In many Batman renditions, we know Alfred Pennyworth as a confidant and guardian, but in the new FOX series Gotham, we see him struggling to define a parental relationship with the newly orphaned Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). To really encapture the development of this partnership, Gotham writers enlisted 50-year-old British actor Sean Pertwee, who so far has absolutely excelled in portraying the molding of his younger counterpart. [Editorial Note: For those wondering, Sean is indeed the son of Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee, aka The Third Doctor]
This week on Gotham, we will see more of the formative moments of Alfred and Bruce’s relationship. This is something that has been overshadowed a midst of all the crime drama with Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). To get a glimpse of what we can expect from this storyline, I sat down in a roundtable interview (about a month ago) with Pertwee himself at New York Comic Con. During this conversation, he gave us more detail regarding his character’s role in raising Bruce Wayne, his approach for the beloved Alfred Pennyworth, and his insight on how Gotham will stand apart in the Batman Universe.
How much are we going to see Alfred raising Bruce Wayne?
We’re shooting chronologically which hasn’t really been seen before. We’re watching the development of the boy becoming the man – the early stages of their relationship. We’re shooting chronologically so David [Mazouz] and I naturally are finding our voice, our heartbeat, our language. It’s changed, too. I have a son named Alfred myself who’s 12; so it’s very interesting to be growing with this boy who’s extremely damaged. We’re finding our way as we go. And as with any young person that’s not related specifically, like Alfred is to Young Master Bruce, you try to find a hook, a way into their soul, into their psyche to develop your relationship with them. And we do. We just shot it. [Alfred] won’t be noted for his parenting skills but it’s his way of communicating with the boy. He becomes the enabler, which is something that’s been overlooked in every other version. Alfred, if you think about it, before he (Bruce) goes off to Tibet, he’s interested in this. [Bruce]’s being enabled by Alfred. He’s been molded by Alfred. And that’s like every character in this show, they’ve all been molded by Gotham. And because Bruno [Heller – one of Gotham’s writers] is such a superlative writer, psychology plays a huge part in the plot.
So what was it that drew you to the role?
Excuse me, really? Are you joking? (laughs) Let me think…absolutely everything. Probably like the other guys have said, everything was kept under wraps. We were given this great two-page soliloquy to learn. I was in London doing Elementary. I didn’t know what it was but it went really well. They picked me up, took me to L.A. but they still wouldn’t tell me what it was. They make you leave your electronic devices then you put you in a room and you ask to see what it is and it’s Gotham. And I’m now like “Oh my God, now I really want it.” Now, I’m really terrified. Then I see Bruno [Heller] walk in with Danny [Cannon]. We went and did a workshop and I saw it was Alfred. It’s an honor to begin with and it’s an honor I don’t take lightly. He’s a very loved character and he’s a loved character in my country as well. He’s all of these things and I take a great sense of responsibility towards the character to give him a proper base and to see his journey, where he comes from. He has issues – rage issues, he has issues of guilt, all of which he blames himself for the death of The Waynes because he wasn’t there. He then finds out he never signed any dotted line to be a father, so he finds himself in this extraordinary position to be the guardian for a multi-billionaire. What do you do? What does he do? He’s terrified. You see that by episode three.
When you found out you were reading for Gotham was there a character you were hoping you were going to play?
I was hoping it would be Alfred.
Did you go back and watch any of the other performances?
I went back this morning and watched some of Adam West. He’s absolutely brilliant. It’s hilarious but brilliant. People always accused him of being camp. I watched it when I was a kid and I absolutely loved it. It was super cool.
Michael Gough is all heart and love. Michael Caine takes that as well, but he has a damaged past as well. I tried to stay away from them as much as I could. Although I’m fully aware of them, I posses them, I own all of them all anyway. I love them all – to a certain degree. There comes a point where you have to develop your own bible in your life. I wrote my own bible which I presented to Bruno on the first day when we were shooting on Long Island. He liked it and what I was proud of was that our stuff crosses paths with literary stuff that was written in 1943. All elements I ticked upon in my approach to my Alfred. I hope the fans will see some of the detail that I put in.
Can you give us an example?
Concealment. In some of the early comic books, Alfred was an actor. He taught Master Bruce how to ape language. He could do a perfect impersonation of Bruce Wayne to pretend he was there before video screens and Skype. There was also concealment, the art of concealing yourself by being an actor, he had a militaristic background. Lots of little details you’ll see, since we’re filming chronologically, you’ll see it unfold.
In what ways do you think that Gotham, the show, will stand apart in the Batman Universe?
The way it will stand apart is the city that molded these people. I’m an enabler for the man Bruce becomes. It’s the same way the city. It starts with the big bang of The Waynes getting killed. It’s the fallout from that. it’s the way the city drives those people to become the people they come. If you look back at the history of the story – we’ve got a wealth, we’re going back 75 years.
Catch Sean Pertwee on Gotham every Monday, 8/7c on FOX. Click here for our roundtable with Donal Logue, here for our interview with Erin Richards and here for our interview with Robin Lord Taylor!
Lauren Stern is the managing editor of Pop-BReak.com and is responsible for curating the site’s content. This includes managing the editorial staff, coordinating the content calendar, and assigning publishing dates and deadlines. She graduated Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism and Philosophy. She spends her free time searching for the best gluten-free food in the Tri-State area, playing with her dogs, and reading an insane amount of books. She tweets constantly about pop culture and social issues and hopes you follow her musings @laurenpstern.