy that runs a website called The Riddle Factory (  He’s a real gentleman and an insane enthusiast.  I don’t mean that he’s insane, but he’s a very dedicated enthusiast of Edward Nygma.  He and I communicate and he’s been super helpful, in terms of fighting sources for research.  And he’s really supportive, promoting me on his website.  It’s nice.  It’s really great.  Having someone who is a wizard on Edward Nygma is really nice.

TAYLOR:  I need one of those!  Penguin guy out there, come find me!  I would say that my mom is the most excited, just about the fact that I have a regular gig.  To be a part of a show that everyone knows about, and it’s not just some show where it’s new and you have to explain what it is, they’re right there with you.  It’s insane! 

When you do a pilot that sets up the world so well, were you more anxious to read Episodes 2 and 3, to make sure it sustains?

SMITH:  Yes, and I think they get better.  I love them.  The first one was so open and oblique, and really introduced a lot of people.  As we go along, they get more focused, in a really productive way.  It’s really succinct storytelling.  There are specific events that are huge and surprising and exciting, especially with [The Penguin], but each one still solves a crime, in every episode.  They’re just getting really focused.  The humor between Harvey Bullock and James Gordon is getting really, really tight.

TAYLOR:  The surprise aspect is really amazing.  I have my preconceptions about what’s going to happen, and then I read the next script and I’m like, “What?!,” and my mind is blown.  It’s so exciting. 

SMITH:  In just a few episodes, what happens to The Penguin is really good.

TAYLOR:  We really go there.

SMITH:  It’s really good.  No one could possibly even guess where he goes and what he does.  It’s amazing!

TAYLOR:  It’s pretty epic.  

gotham-robin-lord-taylorThese characters each have their own physicality.  How did you find your performance and decide how you wanted to embody your character?

TAYLOR:  Well, I think it was cast perfectly well.  A lot of us are just immediately bringing an energy that we have that makes sense with the character.  In terms of my character and the physicalization, it’s in the script.  It’s great because I discover that as the audience discovers that.  I get to develop it in front of everybody’s eyes.  It’s not just something that I’m bringing that I invented and no one knows where it came from.  It’s established and it’s part of him, and people are there, witnessing that.  It’s great.

SMITH:  I made a very specific choice when I went in to audition for this, based on the scene, which isn’t even in the show, and what he was doing in the world of forensics, he was holding a hair and looking at it.  All of the things that I was doing while I was working on the words, I just built everything off of that.  He was looking at this thing and sharing it with someone, and everything came from that, for me.  From there, it was just easy.  I also have these fabulous glasses and this notebook, everywhere I go.  I have these things, and it’s very fingery to me.  I found him pretty easy.  It just came innately.

TAYLOR:  Same with me.

The relationship between Oswald Cobblepot and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is so much fun to watch.  What’s it like to play that dynamic with her?

TAYLOR:  She’s the nicest person, ever.  She’s nothing like Fish Mooney, at all.  But at the same time, she’s a superstar and I’m starting out.  That dynamic, itself, is very similar to our dynamic in the show.  It’s nice because I feel that when we’re working together.  It’s great because it makes it real, for both of us.  She’s the best.  I can’t say enough good things about her.  She’s so bad-ass, and also so kind and giving, as an actor and as a scene partner.  It’s really inspiring. 

Gotham airs on Monday nights on Fox.

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