THE BUTLER DID IT
Tara Bennett gets the downstairs gossip from Gotham’s rebooted valet
One of the intriguing aspects of prequel show
Gotham’s exploration of Batman lore is the fun it has twisting characters we think we know. From oily rat Oswald Cobblepot ( the future Penguin) to impoverished urchin Ivy Pepper ( Poison Ivy to be), its rogues’ gallery of characters feels fresh yet familiar. But we’re set to discover an altogether different Alfred Pennyworth than the refined British butlers we previously saw brought to life by Michael Gough and Michael Caine. Sean Pertwee’s Pennyworth is a bit of brawler, more muscular protector than font of genteel wisdom. Executive producer Bruno Heller tells
SFX they wanted Gotham’s Alfred to embody a darkness that would help build the future Batman. “You had to have an actor with an edge of danger to him,” Heller explains. “Who was not simply the good, loyal caretaker, but also someone with his own sense of rage inside him. Someone who could carry that, but lightly, and that’s what Sean does so brilliantly.”
From Gotham’s New York City set, Pertwee tells us about his take on this cornerstone of the Batman legend… We know there was a lot of secrecy in the development of Gotham. How did they bring you into the fold?
It really was a dream come true. I was over here shooting Elementary with my friend Jonny ( Lee Miller). I got a call from Warner Bros to go up for this thing, just with this extremely well written two- page piece of paper. It was a scene with this character going into a pub, breaking someone’s windpipe and being really threatening. I was trying to figure out who the hell this character was and where it was going. Eventually they flew me down and I met [ executive producer] Danny Cannon. He said, “Hello, mate how’s it going?” as I had worked with him before [ on Goal! The Dream
Begins], and then I discovered it was Gotham!
Gotham’s version of Alfred Pennyworth is a lot tougher than audiences are used to: an ex- Marine who doesn’t suffer softness. What does all of that bring to the story?
It’s an interesting avenue to experiment with and look into – the idea of someone being a valet, a confidant and a father figure put upon someone who had no experience in that, who’s also dysfunctional and has a history in the military. My take on it is that in fact his father was the butler to the Waynes prior to me. I was in the military and came back to aid my father who was dying. I struck up a relationship with a very young Bruce Wayne ( David Mazouz). My father died and I took over looking after the family. He blames himself for the demise of Thomas and Martha Wayne, thinking he should have been there. So he’s now made a pledge to himself and Bruce that he will never leave his side through death. That’s our angle. How deep into Alfred and Bruce’s story have you gone?
We’re on episode eight now and we’re beginning to open up. We’re seeing Alfred become this enabler. He has issues. He’s an extraordinarily multi- faceted character. You haven’t seen this version of Alfred before, believe you me. ( Laughs)
Do we get to delve into Alfred’s past?
You will get a lot more back story the further we go into it. Because the writing is so strong there’s a real sense of how the city intertwines. You can see how the city is beginning to operate and how we’re all drawn together. It’s a fascinating process. Does Alfred get to interact with characters outside of Bruce and Gordon?
I got a chance to very briefly work with Donal [ Logue, Detective Harvey Bullock] the other day, but my personal experience is mainly with David. I have a son called Alfred, weirdly enough, who is the same age as David so I have an awful lot to draw from in my relationship. I can only wonder at the pain this kid must go through. We’ve developed a very close working relationship and the kid is irritatingly brilliant. ( Laughs) He’s very good, such a pro and such a fine young man. Alfred and Gordon are clearly the yin and yang of father figures for Bruce. What’s Alfred’s take on Gordon?
The early scenes are ones of mistrust. Alfred doesn’t trust anyone who comes into Bruce’s world. He tries to keep everyone at a distance but he’s totally inexperienced in this field of being a father, or knowing how to handle a child going through this extraordinary grief and bereavement. Together they are like a bizarre couple because they come from very different worlds.
“he tries to keep everyone at a distance”
Can we hope to see Gordon and Alfred busting some heads together?
All I can say is that I hope so. I can’t give spoilers but in this episode we see something change and their relationship changes and they make a bizarre pact. I relish the chance to do some of the work Ben McKenzie has been doing. I am in heaven doing this show. It’s a very rare treat to be involved in something where you’re unhappy not working every day. It’s true! Gotham will start exclusively on Channel 5 in October.
Who needs parents when you’ve got these two?
“No, don’t cry. Dress up like a bat instead. It’ll help.”