Gotham Interview Series: Ben McKenzie

Photo Credit: Ryan Demarco
Photo Credit: Ryan Demarco

If you haven’t been watching Gotham’s first season, you’re missing out. The Batman prequel that details Jim Gordon’s start at the Gotham Police Department has kept viewers on the edge of their seats each week. Some of the draw, of course, is how the comic’s famous villains are introduced. But it’s undeniable that the amazing cast is what makes the show standout amongst other Batman renditions.

One of those outstanding cast members is Ben McKenzie, who plays James Gordon. The actor first made waves on hit teen drama The O.C. and then on the critically lauded crime drama Southland. He even voiced Bruce Wayne in Batman: Year One before taking on the role of the future Commissioner Gordon. Batman fans and fans of the show in general can agree that McKenzie was made for this part, as he’s done an exceptional job of portraying Gordon’s acclimation to the crime, injustice and corruption that runs rampant in Gotham City.

As a fan of McKenzie’s since his debut as Ryan Atwood on The O.C., I was excited to sit down with the actor to talk all things Gotham at New York Comic Con. In the short roundtable interview, McKenzie told us more about his character’s relationship with the young Bruce Wayne, his transition from Wayne to Gordon, and his thoughts on Gotham as a character.

Photo Credit: Eric Reichbaum, FOX
Photo Credit: Eric Reichbaum, FOX

Why does Jim Gordon take such an interest in Bruce Wayne? I know his parents are a big deal, but he solves crimes all the time. What in particular drives him towards Bruce and in forming a relationship with him?

What draws him to it, on just a visceral and emotional level, is that Jim sees in himself in Bruce. Jim, in that first scene where they meet after the Waynes were killed, sees a young boy crying, shaking. He goes over to him and reveals that he lost his father. Jim lost his father when he was Bruce’s age, [he] died right in front of him, horrifically. He feels the pain this young man is in. It’s just a bond, it’s an emotional and visceral thing. Added on to that, Bruce is the boy king, the future king of Gotham. His family is so powerful. His parents were such powerful and beloved figures in the community that their loss leaves this gaping power vacuum in Gotham. Someone good has to get in that to fill the void and he’s trying to counsel Bruce to be able to do that, but Bruce is just a 12-year-old kid.

How much are we going to see Jim mold the young Bruce Wayne?

Very much so. At the same time, he’s not the guardian of Bruce, that’s Alfred Pennyworth. So in our version, Jim and Alfred are sort of battling for Bruce’s soul. Jim has a certain morale he approaches everything with, do-gooderism you might call it, and Alfred isn’t quite the same. He’s a military man himself, but he’s more stern and probably, and through his experience, a little more darker with his take on things. The two of them, it’s a fascinating thing to have two grown men counsel a young boy in how to be a man.

How has it been for you playing the other side of the coin?

It’s good. It feels good. Being on the other side you can see the side you’re not on more clearly, if that makes any sense. Right now Jim is limited because he’s a law enforcement officer and he’s going to follow the law. But perhaps that may not last as he realizes that to follow the law is to not get things done sometimes in Gotham. Obviously in Batman, Bruce becomes Batman because he believes that if he does not become a vigilante himself, the city will fall apart. So he has no better choice. So I think it’s fascinating to see the other side and to see what’s so appealing about the freedom of being a vigilante. At the same time, Jim is trying to stop that and trying to keep that from happening. That will ultimately be chaos.

Were you at all nervous about being accepted by Batman fans as Jim Gordon?

Photo Credit: Justin Stephens/FOX
Photo Credit: Justin Stephens/FOX

No I wasn’t worried about that. I did a show called Southland after The OC, where I played a patrol officer in the streets of Los Angeles. We worked closely with the LAPD. I think it got a lot of respect from them because we tried to do it as accurately as possible. We interacted with them on a daily basis to make sure it was a faithful portrayal of law enforcement. So I had already evolved from that first show. So it wasn’t a question of that, it was much more a question of how do we make this show on a TV schedule. People are so familiar with the films and the films are amazing but they also have a year to shoot and 200 million dollars. We have nine days and a lot less money. It was how to do it. It was a conversation with Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller about how to actually make this show and make it so that it’s good. So the fan base feels like they were doing a faithful portrayal that lives up to the standard that’s been set.

How did you prepare for this role? Did you watch old Batman movies, read the comic books, or were you a fan of them for a long time?

Geoff Johns sent me some material. I did the voice of Bruce in Batman: Year One and he sent me Gotham Central, Batman: The Long Halloween, a bunch of stuff. So I read a bunch of things but I didn’t watch other portrayals of Gordon because there’s no reason to do that. I’d seen the movies obviously, they’re amazing. But you can’t do an impression of another actor, it doesn’t work. You’re seeing this guy 20 or 30 years before he becomes commissioner so there’s no point in trying to imitate some other actor.

We were talking about how Gotham is an actual character earlier. Can you talk about your thoughts on that?

Yeah it is. Gotham is a character in the sense that we’re describing a city, a world similar to ours but slightly different in which the entire society has lost faith. All of that connective tissue that normally bonds us together. The little things of believing each of us are at the end of the day good and decent people and that we care about each other. That we can live in a society that reflects positive values, all of that has fallen apart, or nearly fallen apart. Maybe the Waynes were the last in giving people hope. Instead, we’ve entered into a place where, not only where the Falcones and Maroneys run Gotham, crime families, but beyond that, beneath that. No one trusts anyone else. Everyone believes the cops are corrupt because they are. The mayor is corrupt because he is. The judges are corrupt because they are. So average citizens don’t trust each other. Jim is trying to fix that but it’s a hard road in hell.

CATCH BEN MCKENZIE 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!

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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.