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Producer Bruno Heller and Actor Ben McKenzie on Building a Brand-New GOTHAM

Tonight at 8/7c the world will witness the premiere of Gotham, Fox’s new take on the Batman saga in the years before Bruce Wayne donned his cape and cowl. How will audiences respond to a superhero show without a superhero? Will rookie detective James Gordon make for a compelling enough hero? And how many villains are too many? All questions that creator Bruno Heller (formerly of The Mentalist) and Gordon himself, actor Ben McKenzie (The O.C., Southland), answered for us at the recent TCA summer press tour in Los Angeles. Check out what they had to say below.

On the pilot’s plethora of Bat villains…

Bruno Heller: You kind of have to front-load the pilot with the best that you’ve got, because that’s the way you have to open big. As the show rolls on, we’ll be far more… not parsimonious, but careful with how we roll out the villains in what way. And there will be more fun and more surprises and tricky ways of getting them in, rather than just presenting them. These are the origin stories of these guys. So the Penguin comes pretty much fully fledged in front of us. For that reason, you have to show your best cards up front here.

On the similarities between McKenzie’s Southland cop and Jim Gordon…

Ben McKenzie: I would certainly try to bring as much as possible of the sort of training and knowledge that I obtained on Southland to this show. We’re obviously dealing in a heightened world, in a world in which we are taking certain liberties with the way police work might be conducted if it were conducted on the mean streets of modern-day Los Angeles. Instead it’s in Gotham in a time that is neither the present nor the past, or both at the same time. So I do take what I’ve learned on the show and I try to apply it here as well.

BH: We often have to tell him to forget that stuff because it’s liberating in a way to not have to recreate real procedure all the time… It’s a fantasy world.

On whether Gotham offers a whole new Batman mythology…

BH: It’s not a whole new mythology. Mythology in the true sense of the word is precisely when so many stories are created that none of them can be consonant with each other. You name any mythological hero, and there are contradictions in the story. That’s exactly when you’ve reached the level of a genuine myth, that many stories can be told. What we won’t do is break the kind of canonical iron truths of the Batman story. But issues of chronology and who was there when and how, we will play with. In a fun way, not in a disrespectful way or a sort of iconoclastic way.

On building tension with characters who won’t die before Batman arrives…

BH: It’s a sad thing when you can only build tension by killing people. I think that’s one of the great advantages of this world and this story, is that people do know where it’s going. People are already invested in the story. They already feel like they know aspects of it.

BM: [In] Greek tragedy, often the Fates come in the first act and they tell you exactly what’s going to happen at the end, and people still watched them a lot. So I think it’s how you get there that’s the interesting journey. And a city that’s ultimately going to fall into total disrepair and near anarchy and need a vigilante to save it is a fascinating city in which to set a TV series.

On Gordon’s effectiveness as a hero despite his inability to prevent the anarchy that’s coming…

BM: It’s noir. And the structure that exists around him is so daunting and so challenging that no single man is going to be able to overcome it.

BH: There are victories along the way and there’s hope along the way. The other side of that is me and Danny [Cannon] talked a lot about New York in the ’70s as a kind of tone poem for what Gotham is. That was at a time when the city was falling apart, but I remember going there and it was precisely the decay and the decadence and the anarchy that was, at the same time, joyous and thrilling and exciting and scary and sexy. There is something about a great city as it falls apart that you are compelled to watch. So, yeah, it’s a story of downfall, but it’s also a story of sort of explosive growth and excitement.

On creating a superhero TV show without a superhero…

BH: If there is a superhero in this show, it’s Gotham, and that’s a larger-than-life character that is a central part of the show. But I would say heroes are more interesting than superheroes, because the difference is superheroes do the impossible, and drama is really about the possible, the physically possible. So this is about people, and it’s about people trying to overcome real problems as opposed to trying to learn how to fly. But it’s a legit question. Will the fanboys back away from it? I don’t think so, because the really interesting parts of these stories is the origin stories — as soon as you’re into the capes and costumes, it’s less interesting than seeing how they got there. And this is about how all these people got there.

Will you be tuning into Gotham tonight? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. I am so exited to check this out tonight!!