Gotham is set years before Bruce Wayne decides to become Batman, and though a younger version of the character is featured in the series, the spotlight is very much on Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie).
When he arrives in Gotham City, Jim is partnered up with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), a cop who has been in the corrupt city long enough to have also become corrupted to some extent, though it’s not hard to see that the good man who one day ends up being the future Commissioner’s closest ally is in there somewhere.
Logue is superb in the series; his Harvey is rough around the edges, tough as nails and a great match for the very by the book Gordon. The chemistry between him and McKenzie is clear to see and fun to watch.
When I recently had the pleasure of talking to the actor who has made a huge impact in everything from Sons of Anarchy to Vikings, we discussed his role in Gotham in great detail, though the conversation kicked off with a look into Donal’s very interesting family life and his UK roots when I mentioned that I was speaking to him from my home in Cardiff.
Many thanks to Donal for taking the time for this interview.
I have to start by asking what it’s been like to see the hugely positive reaction to Gotham since the pilot aired?
It’s been great, and I have to say that there was an element of relief to it because we went to Comic-Con and we knew there was a massive awareness because it’s DC, because it’s Batman…there’s been 75 years of this. We were handed this gift and it’s in the DNA of Americans, this story. Unlike a lot of other shows I’ve done where you have to build awareness from scratch, this thing had so much awareness that we felt really stressed out for a long time and we were all excited to get the ship out of the harbour. The one question which was in the echo chamber the most, ‘How can you make a show about Batman without Batman?’, got kind of tiresome in a way because the show’s about Gotham and if anything, it’s about Jim Gordon’s journey through Gotham and what happened in this city that required Bruce Wayne to put on a mask and become a vigilante. So, we’re just glad that it’s out and running now and now that people are settling in and getting into it. The response is overwhelmingly positive which is great. It was a bit of a nail-biter. I’ve worked in this business for a long time and I’ve certainly done my fair share of television working on fairly iconic series’ like E.R., Sons of Anarchy and Law and Order, but this was a different level of scrutiny which I wasn’t used to.
Did you feel a lot of pressure from comic fans by taking on such a beloved character?
Totally. I welcome pressure like that, it’s cool, but it doesn’t inform the way I’m going to do something. I just have to do it the best way that I see how and take the lumps as they come. The fact that people care so much makes a big difference because you know that they invest a lot in this world and it’s super important to them.
Did you turn to any specific comic books for inspiration when you were first cast?
Gotham Central. The first thing I did was get all the books and just start digging in. I was actually very familiar with the animated series. My kids loved it and a friend of mine did a voice on it. I listened to it a million times, almost like a radio play because we have a house in Oregon which is about 1200 miles from our house in LA. We would do this 11 hour drive and there was a stretch for a couple of years where all they would do is watch the Batman animated series and I would just listen to it playing through the sound system in the car while they watched in the back. So I knew it, kind of intimately in a strange way.
Do you consider Harvey to be a bad guy or maybe a good guy forced to do bad things in a bad city?
I’m one of those people who always tries to bring empathy to all the guys I play and I always tend to like them and I do think at his core he’s good. He’s a survivor. He just backs the play that’s gonna let him live another day. I think when Jim Gordon comes around, he’s just tired of seeing these young do-gooders thinking they can make a difference, but there’s something about the qualities of Jim Gordon which is just so different and it really affects him along the lines of why he got into the police work in the first place and who he was.
Do you think as Harvey’s relationship with Jim develops, maybe Gotham will be a “redemption” story for your character as time passes?
I know for sure as we’ve actually gone through episodes like that. We’re in our eighth and ninth episode now filming and we actually get to see a glimpse into the past with Harvey which kind of explains how he got to where he is now. It’s a bit of an origin of the origin story, so those things are definitely addressed.
How does it feel knowing that Jim and Harvey ultimately fail, leading to Bruce Wayne becoming Batman? Does that play a role in how you approach the character?
No, because there’s something noble in two people standing on the edge of the sea shore with thimbles in their hands trying to beat back the sea. I think that’s the basis of a lot of really good stories, seeing people up against those sorts of odds. Luckily in my job, you get to meet everybody who has done the real thing, whether it’s police work or in the military or doctors in the field. It’s fascinating to hear the human stories. It’s worth having this kind of job, being able to travel and meet these sorts of people and talk to them about what they really do. I remember asking this doctor about how they deal with that kind of level of ER death all the time because you have victories and you have defeats, but you’ll go through your whole career and every day is a revolving door in an emergency room with more heartbreaking cases coming in. That’s never going to stop. But he did tell me about a case which was so particularly heartbreaking you can never shake, and I always think about stuff like that. It was those poignant types of stories. If you’re involved in police work, you’re never going to live in a crime free environment in the types of world cities that Gotham became the artistic representation of whether it be London or Mumbai or New York.
So, did you do any research with actual police officers before joining Gotham?
I didn’t. At the time I was filming the Gotham pilot, I was already involved with a run on Law and Order.
Yeah, Special Victims Unit, and I was playing the Lieutenant who takes over and so I’ve been around this kind of world as part of my profession and I have a bunch of police friends and have played cops over the course of 25 years. It’s hilarious too because there are certain points in this profession where you think, ‘I really could perform surgery at this point’ which is completely and utterly false! [Laughs] Having been involved in a really heavy arc in Law & Order at the same time as the Gotham pilot was really helpful.
Which characters from the Batman universe are you most looking forward to interacting with?
You know, for some reason, I was always really drawn towards Harvey Dent and it looks like Harvey’s coming into play now in Gotham, so that’s great. I’ve always loved Alfred, and actually Alfred and I have some stuff coming up together this week, so that’s really exciting. I love Sean. We have two super cool UK cast members, so he’s just a joy to have around and as the season progresses, we get to take full advantage of the cast assembled. In the pilot, it’s really seems to be weighted on Jim and Harvey’s shoulders a lot, but it starts to spread out as time goes on.
It’s been fantastic! My sister worked on Southland with Ben and so Ben got a big thumbs up from my sister long before I knew Gotham was coming around. I was predisposed to like the guy and he’s great. He is kind of Jim Gordon. Ben is a really good athlete, a really smart guy, he’s like an old school Texas gentleman in a modern era. A really hard worker who is incredibly patient and very kind, which is kind of all that you need. Most importantly, he’s the captain of the ship on the set, and so he sets that kind of tone which has been great because we work crazy hours together. 14, 15, 16 hours a day sometimes. He’s been a great partner to have and go through this experience with. Some of the things we’ve done have had their critical fans and fervent, but smaller fanbases, but we’re experiencing something different on a different level with Gotham and I feel like I’ve got a partner to walk through that with.
Do you look online to see what fans are saying at all?
Absolutely. It started a while back because whatever television show we were doing at the time the suggestion was to get a Twitter account to try and raise awareness online and so now they want you to do things which are so different from the past; live Tweet performances and stuff, so you cannot help but be exposed to whatever the rumblings are on the internet. You have to be careful with it. My children grew up with the internet and it’s water off a duck’s back when they get into stuff on the internet with people, but for adults, it’s shocking sometimes, you know? I just remember one of the worst things while doing Vikings, you can read 1000 great things, but you read one really cruel stupid thing and it just won’t let you sleep at night. It’s so funny because my children have such thick skins to that kind of stuff because they grew up with Facebook and Twitter, but yeah, we’re aware of it for sure.
I have to ask, would you have any interest at all in reprising the role of Harvey Bullock in a future Batman movie if the opportunity presented itself?
Oh, wow! You know, it would be interesting because to me there wouldn’t really be any distinction and that’s the fun thing about the job, you just get to break it down scene by scene day by day and that’s the best way to approach it. I hadn’t thought of that, but that would be awesome!
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me today Donal, I’m a big fan and Gotham has been amazing so far!
Thank you so much, have a great day in Wales!
Gotham premiered this week on Channel 5 at 9pm. You can read our spoiler-filled recap and review right here.