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SDCC: Pennyworth producer says he thinks Alfred is more 'relatable' than Batman

By Josh Weiss
Alfred and Thomas Wayne meet in Pennyworth

Cue up the Austin Powers theme—it's time for a very groovy trip back in time to 1960s London!

During a Pennyworth panel at SDCC 2019, executive producer Bruno Heller (half of the team behind Fox's Gotham) discussed his appreciation for the iconic character (played by Jack Bannon) and how Bruce Wayne's butler-to-be is a little more down-to-earth than the Caped Crusader he services later in life.

“Alfred’s story came first," Heller said. "It’s a character everyone knows and loves that hasn’t really been explored at all … It’s telling an origin story with a great deal of freedom … It’s both within the Batman world, but more relatable, I think."

In addition, the fact that the series will be streaming on Epix meant that they didn't have to tone down the violence, cursing, and other mature elements.

"You can get closer to the edge ... It’s much more Victorian-gothic, while being more modern." the producer added, also describing the prequel series as dark and "binge-worthy" with political parallels. 

Set in a neon-soaked and Dickensian London (circa the swingin’ '60s), Pennyworth follows a young version of Alfred as he founds his own security firm, fights criminal conspiracies, and starts working with Thomas Wayne (played by Ben Aldridge who was asked to base his performance on Cary Grant) for the very first time.

"You are heading towards a destiny that is special. It’s a nice thing to build up to," said executive producer, Danny Cannon (the other half of Gotham's creative team), who was worried about not featuring any classic DC villains until Heller reminded him that England has its own rogues gallery of bad guys like Jack the Ripper.

"Britain has this plethora of great villains that comic books have stolen from."

“If you give an Englishman a gun he either looks like Jason Statham or he looks like James Bond," joked Heller. "There’s a bit of a John Barry [sound] to the music." Barry, of course, created the legendary 007 theme and came to define the sound of the spy-fi genre at the height of the Cold War. In fact, Michael Giacchino's music for the two Incredibles movies at Pixar are both direct homages to Barry.

Pennyworth SDCC 2019

“The minute I read Bruno’s script, I knew this was a story worth telling," Bannon chimed in, admitting that his performance is a direct nod to Michael Caine, who portrayed Alfred in Christopher Nolan's now-iconic Dark Knight trilogy. It's pretty obvious when you watch any of the trailers that Bannon is doing a spot-on impersonation of Caine, but the younger actor didn't really want to feel like he was living in the shadows of everyone who has ever played the character in film and television.

“Rather than me following on from these old, amazing actors … because [the show is set] before [them], they’re following after me," he cleverly continued to much laughter from the audience. “I’m excited for people to see this world … It’s bizarre and its sexy and it’s dark and it’s weird. ‘60s London is cool enough and this is even cooler.”

“We created a fantastic version of [London]," Heller added. "[But] it helps to be grounded in something real … It’s important, as was with Gotham [where we shot in New York] … London is a real character in the show.”

Aldridge stated that the show's reality is "13 degrees" weirder and more macabre than ours was and is. Taking on the role of the "whip smart and "super confident" Thomas Wayne was pretty much a dream come true for him.

“It’s fun to be a part of the DNA that makes up Batman … Joining the legend, basically," he said, comparing Thomas and Alfred to lone predators like tigers or sharks. “It’s not Starsky and Hutch, they’re very wary of each other.”

Season 1 of Pennyworth premieres on Epix Sunday, July 28. The pilot episode was directed by Cannon.

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.