“Gotham” is a prequel to the Batman series created by Bruno Heller. Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered and new police recruit James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is paired with veteran detective Harvey Bullock(Donal Logue) to solve this case. During his investigation, Gordon meets the Wayne’s only child Bruce (David Mazouz). Gordon gets entangled with Gotham’s villains and Mafia families, including mobstress Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot, Don Carmine Falcone, and Salvatore Maroni. Eventually the young Bruce will grow up to be Batman. Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot aka the future Penguin, took time to chat with Eclipse Magazine on his role and the series.
The talented Robin Lord Taylor made his acting debut in his tiny town of Shueyville, Iowa reading a piece he wrote in his fourth grade class. That was just the start of what would become a illustrious acting career. He relocated to Northwestern University to study at the school of speech. He made his final move to New York in 2000.
Taylor stayed true to his theatre roots. He appeared in numerous theatrical productions in New York City and Los Angeles, including several at the Stephen Sondheim’s Young Playwrights Festival at Cherry Lane Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he co-created and co-starred in “Creation Nation”.
He boasts numerous film credits, such as “Abernathy Darwin Dunlap” in the cult feature comedy “Accepted,” starring opposite Jonah Hill and Justin Long and the hit horror film “Would You Rather,” with Brittany Snow and June Squibb. Other film credits include “Cold Comes the Night”, Spike Lee’s “Jesus Children of America”, and “Another Earth” to name a few.
He has appeared in several acclaimed television series, such as “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Good Wife”, “Person of Interest”, a recurring role as Darrell, the ‘Late Show’ page with the fake British accent on “The Late Show with David Letterman”. Before landing the coveted role of Oswald Cobblepot aka The Pengiun on “Gotham”, he was best known for one of two things: playing the ill-fated Same on AMC’s critically acclaimed “The Walking Dead” and co-creating a web series that launched Billy Eichner’s “Billy on the Street”. Since becoming a member of the “Gotham” family, his unique and multi-layered take on The Pengiun has gotten him critical acclaim, even from Danny Devito who played the same role many years prior!
Taylor’s ability to take any character, whether it be dark or comedic, and make it his own has forged him a place in Hollywood. And this is just the beginning for the brilliant actor. He is definitely the “one to watch”!
Hi Robin! I am so excited for this opportunity to talk with you. I’ve seen and love your work on other shows such as “The Walking Dead”, etc. prior to Gotham.
And your character Oswald Cobblepot is amazing! I love him!
Thanks! I give all credit to creator Bruno Heller. The writing is spectacular. I’m lucky. I get the most amazing material.
It’s an interesting story how you got the role. It was initially an “Untitled WB pilot” when you got the audition. Can you tell us about that?
I was in New York. It was pilot season. It was audition after audition, and this was just another one of them. In the “untitled WB pilot”, the character names were fake and the scene we read were fake. It was a good scene. The night before the audition, my agent called me and said, “Just so you know, this is the prequel to Batman. It’s a show called Gotham, and you are auditioning for the Penguin.” At that point, I already prepared all the choices I was going to make. I was pretty set. If they wanted me to recreate past Penguins, they would have been more explicit about it. Because they weren’t, I decided I was going to go in and do my thing. If it is what they want, then it is. And if it isn’t, then we move on. I did it once, she said, “It was fantastic! We’ll keep in touch.” A few days later they said they were going to send me to Los Angeles to test for the role. I thought, “Oh my gosh!”
I went to LA. It was one of the best pilot scripts I ever read. I was even more excited to get in there and do my thing. I read for Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller and the most amazing casting directors Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy. We did it a few times. They were incredibly nice. Five days later with me pacing the hotel room, I found out I got it. It was a pretty amazing moment.
If you knew prior to the audition that it was for a Batman movie, would it have affected how you prepared for the pilot?
I don’t think so. I’ve auditioned for big things in the past. One thing I’ve learned is that once you start imposing your own idea of what other people think the character should be, that’s when you make less clear choices. I would have felt more pressure at first, but just because the way the scene was written and who I am and what I bring personally to that material, I probably would have pretty much have done the same thing.
After you booked the role, was it hard to not imitate the other Penguin roles from the past?
No, not really. I give credit to Bruno Heller. What he had drawn for me to perform was so clearly its own thing. It’s a different world from what Danny DeVito did. I still felt like I had my own ownership over the character. It was clearcut I was given free reign to do my thing which is exciting as an actor.
Is it purely word for word or are there any improv moments during the shoot?
It’s by the book because the writing and the vision is so clear. The story we have told the first season is drawn on. However, Bruno did tell the actors from the beginning that we will get to a point where we as the actors will know certain things about the characters that the writers won’t know or have as clearly in their minds. He was open to us talking to him or making suggestions. There were times in relationship with Ben McKenzie’s character where after the table read, we wanted to shade it differently from how it was written. They were open to that and honoring our choices. This is a dream. Having the freedom to shape the character is an amazing gift.
Oswald Cobblepot is dark yet endearing. It is like light and dark fused together. Do you see some elements of yourself in this character?
Well, I am a Gemini (laughing). But there are parts I identify with. During my research of the comics, I learned he was bullied. I wasn’t bullied to the extent that he was. I was an artistic kid growing up in a small town in the Midwest that was sports oriented. It was not the cool thing to do. I know what it’s like to be an outsider and what it’s like to be discounted for your appearance or personal interest. That was immediately my hook into his psychology.
When you come from a place like that, your instinct is to ingratiate yourself to everyone. Even though he is different, he made an extra attempt to understand them and uses it against them. In my case, it was to protect myself. He does that as a survival technique too. I’m the least confrontational person in the world. Oswald is incredibly ambitious to assert yourself in the crime underbelly of Gotham City. Me personally, I don’t think I have those kahones (laughing).
Gotham got picked up for a second season. What do you think will be changes to Cobblepot as a whole?
He makes a huge push in these last four episodes to become a major player and to run the show. In the final episode, you see him make a move to do that. I would imagine he is more self confident. He has asserted himself. There’s more confidence. I imagine we would see that. However at the same time, it’s never going to be an easy ride for him. You strive for something and you think it will be the end all be all. You think you will be on the top of the world. In Gotham City, all that does is open up a whole can of worms. We will see him navigate this new terrain. More self assertive, but more people will be coming for him since he put himself out there. We will see a more of that I imagine.
Turning the focus on you, what was your first acting role?
I played the villager in the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in junior high school. I had one line and then I was in the chorus. My voice was changing so that was a fun time in my life. But if you go back even earlier than that, in fourth grade in reading group we were reading Ramona Quimby. We were supposed to write a scene after the book ends on what happens to her now. We wrote it and performed it. It was the first time I ever performed in front of anybody. I was eight years old. Somebody laughed at a line I wrote. I remember that feeling of “Oh, this is something I could get used to.” It was a very formative moment for me.
Was that when you knew you wanted to be an actor?
I wouldn’t say that’s when I knew I wanted to be one. I would say I knew it was something I enjoyed. It brought a new side out of me. It gave me confidence. I could escape into a different world. I came from a school where the arts were not a focus. Once I went to Northwestern and I realized I have the chops, a kid from small town Iowa, and that’s when the passion was lit as far as making this a career.
Coming from small town Iowa and now a breakout star of Gotham, and thinking of your first performance in 4th grade and now, how does that make you feel and did you ever think this would happen?
I never thought this would happen. You lay down in bed trying to fall asleep and think about all you want to achieve. I had been a working actor in NYC for a while. I was always a realistic person and as an actor you get used to rejection, so you learn to temper your expectations. My only expectation was to perform and have that be my only occupation to support myself. To be the third physical incarnation of the Pengiun in a tv show that is doing well not only in the United States but all over the world . . . nobody can prepare you for that. It just never happens. I pinch myself everyday. I can’t believe it.
I think about my mom’s reaction when I told her. Her first response was “Yes!” but from a place of relief. “You got the job. You’re going to be fine.” Then immediately on the dime she said, “Of course you got it. I always knew you were going to get it. You’re talented. You deserve this. “ It was that pride that moms have. This all wasn’t for nothing. I wouldn’t be doing it for this long if I felt I didn’t deserve it to a certain extent. It’s not that I didn’t have the ability. It’s just a matter of finding the right role at the right moment. It’s amazing how circumstances come into play.
That’s so sweet. It caused me to tear up.
Well, I’ve been doing a lot of tearing up in the past year! (laughing)
You’ve played a lot of roles, including Sam in “The Walking Dead”. In the infamous trough scene, do people still bring it up with you?
Yes. The fact I was the first to die was an honor I will take to my grave. (laughing). I didn’t know until a week and a half beforehand they were bringing me back. It gave me (as Sam) closure. But not only that. The scene was with characters Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and Bob. We got to have one last moment together. I went out not with a bang, but a massive splurt. (laughing). It was intense. What a way to go.
Acting is a tough business. For actors who are hoping to get where you are now, do you have words of advice?
Persistence. You have to stay with it because you never know what is going to happen. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you need to stick it out. Otherwise what was it all for? The second thing is that when you audition for a specific role, you audition for a casting director. I give thank you and so much credit to “Gotham” casting directors Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas. They also cast me in the walking dead. They kept me in mind for Gotham. I put myself on tape for Breaking Bad a couple years ago. I got far along. They just remembered me. Those are the ones who are going to remember you when certain projects come down the line. “Oh there’s this one guy or girl who may be good for this thing…” Get to know your casting directors. You are reading to them. They will take you to the next level.
Do you direct?
I don’t direct. I co-created a project with Billy Eisner, a hilarious show called “Creation Nation”. We did a comic show for years in New York. I don’t actually direct, but that is something I would be interested in it further down the road. I could never direct myself, but to work with actors on the other side of things would be a dream of mine. I would definitely want to explore it.
Any future projects you would like to do?
I am open to independent films. I did a lot of that. I can’t do it during this hiatus, but I would like to get back to the stage. That’s my long term goal. I miss the live connection with the audience.
Do you have a mantra you live by every day?
I don’t have a mantra I repeat every day, but one of my best friends I went to high school with, came over one day when I was struggling real hard and she wrote on a piece of paper before she left – “I am a magnet for divine prosperity.” I have it up on my wall. Whether or not you believe in the bigger picture, for some reason, it’s still there. I’m looking at it right now. It’s reminding yourself that everyone is special and we have it within us to change the world and achieve our dreams.
As a final shout out, what can fans of “Gotham” expect to see the rest of this season?
Expect Oswald to be less meek and own himself. It will never be smooth ride for him, but he’s coming into his own.
Thank you Ryan. It was such a pleasure talking with you. I look forward to seeing more on “Gotham”.
Thank you. It was great talking with you. I wish you all the best.
We have seen Batman revamped over the decades. From the 60’s kapow version of Adam West’s Batman to the dark brooding Christian Bale’s Batman, one may wonder if Gotham is “just another Batman show”, but it isn’t! This is a prequel to the current Batman we know. In the days before Bruce Wayne dons on his skintight bat uniform to battle evil against his foes the Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler, we see a naive sheltered boy who just lost his parents. Gotham was already teeming in criminal activity, but we see what propels the “bad guys” to morph into their future evil selves. And yes, even Penguin did have, even if somewhat jaded, a good side to him before he became one of Batman’s arch nemesis.
What the writers and actors have created is amazing, and Batman fans will not be disappointed. With over 14 million views in its premier episode, the fans have spoken. Make sure to catch “Gotham” every Monday 8/7c on Fox!
Official web site: http://www.fox.com/gotham
Twitter: @Gotham / #Gotham
Robin Lord Taylor is on social media!
Courtesy of Fox
Photos courtesy of Benjo Arwas