Robin Lord Taylor is invariably one of the nicest, most genuine people to interview in all of show business – he always seems thrilled that people want to talk to him about his job.
On Friday, he spoke with a group of bloggers/journalists about season two of Gotham (FOX, Mondays, 8/7C) and confirmed once again that he loves what he’s doing.
Taylor was happy to talk about the Penguin’s progress – rising from, essentially, the gutter to become (even if it’s self-proclaimed) the King of Gotham. He touched on the darker nature of the new season; the Penguin/Nygma relationship (yes, it’s coming!); Mrs. Cobblepot’s dawning awareness of her son’s business, and a great deal more.
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Hi, it’s great to talk to you again. Thanks for doing the call.
Robin: Of course. My pleasure.
I’m very much loving the season. I’ve seen the first two episodes. Can you talk about, though, how Oswald’s working with Gordon or helping each other at the moment? How long do you think that can last? I assume at some point, Gordon, I don’t know, is he going to take the moral high ground or are they going to keep giving each other help?
Robin: Well, I think part of Gordon’s growth and his transformation as a character is basically him reconciling himself with the fact that he has to align himself with certain not savory players in Gotham City in order to get what he wants done. So yes, I think this could essentially go on indefinitely because he is coming to realize that he needs Penguin, and Penguin has also realized back in the first season that he needed Gordon as well in order to get what he wants done.
The interesting change that’s happening, though, is that in the first season they were coming at each other with—Penguin was looking at Gordon as someone that he could actually trust and could be an actual friend for him. But now, after what happened in the finale of the first season when Gordon basically left him to die in the hospital, the relationship is much more strained. And again, they do need each other. They need to come to each other to get things done, but it’s now from a very wary—they’re both very wary of each other at this point. It’s a really interesting development between the two characters.
Great. And then as a follow-up, right now he’s on top. Can you talk about the path he’s on this year?
Robin: Yes. Well, yes, he set out to achieve something in the first season and he did it, he succeeded. He became his own boss, his own man, and basically he proclaimed himself the king of Gotham. As anything in Gotham City, though, nothing is easy, and now that he has achieved what he wants he’s faced with a whole new set of issues in terms of how to maintain that, and how to stay on the top. I don’t know if he’s exactly prepared for that, and this whole season it’s going to be about challenging his intellect, basically everything he has in order to stay the king of Gotham.
This year, Oswald doesn’t really have any true allies. He has Butch, who’s kind of brainwashed, and Selena, who really does her own thing. Do you think that being on his own makes Oswald stronger or weaker?
Robin: I think, essentially, he’s very used to being on his own. He’s never trusted anyone implicitly. It’s always been him against the world. Again, the only person he trusts is his dear mother.
But I do think that part of his lesson that he learns, being the king of Gotham now, is he’s going to learn that he does need people. He’s somewhat isolated, like you said, and I do actually believe that that does weaken him. He is going to have to learn how to invite people in and rely on them to a certain extent. That’s part of his transformation this year, I think.
Cool. And speaking about Selena, can you talk about what their partnership is going to be like going forward?
Robin: Like you said, Selena does her own thing, and she slips in and out and she is essentially—what I love about her character is that she, again, very similar to Penguin, she has no real allies except for maybe Bruce Wayne. And I think Oswald is very intrigued to have her around. She brings a new energy. He also enjoys the fact that she has that ability to infiltrate all sorts of groups, and I think he really wants to use that to his own advantage. Obviously we’ll see how much Selena agrees with that or is down with that, but I think that’s where Oswald is coming from.
I’m wondering [indiscernible] Season 2, your character is slowly descending into this iconic role of the Penguin even more. I’m wondering, what are you looking at for inspiration? There’s plenty of source material from the comics, the video games, the movies. So what are you looking at to inform how you just take on this character even more, and also how do you continue to just make this character your own?
Robin: Oh, man. Well, in terms of inspiration, we’re all very blessed on the show to have 77 years’ worth of material to draw upon. The comics have been incredibly helpful for all of us, just to understand these characters and where they’re coming from. And so yes, that’s been a huge influence on me.
And then also, in terms of performance, I look to my acting idols, the people I grew up watching, such as John Malkovich and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both of whom really, in terms of their acting style and how they approach characters that have a dark side and yet finding the sympathy within those characters. That’s definitely something that has influenced me.
But yes, in terms of really making the character my own, I don’t know. I give all credit to Bruno Heller. He has created such a clear vision for Oswald and where he’s coming from and what drives him that, honestly, I just feel like the vessel. I feel like I’m just carrying his words onward, and yes. I just trust in him. I feel if I really think too hard about it, then it won’t be as authentic. Yes. I don’t know, I give it to Bruno Heller.
Yes. Are there any comics in particular that are your favorite that stand out for Oswald?
Robin: Well, definitely, the one that first comes to mind that was actually sent to me by Geoff Jones, head of DC, was Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, which really delves into Oswald’s past, and also, it’s him as an adult looking back on his life, but also, you just really see how low, how evil, how truly manipulative and twisted that he becomes in the future. So that definitely informs my approach to the character and where he eventually ends up years down the line.
I wanted to first ask you about how’s Oswald’s mother going to be reacting to Oswald’s new role now in Gotham this year. I know she’s very supportive of him and all that, but is it going to overwhelm her to see the things that her son is doing?
Robin: I think very much so. There was the moment in the first season where Maroni basically told her what Oswald was doing and how he—the violence and the murder and all of the darkness inside of him. But I think, like many parents, they’re incapable of seeing the dark stuff.
It’s almost like she covers her eyes and closes her ears and out of sight, out of mind. She only wants to see what she believes that he is, which is a good person. But that will definitely be tested in this season. She will be confronted with, really, how dark he is, but also with the sympathy in that I think she believes that the choices he makes and has made are choices that he had to in order to survive.
And then we saw in the season finale that Butch, he’s starting to snap out of the mind control that [indiscernible] has caused him, and so on, and yet Oswald is still having him by his side. Does Oswald completely trust in Butch being by his side, or does he have that suspicion of that he could still snap again because he was first loyal to Fish Mooney?
Robin: I think it may be a mistake that Oswald makes, but he really does trust in the brainwashing. He trusts in Victor Zsasz and his amazing handiwork in terms of getting people to do his bidding, and we’ll see how that plays out. I think he relies on Butch. He needs someone like Butch to galvanize all of the players in Gotham City to be behind Oswald and to follow Oswald as we go forward, now that Falcone and Maroni are out of the picture. But yes, we’ll definitely see if that’s the smart choice or not.
I’m just wondering, as a viewer, given this is the rise of the villains, who are you enjoying watching rise as far as your villainous cohorts?
Robin: Oh, my main man, Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma. I just love what they did with the character in the first season in that it was very, very slow, a very slow burn, and we got to see the seeds of madness that are being planted there, and that just really comes to the forefront in Season 2, and I’m just thrilled. I find Cory to be a very inspiring person to work with, and I’m just thrilled just to see him embrace the character and watch the character flourish. Yes, that’s definitely the one that I’m most excited for.
Is there anyone else that is going to thrill us beyond belief?
Robin: Well, I think, definitely what you’re going to see with Jerome, who is played by Cameron Monaghan, be the Joker. I think everyone is going to be thrilled, including myself, to see how that progresses.
I think I read that you’re in Cincinnati this weekend?
Robin: I am, yes. I’m going out tomorrow morning.
You could go to White Castle there.
Robin: Yes, totally. I could go to White Castle. I’m excited. Apparently chili is very big in Cincinnati.
Yes, yes, it is. So when they transform you into Oswald they change your nose and your hair and everything. So do people recognize you as Oswald when you’re out in the real world or does that allow you a certain amount of anonymity?
Robin: People pretty much recognize me out in the world. With this blue-black hair, I guess it’s very recognizable. But it’s always so funny because people will come up and they’ll be like, “Are you?” and then I’ll be like, “Yes, I am,” and then they’ll be like, “Wow, I wasn’t sure, but then once you opened your mouth and you talked I was like ‘yes, it is him.’” Apparently there’s something very distinguishing about my voice as well, but you know.
Yes, it is.
Robin: Yes, it is.
So this is the second season, and have you gotten used to playing Oswald yet? Do you still keep the bottle cap in your shoe to help you with your limp, or is it just more natural now? Are things coming more natural for you.
Robin: It’s definitely coming more naturally. The really fascinating thing, I’ve never been a series regular on a show before, and then also, having all of this time to play this character and then to create a relationship with the writers of the show, the most amazing thing is that now, it’s almost a symbiotic relationship between us. They have my interpretation of Oswald in their minds, so when they write the scenes I can tell that they’re writing it for me and for, like I said, my characterization of Oswald.
And so it becomes a lot more easy. The words just fly, and it’s almost effortless, in a way. But I should say, there was a bottle cap in my shoe, but now it’s been downgraded to two quarters stacked on top of each other, because the bottle cap was becoming a lot to deal with.
Are we going to see any more physical transformations on your side, top hat, monocle, this season?
Robin: I have no idea. I anticipate there will be development in that way, but yes, I’m really excited about that, too, because in terms of the monocle, if you look at the comics, it’s an actual physical injury that he receives. I don’t know if we’re approaching that this season. I really only know a couple episodes in advance before we start shooting, but it’s something that I would love just to keep exploring, and it really helps to flesh out the character.
I was wondering, with Penguin now declared himself the king of Gotham, are we going to start seeing him rise to that social status that he had in the comics where he’s interacting both out of the underworld and in the underworld, where both sides are recognizing him as a big player?
Robin: Oh, definitely. And one of the things I’m most excited about in this season is his continuing relationship with Jim Gordon. Now Jim really has to face the monster that he had a hand in creating, and Jim is coming to realize that he needs Oswald as much as Oswald needs Jim, and to see the tension between the two of them, I think, is really exciting.
And also, for Oswald, it’s very satisfying to watch Jim just have to come to him, have to approach him to help Jim further this plans to make Gotham City a better place. Oswald just loves the fact that he has power now, that Jim needs on his side.
And I was also wondering, so we’ve had a brief interaction between Cobblepot and Nygma in Season 1. The Riddler and Penguin have always had a really interesting relationship in the comics. I was wondering, in Season 2, are we going to see more of that develop with the relationship between him and Nygma?
Robin: Oh, absolutely, and it’s really, really exciting. It’s one of my most favorite things about this season is their relationship and how the two play-off of each other.
After screening the first two episodes, it almost makes Season 1 villains look like a bunch of schoolyard bullies, because this season you guys really elevated it. My question is you are a very personal person, but now that your rise to fame has made you a front-name star, everyone associates you now with your character. If you Google you, that’s what comes up.
Everything is about Gotham, and my question is, to you, now with your rise of fame, who is it that you see yourself as, if you were to describe yourself? And secondly, the casting on this show is brilliant. If you were to cast someone on this show, who would you like to see enter the world of Gotham?
Robin: Oh, man. Oh, jeez. Well, nothing has changed in terms of, really, how I see myself. I just see myself as a working actor in New York City, which ultimately is all I ever wanted. The same stuff, all of that, it’s intimidating and a little terrifying to me, and also, the way I look at it is I can’t really think about it because ultimately it goes against what us as actors are trying to achieve, which is you’re given a role and you want to disappear into the role.
You don’t want people to see the person behind it, and I think fame works against that, in a way. So in terms of addressing that, I really try and put it out of my mind, and yes, I just approach my life like I always do, and now I have health insurance.
And then in terms of someone coming into the world, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Paul Reubens the other day, and I’ve been a lifelong Peewee Herman fan and Paul Reubens fan, and I’m sure, as you know, he played Oswald’s father in Batman Returns. I would just love it if we could get him on, if we could establish Oswald’s parents and have it be Paul Reubens. That would be incredible.
I just want to say Penguin is my favorite character on the show. I love how complex he is, and I really like how you interact with the fans. So what I wanted to know, with the cast watching live and tweeting, how does the immediate feedback and interaction with fans affect the show or your performance?
Robin: I think we’re all really good about separating the two. The interaction with fans is an amazing thing. I never thought I would have any fans, and so wrapping my brain around that, it’s been a lot to deal with, but it’s been incredible.
But yes, in terms of their feedback, it’s always welcome, and I think we all view it as, whether it’s good or bad, the fact that we have people talking is an amazing gift. That’s what we all set out to do is create art so that people can digest it and talk about it and hash it out between each other and with us. I think that’s an amazing gift.
But also, I will have to say that I go back and forth on the live tweeting thing because part of me really, really appreciates it and really loves that interaction, but the other part of me, I feel like we’re—it’s really hard to really watch the show and watch all of the amazing work that goes into every episode, from our incredibly talented crew, our amazing DPs, our amazing directors, and then of course our amazing cast. It’s really hard, though, when you’re live tweeting because your attention is split. Do you know what I mean?
And so I think all of us also are reconciling that and try to figure out how to find a healthy balance, between we really, ultimately, want people just to watch the show and be absorbed in the show, not necessarily be absorbed in my Twitter feed or what I think of any particular moment.
Robin: I would argue I think we would all just like people to embrace the show and watch it in the most immersive way possible. So it’s an interesting dynamic. We’re all trying to figure out that balance, and I think not just our cast but every cast, every actor, it’s the new paradigm. How do we embrace it, and yet how do we still encourage people to just enjoy the show and watch the show as intently as they can?
I was just wondering who got you started in comic books and what was your first interaction with a comic book, maybe as a young boy or maybe reading as the Penguin or something like that?
Robin: I think it was third grade. A family moved in next door, and it was Brian Cobb, who had a whole collection, and we immediately bonded over our shared love of G.I. Joe, and then through that he really introduced me into the comics. I wasn’t as much of an aficionado as he was, but he was definitely the one who opened up this whole world for me, so big shout-out to Brian Cobb.
And second, you’re doing a Comic-Con circuit now. Did you ever see yourself doing Comic-Cons, and what is that like for you?
Robin: I’ve never thought, and that’s the funny thing was when I got the job, it wasn’t until months, months later when someone, I think it was probably one of my representatives, was like, oh, by the way, there’s this whole other world out there. I was like, I didn’t even think about it. I was like, cool, I got a job, amazing.
And then with this job, like I said this whole world opened up and it’s been fantastic, I have to say. The immediate interaction with the fans, getting to meet people face to face, getting to talk to people, it’s just been just an amazing experience, and in a way I wish—and it’s becoming more of this, but I wish all actors had that opportunity. I wish all actors had that ability to be in a show that is embraced by such an amazingly articulate, devoted fan base as the sci-fi world has. And yes, it’s been wonderful.
Awesome. Well, we love having you go to Comic-Cons, so thank you so much.
Robin: Oh, thank you. Have a wonderful day.
Robin: Thanks, everybody.