Superhero TV shows have always been a popular pitch come pilot development season, and no other type of story is more embraced by network execs as capitalizing on a popular franchise than the origin story. It’s perfect for television because some creative license can be taken while staying in the boundaries of known canon. Gotham extends the Batman universe by telling the story of a young James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), a rookie detective determined to clean up the numerous layers of corruption and crime affecting his city, Gotham City. His partner is Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), a veteran cop that doesn’t necessarily follow the rules because he’s doing what it takes to survive while still keeping the city safe.
Adaptions like this can be both exciting and very risky. There are a lot of very devoted Batman fans out there, and the characters, continuity and overall Batmanverse mean a great deal. Origin stories risk alienation and turning off a fan base that has some strong ideas as to how the universe of the caped crusader is supposed to be.
Below is our roundtable interview with Donal Logue at San Diego Comic Con in July. He doesn’t share any big spoilers, but what he does give is a fascinating preview and perspective about his character at this stage in his life, how this origin story fits logically in the DC universe, and how much how he knows that as an actor he exists to service the fans, because this world means everything to them. His words certainly inspire us to give Gotham a try, since it sounds like a lot of care went into preparing this part of Gotham city history for the sake of the fans.
Tell us about your character.
Harvey Bullock was in the comics. He’s an old school detective who’s been around the block a lot. I think he’s well liked among the department because he defends the blue line. I wouldn’t say he’s unethical I’d just say he’s the willow and not the oak. He knows he’s pragmatic. Just like in police work in general, sometimes you have to cut a scumbag a break to be a confidential informant to get to some bigger and badder people. He’s actually crossed that line a bit more. He actually has relationships with people in the criminal underworld. He’s just trying to survive and get maybe to his pension and a guy like Jim Gordon shows up and says ‘No, there’s a right and a wrong’ and you have to, ‘Good luck, this is Chinatown.’ It kind of wakes something up inside of Harvey Bullock that make him maybe want to be the cop he once was.
How tough is it to be a cop in Gotham City?
I would say it’s not unlike a being a cop in any major (city) like Mumbai or London or New York. I think it’s a dangerous profession. Maybe lucrative if you’re dirty.
Is it especially dangerous since you have an abnormal number of superheroes?
Absolutely. We live in a theatrical universe of danger around every corner. It’s an adjustment doing this at little bit, and they’re all in narrative fictional worlds, there is something about Copper or Vikings, or Law and Order, or Sons of Anarchy, at least you know it’s tethered in actual events and so this one the colors are kind of heightened. It was just a little bit different from my perspective. When people ask, ‘It’s so violent’ (I say) ‘Compared to what?’
What Batman villain are you most excited to see in this show?
I like The Joker and Two Face and we haven’t gotten into that yet. To me the key to this at first was we have to start strong and the critical piece of the puzzle was who was going to play Oswald Cobblepot and it’s Robin Lord Taylor who I’ve known for a long time. I’ve know him since he was very young and he’s so perfect. If he wasn’t fantastic I think maybe the whole show wouldn’t flow. We got the right man for the job, he’s amazing. It seems we’re very Oswald Cobblepot heavy right now which is a good thing for us.
Everything we’ve seen with Harvey in outside Gotham he’s a bit harder because he’s been through it all and was in a later stage. Is your Harvey, will we see more raw moments from him as in what built him up to be that hard.
Yes. I don’t know what exactly it is, I’m trying to stay flexible, but I just got word we’re going to do something that’s going to give an insight. It reminded me…I did a show here in San Diego called Terriers and eight episodes in we got to do the flashback episode where I lost my job as a police officer that kind of sent me into the spiral of alcoholism. While I’ve always been playing a certain beat and I kind have a feeling about happened it’s always exciting to get the real nuts and bolts back from the writers to hang your hat on and that’s probably coming up very shortly.
What do you think we going to see in the mix with original characters like Fish Mooney vs. classic characters?
I honestly think so far Fish is just about it. What’s amazing about DC and the Batman Universe, 75 years old, is that so many different generations of writers and artists have brought something to it. There’s so many different incarnations of the same character and there’s a wealth of people to plug from. Everyone has a story, they’re all interesting. Outside of Fish I can’t really imagine the need for too much narrative/invention to make the stories move along.
Were you a fan before the show because it sounds like you know a fair bit about it. Was that from researching?
It’s a literary form that is fantastic and deserves respect. And because I do my job for the last twenty something some years and I’ve done some Marvel movies and I did a movie called Comic Book Villains just over the course of all these I make it a point to try and be on point about it.
Do you have a favorite Batman writer?
I don’t. Batman’s a weird one because people are so protective of Batman as they should be and they feel such an intense ownership. I don’t want to offend anyone. I learned a lot talking to Geoff Johns who I think is so knowledgable. First of all, what I like about him as an executive in charge of a business he’s an artist. That makes a big difference. My favorite Batman writer now, or Gotham universe writer would be Bruno Heller.
What genre would you say Gotham is?
Noir. I’d say it’s Black Dahlia.
Are you saying more of a mystery thing?
Yeah. That’s my take. If in the middle of LA Confidential you threw that kind of heightened theatrical universe I’m talking about, that’s the way I like to come in.
What you know of the show as it’s going so far is it in the same line to see these people, would they grow up to be the characters in The Dark Knight or in the movies is it it’s own take on Gotham and these characters?
It’s its own take but I don’t know what Robin’s thing is. Robin knows that Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito have an iconic end point that they face. But to me that was the most fascinating thing, to go from someone like that, they resent being labeled a weirdo or a freak or a penguin and then how internally they have to go, ‘That’s what I am. And not only is that what I am and it’s okay that people call me names, I’ll own that name and I’ll make it something.’ I think that’s a fascinating period of personal development that I’m excited to (see). That’s what we’re covering.
Even though Bullock pushes the boundaries and we’ll never see Batman will he be someone who would be appreciative when Batman eventually does show up or would he be resistant?
I absolutely think he would be supportive. I know that we’re dealing with something that technically speaking it’s an act of vigilantism that’s against, ‘We have laws’ and it’s like ‘Hey dude, you’re doing me a favor. You’re saving us a trial.’ I would say that Bullock is in favor of anybody who’s cleaning up extra garbage.
You said that Oswald Cobblepot is the villain you’re most excited about. Can you say why?
I just think the writing and the performance, Robin’s performance, I felt coming into the pilot that’s the x-factor. The level of gravitas an actor that can bring to that part is going to bring the tone for the world either you’re going to be personally excited by or it would be jokey and cartoony and kind of slip away. It’s interesting that these two actors in particular, even rehearsal, whatever it is, even in other actors you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why we’re here, that our job is to make believe as hard as we can and invest everything in that and take it seriously. I think it’s refreshing to be around people like that, pure artists in a way, that say ‘Oh, I don’t have to worry about all the machinations of well there are other DC shows and there’s this and the network has…’ I just have to play my part the best I can. It’s fun for all of us to think about the bigger ticket stuff but it ultimately it hurts. What I really need to do is just take it scene by scene, especially with Ben, who’s an amazing partner.
This whole world is dedicated to, this is the weirdest thing, someone wrote, ‘A lion roars because it can, it doesn’t necessarily have to.’ Beyond just mere survival we as humans have created this extraneous world that means a lot of to us which is how we spend our extra time when we don’t have to work. People invest so much importance in it and so it’s our job to be of service to those people out walking on the street who are like, ‘I care about this so much I’m out there dressed up as this guy.’ It’s so important.
I remember this one story about Ozzy Osbourne a million years ago where I think there’s a lot of metal head kids and Jack was like ‘Aww man, can you believe they’re out there all night,’ and (Ozzy’s) like ‘Yeah, because they bought you your house.’ You know what I mean? They care. So when someone cares a lot you have to go ‘I respect that you care and they’re you’re worried about protecting this. I don’t know if we can be exactly what you want but we’re going to work as hard with that in mind so that hopefully you’ll be proud of this, this new incarnation of the world that you care so much about.’
Just in case you’re still lost as to what Gotham is about, Here’s the full description, courtesy of FOX:
The good. The evil. The beginning.
Everyone knows the name Commissioner Gordon. He is one of the crime world’s greatest foes, a man whose reputation is synonymous with law and order. But what is known of Gordon’s story and his rise from rookie detective to Police Commissioner? What did it take to navigate the multiple layers of corruption that secretly ruled Gotham City, the spawning ground of the world’s most iconic villains? And what circumstances created them – the larger-than-life personas who would become Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face and The Joker?
GOTHAM is an origin story of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (“The Mentalist,” “Rome”), GOTHAM follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering between good and evil, and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time.
Growing up in Gotham City’s surrounding suburbs, JAMES GORDON (Ben McKenzie, “Southland,” “The O.C.”) romanticized the city as a glamorous and exciting metropolis where his late father once served as a successful district attorney. Now, two weeks into his new job as a Gotham City detective and engaged to his beloved fiancée, BARBARA KEAN (Erin Richards, “Open Grave,” “Breaking In”), Gordon is living his dream – even as he hopes to restore the city back to the pure version he remembers it was as a kid.
Brave, honest and ready to prove himself, the newly-minted detective is partnered with the brash, but shrewd police legend HARVEY BULLOCK (Donal Logue, “Sons of Anarchy,” “Terriers,” “Vikings,” “Copper”), as the two stumble upon the city’s highest-profile case ever: the murder of local billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne. At the scene of the crime, Gordon meets the sole survivor: the Waynes’ hauntingly intense 12-year-old son, BRUCE (David Mazouz, “Touch”), toward whom the young detective feels an inexplicable kinship. Moved by the boy’s profound loss, Gordon vows to catch the killer.
As he navigates the often-underhanded politics of Gotham’s criminal justice system, Gordon will confront imposing gang boss FISH MOONEY (Jada Pinkett Smith, “The Matrix” franchise, “HawthoRNe”), mob kingpin CARMINE FALCONE (John Doman, “The Wire”) and many of the characters who will become some of fiction’s most renowned, enduring villains, including a teenaged SELINA KYLE/the future CATWOMAN (acting newcomer Camren Bicondova), OSWALD COBBLEPOT/THE PENGUIN (Robin Lord Taylor, “The Walking Dead”) and EDWARD NYGMA/the future RIDDLER (newcomer Cory Michael Smith).
The crime drama will follow Gordon’s turbulent and singular rise through the Gotham City police department, led by Police Captain SARAH ESSEN (Zabryna Guevara, “Burn Notice”), as he goes head-to-head with major crimes unit detectives RENEE MONTOYA (Victoria Cartagena, “The Bedford Diaries”) and CRISPUS ALLEN (Andrew Stewart Jones, “Sex & the City”). It also will focus on the unlikely friendship Gordon forms with the young heir to the Wayne fortune, who is being raised by his unflappable butler, ALFRED PENNYWORTH (Sean Pertwee, “Camelot,” “Elementary”). It is a friendship that will last them all of their lives, playing a crucial role in helping the young boy eventually become the crusader he’s destined to be.
DVR Alert!! Gotham premieres on FOX September 22nd (Monday) at 8pm.