Interview with Ben McKenzie from "Gotham" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Ben McKenzie

Interview with Ben McKenzie of "Gotham" on FOX 4/6/15

It was great to speak with Ben again! I believe this is the third time. He's always so kind and thoughtful, and he has nothing but good things to say about his co-stars. It's clear that he really values his job and takes it seriously. I've been a huge fan of his since "The O.C." because he's so gorgeous and such a wonderful actor. It's nice to know that he's a great human being, too.

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: Gotham Conference Call
April 6, 2015/9:00 a.m. PDT

Joanna Wolff
Ben McKenzie


Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Gotham Conference Call with Ben McKenzie. At this time, everyone is in a listen-only mode. Later, weíll have a Q&A session. (Operator instructions.) As a reminder, the conference is being recorded.

Iíll now turn the conference over to our host, Joanna Wolff. Please, go ahead.

Joanna: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining the Gotham Conference Call with Ben McKenzie. As a reminder, Gotham returns Monday, April 13th at 8:00 p.m. on FOX with only four more episodes this season.

Now, I will turn the call over to Ben, who will begin taking questions.

Ben: Hey, guys.

Moderator: Thank you. (Operator instructions.) Our first question from the line of Karen Moul with SciFiVision. Please, go ahead.

Karen: Hi. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Ben: Sure.

Karen: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where Gordonís relationship has gone with his partner, Harvey Bullock, this year and how Bullockís influence on Jim is affecting the way he acts and maybe who heís becoming as a person.

Ben: Good question. I would say, overall, perhaps the best word I can use to describe the evolution of their relationship is maturation. Itís been kind of a maturation process. Initially, Jim and Harvey were polar opposites. Jim is the wet behind the ears, almost naive rookie cop, and Harvey is the jaded, cynical veteran.

As the season progresses, they learn from each other. Harvey is inspired a bit by Jimís do-gooderism, but Jim is also educated in the ways of Gotham and becomes more sophisticated in the ways that he approaches cases and the way that he uses the power that he gains through relationships with, say, Oswald Cobblepot, in order to get what he wants. So, thereís give and take.

The last episode that we saw on screen, Harvey betrayed Jim by testifying against him in the case of Arnold Flass in getting the case dismissed. He did that because Commissioner Loeb had evidence on Harvey, had dirt on him, and so Harvey and Jim team up to find that stash of evidence, only to find out that itís basically Loebís daughter whoís mentally kind of handicapped. Jim then ends up using the existence of that daughter against Loeb to get what he wants.

So, youíre seeing a real evolution in Jimís character that he is not afraid to do something thatís morally or ethically borderline, if not over the line, in order to get what he wants, get what he needs for the greater good. Heís doing it in part for Harvey, and he gives Harvey back the dirt, so Harvey is in the clear, but theyíre at a dťtente as we leave the last episode. Theyíreóyes, dťtente might be the best word.

Karen: Quick follow-up, do you think, is Jim really consciously aware of how close he is to that line, do you think? Is that a decision he makes, or heís being sucked in?

Ben: I think heís being sucked in. I think he is aware on some level. But I think the overwhelming nature of Gotham tends to sort of beat you down, and even if you are aware on some level of whatís going on, you really are just focused on whatís right ahead of you, and you canít really see the full picture; youíre just in it. So, I think heís a little unaware.

Karen: Great. Well, thanks so much. Itís been a great season. I canít wait to see how it ends.

Ben: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

Moderator: We have a question from the line of Bryan Cairns with Comic Book Resources. Please, go ahead.

Bryan: Hey, Ben. Can you introduce us to the Ogre and how he really puts Gordon to the test during this arc?

Ben: Sure. The Ogre is a serial killer who seduces, kidnaps, tortures and kills women. In the never-ending pursuit for a partner, he finds these women, and they, letís just say, donít meet to his exacting standards. Heís a true psychopath, and heís remained at large for years because he protects himself. Any cop who takes on his case, the Ogre targets the loved ones of that cop. He ends upóthe cop will end up with his wifeís throat cut, his girlfriend dead, things like that. So, no cop touches it, and itís basically just become the dirty little secret of the GCPD.

Jim, when he ends up in contact with the case, and he ends up in contact with it in an interesting way, heís a hero; he canít put it down. For him not to pursue the case would be to have the blood of future victims on his hands, so heís put in a perilous position where he knows that the women in his life could be targets. It creates a strain on his relationship with Thompkins, and it will have dire consequences moving forward.

Bryan: And just can you tease how maybe this arc and the finale kind of propels Gordon into Season 2?

Ben: Sure. The arc takes us down an incredibly dark path, probably darkest of the season, and then after a sort of three-episode arc involving the Ogre, there is kind of an epic season finale that really pushes us strongly into a Season 2 that is extremely chaotic. The best way I can describe it without giving too much away is youíre really starting to see the downward spiral of Gotham as a city towards the ultimate anarchy that will manifest and result in all these masked vigilantes roaming the streets. Youíre at the tipping point here on the season finale, and I think itís going to kick us into Season 2 with a literal bang, almost.

Bryan: Great. Thank you, and congratulations on the second season.

Ben: Thank you very much.

Bryan: Thanks.

Moderator: And weíll go to Suzanne Lanoue with the TV MegaSite. Please, go ahead.

Suzanne: Good morning.

Ben: Good morning.

Suzanne: I was wondering, have you started filming the second season yet?

Ben: No. We just ended the first season. Weíll start filming in about three months.

Suzanne: Great. And have you noticed, since youíre in, Iíll call it a geek show because Iím a geek, I can say that, as opposed to a ďregular show,Ē have you noticed any difference in the people coming up to you on the street or fans that you talk to or anything like that, the different types of people or experiences.

Ben: You know, not in any way that I think I would want to generalize. I think whatís interesting, we just did WonderCon [Saturday], John Stephens, one of our executive producers, myself, Robin Taylor, and Cory Michael Smith, went down and we didówe had some fan interactions, did an autograph signing and did a panel.

I think one of the things thatís interesting about ďgeek cultureĒ at this point or even superhero culture is that itís so pervasive. I think itís easy to try to sort of stereotype who folks that are into those things are, but the reality is that, again, I mean, itís men, women, young, old. Itís the stereotypes of the introvert and the extroverts. Itís really all over the map.

One of the things thatís interesting for me, having done two other shows, is youíll sit there signing autographs for Gotham, but people will be fans of The OC or Southland or all three. So, I think itís actually been a pleasant surprise that a ďgeek cultureĒ doesnít feel so insular. It feels like just a collection of people who happen to have that interest in addition to many other interests. I find it kind of welcome.

Suzanne: Well, thanks very much. I love the show.

Ben: Thanks a lot.

Moderator: And weíll go to Andy Behbakht with Please, go ahead.

Andy: Hi, Ben. I hope youíre doing well. One of the things I have loved about your version of Gordon is the relationship that he has created around him, whether itís with Leslie or Bruce or any of these other characters. One of the things that I really love following is the relation with Bruce, that itís kind of like this very young surrogate father-and-son dynamic. What can you talk about them in these four final episodes and where theyíre going next as this, well, sort of partnership, in a way?

Ben: Yes, thank you. I think the core relationship of the show in many ways is the relationship between Jim and Bruce, and thatís how we kick off the pilot, and thatís the central conceit in this conception of the story that we all know.

This central change is to put a rookie detective in contact with Bruce Wayne at 13 at the scene of his parentsí murder and to task our hero in the story, Jim Gordon, with solving the case. So, thatís the emotional undercurrent of the entire series, and I think right now their relationship is a bit on rocky ground.

Jim has been unable to solve the case, obviously. Bruce is frustrated by that. Heís been investigating the case, and Alfred has been injured. Jim goes to sort of console Bruce and basically realizes that theyíre both lying to him. They refuse to reveal really whatís going on and whatís happening. So, at this point, itís very complicated. While Bruce and Jim have a bond of sorts, they are also at this point a littleóBruce is a little distrustful of the detective. Heís hiding secrets from him already, a trend which, of course, will only continue, and ultimately it results in him trying to hide the biggest secret.

Itís an interesting relationship. Itís a mentor/mentee. Itís a surrogate father/son, and thereís also peer-to-peer because Bruce is so otherworldly intelligent. Itís quite interesting, and itís a joy to work with David. I think as we go forward in the series, the bond will grow stronger, and at the same time theyíll be keeping more and more secrets from each other. Thatís the best I can probably offer.

Andy: And also, yes, quickly, you were talking a little bit about Gordon crossing that line of the corruption that is going on with the GCPD and so on. One of the things that Iíve always followed with Gordon in any interaction is that he seems to still always have that hope and optimism. What do you think, in this version of Gordon, what is it that keeps him still holding on to that light? Is it someone in his life that he knows that can strengthen his optimism? What is it that keeps him going and not falling completely into that path of darkness?

Ben: I think thatís a very accurate observation. I think it isnít even a person in his life, I think it is a core value that perhaps springs simply from his makeup, his almost genetic makeup. He is, particularly in this conception, a true believer and a soldier. Heís a veteran coming back from the front to take on the enemy at home, and he believes very sincerely in that cause.

The evolution of the character will be from a true believer believing that he can fix everything in the right way by doing everything correctly into a veteran who understands how to get things done, how to possibly serve the greater good. How do you get a good outcome? Perhaps you have to do a bad thing. Itís something that he will be struggling with for the entire series, keeping his morals roughly intact while working his way up the food chain in Gotham. So, an interesting journey.

Andy: Okay. Thank you so much, Ben. Loving your version of Gordon, and I canít wait to see Season 2.

Ben: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Moderator: Weíll go next to David Betancourt with the Washington Post. Please, go ahead.

David: Hi, Ben. How are you?

Ben: Iím well. How are you?

David: Great. The question I have for you is you knew going into Gotham that Gotham was going to be a Batman show based in the past with no Batman, you as the lead actor. What Iím wondering is with the first season almost complete, have things gone as you anticipated they would in terms of the reaction to the show and its success?

Ben: Good question. I think that the thing thatís true of all first years of shows, at least every first year of a show that Iíve ever been on, and Iíve done three now, is that itís impossible to predict almost anything in terms of not only the reaction to the show, whether itís the public at large, but also the evolution of the show itself.

This show, in particular, has had an interesting first year. Iím very proud of it. Itís grown a lot, I believe, in the first year, and I think weíve learned from some mistakes that weíve made in the first year. I think after we made what I believe is a very strong pilot, we ended up on a detour where we became a little too procedural. We became a little too focused on the crime of the week. We were using villains that werenít really from mythology, and that did a disservice to the mythology that we were trying to serve and to the fans.

Weíve adjusted. Weíve introduced villains with multi-episode arcs. They are from the mythology, by and large. A grandeur of Gotham is sort of more fully exposed. I think weíre learning, as you learn on the first year of a show. You can only really learn by making mistakes and correcting them.

As far as the reaction to the show, itís been incredible. I honestly expected a little more flack. I think anytime you enter into a universe this beloved, people have strong opinions. By and large, itís been incredibly positive. Obviously, the show is a hit and watched all over the world. I know that we can do better, and weíll continue to do better in Season 2 in terms of the stories weíre telling and how we tell them, but Iím very proud of the show and so far, so good.

Iím particularly relieved that the primary criticism of the show, the Batman show without Batman, at this point, I believe has been shown to be a bit of a misunderstood complaint. If one is really a fan of Batman and the world of Batman, I would think discovering how Batman came to be is a fascinating journey, discovering how all these villains came to be. So, I think at this point weíve dodged that bullet for the most part, but we need to live up to the expectations of the fans, and weíll try to do that.

Andy: Okay, thank you. Good luck going into Season 2.

Ben: Thanks a lot.

Moderator: And our last question from the line of Henry Hanks with CNN. Please, go ahead

Henry: Hey, Ben. How are you?

Ben: Iím well. How are you?

Henry: Doing good. Thanks for talking to us. Just one, curious; you guys are building up to a lot of things that will happen in the comics over time. How much and what sort of comics did you sort of do when you were researching the role, and how much did you look into the character of Gordon?

Ben: I read a fair amount. I had done the voice of Bruce Wayne, Batman, in year one, so I was familiar with year one. I read Gotham Central, Long Halloween, you know, a fair amount. Geoff Johns at DC actually sent me a bunch when I asked him for material on Gordon.

The truth is that we really havenít seen Jim Gordon for the most part at this stage of his life, and what we have seen in the mythology in terms of the comics, we havenít seen much, but what we have seen we were contradicting on the show. We are starting him off in Gotham investigating the case of the Waynes.

So, there were several takeaways for me reading a lot about it. The first, the most important, is that this tale has been interpreted and reinterpreted for 75 years, and each and every interpretation is different. Many are contradictory in many important ways.

So, thereís a real, I think, freedom to interpret anew these characters in this world, and thatís what Geoff Johns said to me when I asked him how do I do this? What am I playing? What am I supposed to do here? He said we cast you for a reason. Youíre perfect for the part. Do your work. Treat it like the best job in the world, which it is in some senses for me anyway. But itís an acting job. You have to interpret this character for yourself, and thatís what Iíve done.

Weíll always be true, or try to be true, to the themes and the tone of a gothic warish world that is represented in the Batman story, but we will interpret these characters as we see fit and have them interact in all kinds of unexpected ways. We have to surprise the audience at every turn. The only way you do that is by giving them new things that they didnít know, new relationships and new windows into each character.

Henry: Thanks. And are there any villains that you have enjoyed the most or really enjoyed the portrayal of them the most so far?

Ben: I think all of our primary villains this year have done an excellent job, all the actors. Robin Taylor playing Oswald, obviously, has knocked it out of the park. Cory Michael Smith, who plays Nygma, weíre just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of where that character is going, but heís a really terrifically talented actor, and heís done a wonderful job.

I liked the seed we planted this year for Scarecrow, Scarecrowís father, and what affect that will have on a young Scarecrow. I also enjoyed the tease of a possible Joker in this orphan child of the circus, named Jerome.

So, at this point, most of our primary villains, I think, have done a really, really nice job. We have a lot more to go, but itís hard to pick a favorite.

Henry: Thank you so much.

Ben: Thank you.

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, this will conclude our teleconference for today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Executive TeleConference Service, and you may now disconnect.

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