Scandalous! The Riddler and the Penguin sitting comfortably in Wayne Manor. Actually, it’s actors Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith, who play, respectively Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma, on Fox’s Gotham, sitting on the dust-covered Wayne Manor set in Brooklyn, NY.
But the dichotomy of talking with two actors, who play iconic Batman villains, chilling out in the study set of Batman’s secret identity, is a little striking. Though the imagery is somewhat eclipsed by what they have to say about Season 3 of the show, which premiered last night.
Because of the brevity of my conversations, I’ve combined a quick talk with both of them in the interview below. There is more to come about Penguin’s arc this season, but I wanted to check in on the state of Oswald and Ed’s sanity following the second-half Season 2 of experimentation at the hands of Hugo Strange in Arkham Asylum.
Last season Oswald went through a lot of psychological ups and downs, so what is the state of his sanity at the top of the season?
Robin Lord Taylor: The return of Fish Mooney has basically snapped him back into who he was before Hugo Strange got his hands on him. In a way, it galvanizes him and gives him a focus. He lost all of his focus after what he went through. But seeing Fish, the person who taught him everything, his arch-rival throughout the first season – seeing her back brings him right back to himself. It gives him a purpose. Seeing she is now leading these monsters, who are creations of Hugo Strange, his other arch-enemy, gives him focus and drive.
So he's forgotten all the sweetness and docilility drilled into him by Hugo?
RLT: Again, it brings him back to himself. The stuff he went through, he won’t forget. Having been this sweet, empathetic, innocent person, he still remembers what those feelings are. But having come about them through horrible torture and manipulation at the hands of Hugo Strange, it is still a very painful memory for him. Just the thought he could be manipulated so easily, when that’s what he prides himself on – the fact people don’t do that to him, he does it to other people.
Edward was locked up in Arkham, so what is that doing to him? Is it making him more insane?
Cory Michael Smith: His spirit is a little dusty, you know? We have gone forward six months, and he is still in Arkham. Someone who loves activity and challenge, and games, to be relegated to that life has deafened his spirit. The only person he can possibly rely on would be, maybe, Penguin. But the last time I saw him, I kicked him out of my place. There is not a lot of hope for him, so he is a bit down and dark at the top.
You’ve said he goes full on Riddler this season. Does being locked up and maybe forgotten a catalyst?
CMS: No, that’s not the catalyst. There will be much more eventful things later in the season. But once he gets out, he is absolved of everything. He has to find a job, and make money, and make a life, and build up in the social hierarchy he’s not out and free in. He is a smart guy, and seems to do pretty well.
Who does he have as his target now? Gordon? Hugo Strange?
CMS: Well certainly Gordon. No one at GCPD was particularly kind to me. I can’t really go back there, so all of those people are on our s—t list. Hugo Strange, Peabody, but otherwise, everyone … I’m probably not going to get along well with Lucius or Bruce Wayne. Selina and I are mutually helpful to each other.
Edward is good at reading other people, and the situation, so do these monsters offer him an opportunity?
CMS: Most of the monster situation is resolved by the time I’m out of Arkham, so I am still sitting in there unaware of what’s going on out there because of them. That’s not in my direct line of fire in this series.
When he does become villainous in a big way, how does he go about that? He’s already done the question marks, so he can’t use those again.
CMS: There will always be… he did that stuff and didn’t even realize that could be his identity, and that’s his thing. What we will be seeing is someone who is much smarter than everyone else. Someone who tried to promote to Oswald the adage if you don’t let anyone into your heart, then you can’t be hurt. Having that kind of detached way of living, a bit of sociopathy – his kind of capacity to outsmart and outwit is high. What we’re going to see from him is a display, an awareness I don’t think anyone else is prepared for, or can really sport with.
With Edward, there is a social awkwardness, and then the cockiness of Riddler. Will we still be seeing all those different shades, or is he one cohesive figure?
CMS: Oh, yeah. It has been really fun. I feel like his growth as a character has truly been this acceptance of all these different parts of himself. We have shot some delicious stuff in the last two weeks of showing a lot of different colors of Ed. Depending on who he is with – when he is out, he is absolved of everything, so he’s not guilty of anything anymore. He is cleared. So, depending on who he is with, that does different things to him. If you’re with the cops, and they can’t do anything about the fact that you had killed a cop because you’re insane, there is a sort of, whatever this comic book version of white privilege is. He is in a privileged place. When he is around Oswald, he enjoys his life, and enjoys Oswald so much, and looks up to him, and indulges in that, for sure.
There are a lot of different colors I am enjoying about him. But he is working his way up the hierarchy. Today is interesting. Today we are filming a scene where I get to, for the first time, talk in front of a big group of people, and presenting something. That is a whole new layer of Ed as showman that I have not gotten to do yet. I am looking forward to it.