Ben McKenzie is taking on a role that has been depicted by the likes of Gary Oldman, Pat Hingle, Bob Hastings, and Neil Hamilton, not to mention written about by various writers since 1939. He admits he was a little anxious as he researched the character asking for source material from Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment.
“There’s actually not a lot from this time period of [Jim] Gordon’s life, there’s very little actually,” McKenzie explains. He reflects on a conversation he had with Johns about Gordon’s origin story, some of which contradict others through the years. “I realized in the middle of this [conversation] that I’m asking him for permission,” McKenzie says with a laugh. Johns, whom McKenzie described as “the guy who is most protective of the brand,” assured McKenzie he is perfect for the job and hired for a reason. “All of us interpret… because that’s what we do. You can’t do an impression of somebody else, you can’t satisfy everyone either.”
The discussion about character interpretations opened the floor to Robin Lord Taylor who plays Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, and Donal Logue who plays Det. Harvey Bullock, both characters who have had humble beginnings in the comic book.
“It’s pretty remarkable because you would think that because all these characters have been portrayed in some fashion before that there wouldn’t be a lot of room for your own interpretation,” Taylor jumps in. “We do actually have a remarkable amount of freedom to really establish these characters because so many of them show up in the comics as fully formed villains or heroes so we actually have a lot of room here to really create who they were.”
Logue’s character has yet to be captured on screen by a live actor (the only incarnation is Bruce Timm/Paul Dini’s “Batman: The Animated Series”). “Whatever preset idea I had going into it, when I started putting it on its feet, it changed because of the dynamic of who you’re with,” he tells me. “I’ve oddly never felt compelled for a second to do what someone else has done.”
“We’re respectful of the legacy and the franchise and the people that have come before,” McKenzie says, “but no good art is made out of trying to copy the previous incarnation.”