Ben McKenzie on Gordon as bounty hunter in Season 3 of Gotham

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Sep 12, 2016, 4:26 PM EDT

The headquarters of Gotham City Police Department is bustling this late August day. Captain Barnes and Harvey Bullock consult a case by their desks. Cops shuffle papers and book perps as more cops drag in more perps in cuffs. People move to and fro, but one man stands out: former detective, current bounty hunter and future commissioner James Gordon, played by actor Ben McKenzie.

Clad in all black, and rocking a leather jacket, Gordon is something of a bad boy in the GCPD, now operating as a gun for hire collecting the inmates who broke out of Hugo Strange’s Indian Hill labs at the end of Season 2 of Gotham. In this scene shot for Episode 5 of Season 3 at the massive and gorgeous GCPD set of Fox’s series -- located in the heart of Brooklyn -- Gordon leans in to converse with a peculiar-looking inmate currently held in the cell.

Due to spoilers (and the fact that the director cuts and resets the scene before I get a chance to hear), I cannot relay what McKenzie is saying to this prisoner in his character of Gordon. But I can say that this Gordon looks to be something of an outsider in the GCPD.

And that’s what I, and a small group of journalists, ask him about when I get a chance to chat with McKenzie, with Season 3 premiering Sept. 19. In the following conversation, he discusses Gordon’s journey this season, how his character will now interact with Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), and whether his former flame Barbara (Erin Richards) can be redeemed.

We began Jim’s story in Season 1 when he wanted to become a cop, and by the end of Season 2, he was out of the GCPD. Now that he’s this bounty hunter of monsters, is he enjoying operating outside the system?

I think so. I think the idea is to play with the audience’s expectations of this future Commissioner Gordon, and understand that along the way, he had to go through a variety of extreme challenges and forms of soul searching.

One of which is to be completely outside, to be at basically his lowest point, which is where we find him now, bounty hunting alone, drinking a lot, and trying to find some reason for being outside of just getting by. When he gets his mojo back, and understands what it really is about – which we’re about to start shooting now – it reinvigorates him, and allows him to operate in a new way within the GCPD.

Jim still believes in the rule of law?

I think he believes in the rule of law insofar as the rule of law will get you there. When it doesn’t, there are other means at his disposal.

What kinds of things does Jim have to add to his arsenal, literally and figuratively, in order to be bounty hunting these monsters?

I think he’s actually just applying the skill set he’s had previously. He is just unencumbered by the rules and regulations of being a police officer. He doesn’t have to abide by any of that stuff, which is freeing. I think he enjoys, in a dark way, some of that. What will be interesting, after that phase when he ultimately – of course he has to rejoing the GCPD; you can’t possibly keep him out of it too long – is how does he come back to it? What is his new point of view on Gotham as a society writ large, and his role in it. What does he hope to accomplish, and how?

How is the relationship with Bruce this season? Will Gordon be coaching him or will the two spend more time off in their own corners of Gotham?

They’re probably spending more time off in their own corners. The promise he made to Bruce has, in some ways been satisfied, by the discovery of Hugo Strange’s laboratory and the nefarious activity of Indian Hill. Bruce is not as focused on it at a certain point. The notion of finding the Wayne’s killer is not, we’ve realized, sort of the point anymore. We are really looking at the darker forces behind Gotham City, which is not just Hugo Strange, but the Court of Owls.

Do you think there’s any chance the relationship with Barbara could be healed?

I don’t think the relationship can be healed; I do think there’s a chance of personal redemption for all of these characters no matter how villainous they become. I think one of the things I enjoy about the show is it’s an origin story not just for the heroes, but for the villains. There is a way of empathizing with them, and understanding where they come from, that is unique.

I think we really play with the thin line between heroes and villainy on a show like this. Were it not for Oswald being beaten down by Fish Mooney all the time, maybe he wouldn’t have become the cold-blooded killer he became. Similarly with Nygma. If we hadn’t been making fun of him all the time, if he hadn’t felt like such an outcast for the entire first season and a half, perhaps he wouldn’t have...or, maybe that was his nature all along. Maybe Gotham just allowed him to become who he really wanted to be. We are playing with notions like that. In terms of Barbara, I don’t think she’ll suddenly become this beacon of light. She’s not going to become Michelle Obama or something like that, but I don’t think anyone is irredeemable in Gotham.

Last season. you got to play a sillier version of Jim via Clayface. Is there a scene this season where you get to be more comedic or playful?

Not yet. That was a lot of fun. I really dug it. We can always have Clayface re-emerge at any point if we wanted to. It might be something we do in the future. The bad guys always have more fun, and I enjoyed it. But no, not yet. 

Check back for more from our set visit to Gotham for an inside look at Season 3.