Ben McKenzie of Gotham

Building a Familiar World

Sep 22, 2014 Issue #51 - September/October 2014 - alt-J
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Fox's Gotham takes an approach to the Batman mythos that's unique outside of comics: it doesn't feature Batman at all. The new television series takes place many years before the Caped Crusader watched over Gotham and focuses on the mythical city itself; on the young hero and villains that fans will recognize as Gotham's future power players.

Showrunner Bruno Heller recruited Southland actor Ben McKenzie to play his leading man with a difficult-to-resist pitch.

"[He] described an origin story of a city on the brink of collapse," says McKenzie. "[The show] would focus on the one good man, the one moral force, in a city that's become more or less completely immoral. That'd be a rookie detective by the name of Jim Gordon."

Gotham ties itself into the Batman legend from its very first episode, where Gordonlong before he became Police Commissioner and Batman's closest allyis tasked with solving the murder of the young Bruce Wayne's parents. The series will introduce many of Batman's greatest villains early on in their criminal careers, including Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy.

"He's sort of an old-fashioned hero," says McKenzie of his character. "He still sees the world with a moral certainty: that there's good and there's bad, there's right and there's wrong, good and evil. As a law enforcement officer, he's going to keep the evil at bay and try to pull up the good forces in the city, the few that remain." McKenzie teases how the city will do its best to pull Gordon under: "If he wants his actions to result in the greater good, he's going to have to cut deals with the devil."

McKenzie has nothing but praise for Heller's willingness to traverse moral gray areas, and points out how the showrunner's breakthrough seriesHBO's sweeping historical drama Romeexplored similar territory within another "empire on the brink of utter disaster." The city of Gotham itself is a major character within the series.

"It's as if New York in the 1970sthe graffiti-strewn, crime-ridden, graft-ridden kind of placenever really quite advanced," McKenzie says. "As if it never came back on the track to Wall Street, money, and gentrification; it's almost like an alternate history."

The series is shot on location in the Big Apple and on sets built in Brooklyn. McKenzie feels that a show called Gotham would have to be shot there.

"New York is Gotham," he says. "Even though the modern-day New York is far more cleaned up and lovely than the Gotham we're portraying, the grandeur of it, the sexiness of it, the menace of it in a certain respect, can only be shot here. You can't get that on a sound stage on a back lot somewhere in Southern California."

McKenzie hopes that Gotham adds a new element to the Batman legacy, and he sounds genuinely excited to become part of a history that's endured across thousands of comic books, multiple film and television franchises, and permeated so many facets of popular culture.

"For 75 years it's been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times, by so many talented artists," McKenzie says. "To be able to add your two cents to that mountain of creation.... It's truly an honor to be a part of that."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's September/October print issue (Issue 51), which is on newsstands now. Gotham premieres tonight on FOX on 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central.]

 



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