During the first season of FOX’s Gotham we had the pleasure of seeing Hollywood newcomer Robin Lord Taylor practically morph from Oswald Cobblepot into the future Penguin.
At the end of season one he proclaimed himself the ‘King of Gotham’, but all this is about to change for the oddball character in the new season.
Tiffany Rose caughtup with the 37 year-old actor in an abandoned New York City Post Office set where Gotham is halfway through shooting their second series. The eeriness of the disheveled building is the perfectly setting for the mysterious Batman mythology.
It is always a pleasure watching you on the show. You play Penguin so well. Will he be gaining weight this year?
Robin Lord Taylor: (Laughs) I guess one day he will be, but whether or not it’s me I don’t know. It’s still subtle. Ever since the pilot episode we’ve sort of established this strange relationship that he has with food. There’s the fact that in the pilot he murders an innocent fisherman for his food.
And you see little instances where food is coming into play. Like his weird relationship and obsessive tendencies with food start to come in more and more. Ideally, we’ll be here for long enough where we can start exploring that in a physical sense.
So they haven’t asked you to grow rotund?
No, and I’m not going to. (Laughs) Let’s just say we will build a fat suit if that’s going to happen because I don’t think my cholesterol levels could handle me being fat. Like anything that is true to the character, all the physical aspects of Oswald are so fascinating for me to play and illuminate things about his psychology that is not just interesting for me, but interesting for fans of the Batman world and the universe that we’re creating with Gotham.
Are you getting recognised more on the streets? Have you experienced any strange or funny encounters with fans?
People are generally incredibly sweet. The thing that tends to happen which rubs me a little in the wrong way is when I’m on the subway for example, I’ll just look over and someone is sitting there with their phone discreetly snapping photos of me. As if anyone holds their phone like that?
It’s fine, but I usually go over and say: “Would you like a photo of me?” I would much rather talk to you and have you ask (for a photo), then be sitting there with you taking weird creepy shots of me while I’m chewing gum or singing along to my iPhone. (Laughs) You feel like you’re a caged monkey in a zoo.
And then half the time they go: “Hey Penguin, oops, sorry I know you don’t like to be called that.” You know, because Oswald has issues with it.
Of all the Gotham villains that have pre-existed, Penguin was the most cartoonish. He was raised in the sewers by penguins and so you’ve had the cleanest palette to create an actual human being. How much of that was your own creation?
It’s always hard to say. When you get a role like this you’re cast for what you brought into the room to show Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, the two people who created the show and this universe of Gotham City. And so really it becomes a collaboration.
So much of it was already there on the page and that is straight out of the minds of Bruno and Danny. I give them the most credit. But at the same time, they chose me because of the choices I made in the audition and my own interpretation of what Bruno had written down.
So you didn’t go: “Quack. Quack. Quack.”
(Laughs) No, I didn’t. I think Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito’s portrayals of the Penguin are iconic and brilliant, and have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So this is not to say anything against with what they did with the character, but again, I knew this also because I read the pilot and I saw what Bruno was going for, I wanted to distance myself from any cartoonish representation of the character.
Not to say Burgess Meredith’s depiction was cartoonish, but the treatment of that show was more colourful and lighthearted, then this story we’re telling of Gotham.
Can you talk about the gait you’ve adopted for Penguin. Did you practice or did you try out different shuffles?
My favourite thing about it is it’s established in the pilot and that it’s a physical injury that I receive from Fish Mooney, Jada’s character, and that’s so helpful because then it makes sense to me. We know how it exists, and yeah so then when I was on set with Danny (Cannon, EP) and then hobbling around in my apartment with my cat looking at me strangely.
We didn’t want to make it an exaggerated Charlie Chaplin sort of walk that played for laughs as it’s more of an actual injury. Everytime he takes a step it causes him pain and that also informs the character as well. I put a bottle cap in my shoe just to remind me that there is pain.
You have to make sure you’re limping on the right foot, I guess.
Yeah, right, we don’t want that. I don’t think you can fix that with CGI!
At the end of the last season, he is very powerful, and now we see him in more of a desperate situation. Can you talk about the evolution of Oswald in Season two?
Yes, so we begin season two where he has deposed of Fish Mooney and he has now proclaimed himself The King of Gotham. We start the season where he is in a place of ultimate power, but unfortunately, he learns very quickly that he is ill prepared to maintain this place of power. He’s only known how to achieve success by coming from a powerless place, like he’s very comfortable coming from below, from behind…manipulating a situation without paying attention to himself. When you’re the King of Gotham, all eyes are on you and it’s a whole new ballgame.
He doesn’t really have the tools and so we see with the loss of his mother, which was a huge oversight on his part, he didn’t protect her as well as he should. He thought that no one would mess with him as he thought he was so powerful as The King of Gotham. He totally underestimated that situation. When you’re The King of Gotham, someone is right there behind you to take it away from you, which is what Galavan (James Frain) has done.
How have the comic book fans reacted to your version of Penguin, because he’s such an iconic character?
The responses I’ve been getting have been pretty wonderful. The really gratifying thing is that people have said that they never thought the Penguin as a serious villain. They thought of him as kind of a joke or a bit cartoonish. But what the show has done has changed their minds about that which is incredibly validating.
No one knows these characters better than DC fans and that was what I was really nervous about at first, because I didn’t want to do something with this character, which was completely against the cannon of Batman. But it’s been overwhelmingly positive. The worse thing that people have said is that I’m too skinny and too tall! (Laughs) Those are two things I’ve never been called in my life, but if this is as bad as it gets, I’ll take it.
How did you build the psychological relationship between Penguin and his mother (Carol Kane)?
I give credit to our amazing writers. What we’re trying to show with these characters is their humanity before they lose it all. Oswald’s connection to humanity is his relationship with his mother. The only person in his life, who’s ever shown him any affection, is his mother. He was a bullied kid. Bullied for the way that the looked. She was the only one in his life who encouraged him and told him that he was important, he was handsome, he was worthwhile and he was intelligent. No one else said that to him.
Now with the loss of his mother and the cutting of ties to humanity can actually be an empowering thing, so now he has full license to be the monster that everyone always said he was. That’s where he is going to find his power unfortunately.
Were you a big fan of the comic books growing up? Who was your favourite baddie?
I read the comic books growing up. I was more obsessed with the films. Joker was my favourite villain and that was due to the incredible performance of Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero from the television show. Then ultimately years later to see what Heath Ledger did with the character was incredibly inspiring which touches all of us in the show.
The fact that you can take this larger than life character and bring some sympathy to it even though he’s deranged. There is some vulnerability there that is something what we’re going for in our show.
Given the reality of the characters and the plot line, do you think it’s possible the brand of Batman from Gotham can be re-launched? We will see a new Batman eventually?
Of course. Batman has been around for seventy-seven years. I think every generation gets the Batman of its time. It’s constantly being reevaluated, changed and evolved to match the world that we live in now. With what we’re doing with Gotham, illuminating parts of these characters which people have never seen before, I think going forward any sort of interpretation of these characters in a way is going to have to directly or indirectly address what we’ve established for them in this show, which is a lot of pressure!
No-one on this show wants to mess up the iconic status of these characters. (Laughs)
Was it an idea from the beginning the fact that your character was going to be so important or was it because of the popularity of the Penguin?
A really amazing thing that has happened which I wasn’t anticipating because I’ve never been a series regular on a television show, now that we’re going into the second season, I can see that the writers are writing for my voice. I can hear my own interpretation of the character in the words themselves, so it’s become this amazing synergy.
Whether or not that was always the plan, I have absolutely no idea. I’m just really looking forward to more opportunities to interact with the classic villains of the Batman universe. Having more story lines with Cory (Riddler). I’m having so much fun.
Picking up on what you said about your character becoming a monster, and he showed homicide tendencies from the very beginning, would you say he doesn’t seem to be changing and he’s just on a career path?
The way that he is changing, he’s not as cavalier about whom he chooses to hurt or take revenge on. He’s becoming much more calculated. He’s becoming more focused on who is in his way, what he needs to do to get power and he needs to run the show because he’s not happy when anyone else is running the show.
As we move forward his focus becomes more and more intense. He knows what he needs to do and that will become clearer for him as the season continues.
Gotham Season Two is currently airing in the UK on Channel 5.