Gotham: Before Batman

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It’s not the Gotham you know that will premiere on Fox this September. The prequel saga envisions the comic book city’s history before a certain Dark Knight brought high-tech vigilante justice to the streets. In Gotham, Selina Kyle is a teenage girl on her own. Oswald Cobblepot—you may recognize him as Penguin—is just beginning his rise to villainy. As for Bruce Wayne, he’s a “regular billionaire boy,” to use the words of star David Mazouz. He’s also young boy whose life will be forever changed when his parents are murdered and he’s left alone, save for the watchful eye of his butler Alfred and the compassion of a young detective named James Gordon.

This year, Gotham was inescapable at San Diego Comic-Con. Large ads appeared on the sides of trolleys. Outside of the convention center, fans could take a zipline ride across its skyline. Gotham features some folks you’ll recognize from TV and film, amongst them Ben McKenzie (The OC, Southland), Donal Logue (Sons of Anarchy, Vikings) and Jada Pinkett Smith (Madagascar). It’s also bound to boost the careers of a few up-and-comers who are taking on the roles of Gotham’s future menaces as well as the one who, years later, will come to the city’s rescue. At Comic-Con, the stars of the forthcoming series headed down to the convention. During a roundtable interview session, actors Camren Bicondova (Selina Kyle), David Mazouz (Bruce Wayne) and Robin Taylor (Oswald Cobblepot) spoke to journalists about taking on the roles of these legendary characters in their formative years.

At just 15, Bicondova bears a strong resemblance to former Catwoman Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s been fielding a lot of questions about the expectations that come with playing such a notorious figure in the Batman universe. However, Bicondova is quick to point out that she’s not actually playing Catwoman. “I’m doing a totally different time in her life,” she says. At this point, she’s just Selina, a 14-year-old girl who has a bond with young Bruce Wayne. “I think Selina is intrigued by him because they have a similarity,” she says. Both Selina and Bruce are growing up without parents. “I think she likes the fact that even though they live on total opposite sides of Gotham city, they’re almost living the same kind of lifestyle.”

While Bicondova isn’t channeling Catwoman at this point, she did have to research the character. Bicondova notes that she ordered “a bunch of stuff off of eBay,” to delve into Catwoman’s long history, and checked out the 1966 TV series as well. Even in her pre-Catwoman years, Selina will have some feline mannerisms. Bicondova spent a lot of time watching her own cat. It also helps that she has been dancing since the age of five and takes parkour classes on the side. “I can do some of my own stunts,” she says.

Bicondova is looking forward to seeing how her character will evolve. “I’m actually waiting for myself to find out what it is that makes her the way she is when she’s Catwoman,” she says. “That’s what I love about this job. I’m actually learning about her as we’re going, so it’s really exciting.”

Mazouz read a lot of comics while preparing for the role. He also picked up a book called Batman 101, which broke down the important bits of the character. It is a wild opportunity for Mazouz, who previously appeared alongside Kiefer Sutherland in the TV show Touch. “When I first got it, I knew I was going to play Bruce Wayne, so I knew it was going to be amazing. I knew it was going to be a great opportunity,” he says. “It never really hit me until after our first day of shooting the pilot. That’s when it hit me. I was jumping on the bed.”

The 13-year-old actor says that his Bruce Wayne is perhaps closest in spirit to Christian Bale’s turn as the superhero. Still, it’s important to remember that, at this point, Bruce is no superhero. He’s a kid. “You learn, ultimately, why he becomes Batman, what makes him become Batman, what exactly happens in his childhood,” says Mazouz.

Bruce is going to go through some major challenges in Gotham. “When his parents first get killed, he’s just distraught. He doesn’t really want to do anything,” says Mazouz. “He’s not really focused on going out and saving the day because that’s not what 12-year-olds do; especially, that’s not what 12-year-olds do when they just lost their parents. It’s going to take him a while to get to that stage where I’m going to make a difference in Gotham City.”

Robin Taylor thinks that his predecessors, namely Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito, may have had an influence on his portrayal of the famed Penguin. Still, the actor, who previously appeared in The Walking Dead, is exploring another angle of Batman’s longtime nemesis. “I feel like I’ll have a lot of freedom,” says Taylor of the gig. “This is before their incarnations happened. In a way, it’s like my own role.”

Taylor describes his character’s evolution. “He starts the show at a very low place on the totem pole,” he says. “He ends up even lower than that. He’s basically crawling his way back to Gotham.”

Power, Taylor says, is important to his character, but he can’t seem to grasp it. Failure is also integral to the guy who becomes Penguin. “I think that’s sort of what fuels his homicidal tendencies,” he says. “His failures are what push him towards those really dark violent places.”

It sounds like he’s having fun with the role too. “We all want to work out those dark parts of our personality, too, in a fun, safe, make-believe way,” he says. Taylor has been digging into this storied character by researching the villain’s history. He just started reading the limited comic book series Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. “The thing that resonates with me is essentially the Batman universe and they’re all mortal people. There are no supernatural abilities,” he says. “All of the villains are coming from a real place. Being a bullied kid, that’s something we could all relate too.”

It’s a challenging part, but well worth it. “I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel under pressure,” says Taylor. Still, he adds, “it’s the best opportunity.”

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