Meet Harvey Dent: Gotham’s Nicholas D’Agosto Talks Coin Flipping ADA!

Gotham - Nicholas D'Agosto

Gotham (FOX, Mondays, 9/8C) is one of the season’s most consistently performing new series. The story of the Gotham City between the time Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered and Batman first appears is the story of a city falling apart. Only a few members of the GCPD aren’t corrupt; organized crime has taken firm root, and the city’s most colorful characters are on the wrong side of the law.


Detective James Gordon is beginning to have an effect on his precinct, but real progress is still a ways off. Enter Harvey Dent – the man who begins as a lawyer in the District Attorney’s office and will rise to the become District Attorney before a mob boss scars his face with acid and takes on the guise of Two-Face.


Nicholas D’Agosto takes on the role of Harvey Dent this week on Gotham and D’Agosto spoke to a group of journalists on Friday about taking on this iconic role.


Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us today.


Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes, of course.  I’m excited.  Thank you for being here.


What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced taking on Harvey?


Nicholas: Wow.  Well, I mean listen, I could sit here and wax for a long time about it.  I mean, it’s been so exciting, mostly, but I would say that the biggest challenges probably were just catching up to the timeline of this thing.  This may be jumping into some slightly different answers to other questions, but when I first found out about this audition, it was—I was auditioning for something else, and then the casting office wasn’t aware that I was available because I was working on another project, and they wanted me to come in for Harvey Dent later that night, and I hadn’t looked at any of the material, so we pushed it to the following morning.


So, Thursday I got the material, Friday morning I went out for the project.  I was working on another project for a little bit, and then Tuesday I got the official word that I got the job.  Wednesday the contract was finalized.  Thursday I flew to New York.  Friday I was getting fit for wardrobe and everything, and then Monday and Tuesday, I pretty much shot all of my scenes for this first episode within those two days.  It was just a whirlwind process, and I had a lot to prepare.  I had to do all of my research and get my full comprehensive view of my approach in a very short amount of time.  So, it was a real thrill, but it was also—that was probably the biggest challenge.


The acting part is just fun, at that point it’s just a good time, but getting up to that point, I would say, was the biggest challenge.  But truly, the set, everybody there, for being such a dark city, Gotham, it’s a really, really sweet group of people, very welcoming.


Was there anything then that you added to this role that wasn’t originally scripted for you?


Nicholas: I don’t know if I could say that.  I would say that, what I hope is—I think what I bring to this version of Harvey Dent, which again, the actor can bring what they can from other iterations of the franchise, but at the end of the day they’ve just got to play what’s in front of them, play what’s on the page.  What was on this page was, there’s this real ambition for this guy, this guy is really to the point of being almost a little reckless, and he puts himself in a position where he puts a lot on the line.  Some of the things that come out of that foreshadow who he will eventually be, the potential that he has to become Two-Face later.


I would say that, for good or ill, I guess I’m a really ambitious, merciless, rage-filled guy.  I would say that ultimately what I bring to this role and what this role was kind of requiring was someone that can be a kind and genuine and sincere person, a sympathetic character; and at the same time someone who’s ambition can kind of bring them into areas that maybe could potentially cross a line.


Congratulations on joining the show.


Nicholas: Thank you.


Kind of piggybacking off of that last question, what’s the most important thing you feel you need to convey with your performance?


Nicholas: Yes, that’s great.  I think probably the tendency that—I think a lot of actors fight this, I certainly fight it, is the tendency to want to show the capacity for being—In this case it would be the capacity for being Two-Face.  I think the most important thing I had to do, and I did this with the help of the directors and producers and everybody around as we, at the 11th hour, sculpted the beginning of this guy.  I think it was really important for me to just be smooth and easy and likeable and things roll off my back, you know?

He gets himself involved in some pretty intense, high-stakes situations.  You know, he kind of walks right in with a lot—he kind of walks in with like a loaded gun, and—not literally, but he presents this to Gordon, and they go off on this attempt together.  I like how vague I’m being.  I would say that the most important thing for me to do in that is to show his confidence and his ease in these situations.  I think it’s tempting to want to show the—to play the kind of bolder emotions, and those are definitely there, but they’re more fun if they’re a surprise.


You talked about—oh by the way, I’m a big fan of your Masters of Sex, too.  


Nicholas: Oh, cool.  Thank you very much.


But I wanted to say, you talked about how you did a lot of research and that, I’m assuming you probably mean with comic book or movie or whatever, but can you kind of talk about that, and maybe was there anything particular you did pull, or anything that you did in particular to differentiate from the other versions?


Nicholas: Yes.  I would say that I didn’t go watch a lot of the movies because I don’t find—in my past experience, I haven’t found watching other actors do the role has been really valuable, because part of the problem with that is is that you start to think that that version of the character is in the version that’s in front of you, and it’s not.  They’ve written a new character, and he has new stakes and ambitions and things driving him, so I try not to go just watch other people.  But what I did do was just, kind of, do as many Google searching of different comic sites and history sites and go through the arc of, the condensed, essentially Cliffs Notes versions of all the things that Harvey Dent has done and all the different iterations of Batman.


One of the things that really kept standing out to me is that his father—they talk about him being abused as a child and that he was—he had these, maybe, psychotic episodes as a child that kind of foreshadow his capacity to become someone like Two-Face later.  What I think was really good about that was that drives him to want to eradicate this type of behavior, and also why he has the potential to have such a visceral response to when he’s threatened or when he sees someone that he thinks is also abusive, because it’s this—you know, it’s because that relationship that we have to our parents is so irrational, and I think it’s important that this character has this capability, this capacity to be really rational.  And although he’s mostly Harvey Dent right now, he has under the surface these things.  That’s the thing that I was able to pull, that was really valuable for me.


You mentioned that Harvey will have scenes with Gordon, but will we see you interact with some of the other original Batman characters like Oswald, or Selena, or Bruce?


Nicholas: Not at this moment.  I would be surprised if I don’t at some point, but right now—I mean, I think this first season of Gotham, as you guys, I’m sure, can tell, there’s just so much information that they have to bring in, and they’re bringing us all in at different times.  I have this great mini arc here in the middle of the season, but they have other things that they have to bring to the table, and mostly the story is about this arc with Penguin and Fish and all that.  So, I think that right now my story’s kind of contained, but come second season, I become a regular on the show, and that’s when I think you’ll mostly see—certainly back by the end of this season, and I don’t know in what capacity, but I think we’ll see a lot more of me branching out next season.


I was wondering, was there pressure coming onto the show, knowing that fans and other actors want Harvey Dent on Gotham?


Nicholas: Yes.  I think that—you know, you can’t get too wrapped into it.  Thankfully I’ve had enough experience with bad reviews in the past that I feel like that I can place that kind of stuff in the right compartment, but I think, yes, I’m a fan of Batman, and I’m a fan of these franchises, and I read comics, and so I definitely am sympathetic to people that want this show to live up to their expectations.  Obviously the difficult thing about expectations is that everybody has different ones, and it’s difficult to assuage everyone.


I can tell you one thing, actually, that I really debated, but I made it because I felt like it was a real fan choice was, in every version of every picture I saw of Harvey Dent, he was holding up Two-Face, he’s holding the gun in his right hand, he’s flipping the coin in his left, but I’m right handed.  It’s difficult to flip a coin and do—sort of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head a little bit, you know, when you’re in the middle of a scene, and I was a little bit intimidated by the idea of using my less dominant hand because if I ever dropped the coin the take is ruined, but I did it.  So, I wanted to make sure that if every picture was Two-Face, with the coin in his left hand, well darn it, I was going to put that coin in my left hand.  So, I practiced all weekend, talking and flipping the coin, and I did all right, thankfully.  So, I feel pretty good about it.


A question I had for you is, and you’ve kind of already hinted at it, how familiar are you with the episodes of Gotham  that have already aired, and what are you most looking forward to bringing to your portrayals of one of the most classic characters in the Batman universe?


Nicholas: Well, I’m really familiar in the sense that I’ve watched them all.  I’ve watched them all up until eight, which is just the most recent.  I’m really—I’m in it.  I hope that Harvey is kind of like—I think Jim needs some help, you know, at this point.  I hope that although Harvey Dent is not like a—I should be careful if I just say Harvey over and over, because there’s another major Harvey in this show, but the thing about Harvey Dent is you’ll see that he’s not the moral center that Jim Gordon is, but I do think that he’ll be a breath of fresh air.  I think that he’s—Gordon needs like a teammate that he can trust, and I think he needs somebody else on his side, and I hope that people will enjoy the idea of seeing these two guys in their different ways of approaching it, but creating this kind of like allied chip.


I know Harvey Dent and particularly Two-Face, they tend to live their lives by chance, that’s a big thing with them, so I’m wondering if that’s a philosophy you share in any way.


Nicholas: That’s a great question.  Well, there’s a paradox with that.  I think on one hand, as actors, there are—freelance in general, but certainly as an actor,  I don’t know with anything I could be doing that would be more filled with the element of chance than doing this job, for my life.  It has created the most astoundingly surprising scenarios for my life.  I cannot tell you—I’m not unique is the thing, I have these just—I find them to be really extraordinarily strange situations, and people—that’s really normal in my business, and I think because of that I’m pretty methodical in a lot of other parts of my life.


I really try to put down anchors in a lot of other areas, and that’s with my relationship, that’s with my friends, that’s with my family.  I really try to be—keep those things as really constants in my life, and I think, you know, I plan a lot.  Like, I make lists all the time, I’m one of those guys.  So I think I try to limit as much of the chaos in my life, because there’s just so much with my work.

gotham dent-gordon

I’m just curious, obviously we have a lot of knowledge about where Harvey ends up in becoming Two-Face, so I’m just curious, does knowing that, knowing where a character ends up, influence your portrayal at all of them?


Nicholas: Yes, I think actually—I guess a part of me wants to speak a little bit to this before, because actually, in some ways it makes me want to remember to not play that, you know?  I think it’s tempting to want to play up the areas where we are going to be—sometimes I think the challenge is to be patient.  I don’t have to tell everybody in one episode who this guy’s going to be.  In some ways they do that for me.  Their writing is very good, and they’ve shown a lot of the different elements of who my character is, but hopefully—I think it’s going to be important for me to remember to be Harvey Dent right now, to be Harvey Dent now, and to be Two-Face when it’s time to be Two-Face, if I get the chance to be Two-Face.  Hopefully I will.


There were originally ten episodes, and you’re in the last two, I believe, and they were extended to twenty-two.  Now have they started filming the rest of the episodes, and do you know how many that you’re going to be in?


Nicholas: Yes.  Actually I think that, I might be mistaken, but I actually think that they were picked up for sixteen, originally, and then they got picked up for a back six, if that makes them twenty-two.  Now I don’t know if that’s necessarily—it might be one of those things, as my mother would say, neither here nor there, but I think the idea, they had a much larger arc to this season and then they got picked up for these extra six.  I think they’re in the process of, like they’re just about to start shooting Episode 14 right now, and I will be joining in for at least a couple of episodes at some point in these last eight, but I don’t really know when.  I think I mentioned this earlier, that I become a regular in Season 2, so you’ll start seeing a lot more of me, come Season 2, which we all, of course, hope happens.


I wondered if there’s anyone that you haven’t worked with yet that you’re really looking forward to working with.


Nicholas: Man, there’s a lot.  I can say that I’ve actually—so, I’ve gotten to work mostly with Ben McKenzie, and I’ve done a lot with Andrew Stewart-Jones and Victoria Cartagena, who are the people that play Montoya and Allen.  I’ve gotten to work with Zabryna a little bit.  I’ve gotten to work with Richard Kind, who’s just amazing.  I just adore that guy, so funny.  But I would say that—and I’ve gotten to meet off to the side, just in the hallways, I’ve gotten to meet Cory, and I’ve gotten to meet—I mean I don’t want to go through everyone, but basically, Sean and David and Cameron, I’ve gotten to meet all them, but I haven’t met Robin Lord Taylor, and I haven’t met Jada Pinkett Smith yet.  So, Robin and I have some mutual friends, and I’m looking forward to meeting him, and his character has just been so engaging, you know?  And Jada, too, I mean there’s so many performances but people I think, rightly, have been really pouring out his performance, because he’s just really fascinating.


I wanted to find out if maybe you could tell us a little bit about filming your first episode of Gotham, and maybe anything that sticks out for you from a production, filming standpoint, memorable scene, anything you could speak about in that regard.


Nicholas: Yes.  Well, that first day was really exciting because, I think I mentioned earlier, it was just a full day.  I would say that, I mean, honestly, this may sound a little cliché, but walking into the GCPD headquarters is a really extraordinary experience.  I mean that structure is huge.  They built a three-story open-aired structure, where you can shoot on multiple—it’s actually four stories, I’m sorry, it’s four stories and you can shoot on three different levels all across the stage.  And it’s like—and, like, detail, you know?  I think what’s exciting of getting onto shows like this is you—just the production value is so high, you know?


So in addition to just the sets being gorgeous and the costumes being gorgeous, that just makes you as an actor feel so—it makes you feel important.  It makes you feel powerful wearing really amazing suits and walking in this great office that was probably just built the day before.  What else was I going to say?  I’m starting to get myself off track there for a second.  I think what I was going to say was that it’s exciting to be a part of a show that you know the network and the studio are really behind.  I guess that’s ultimately at the end of it, that’s what I really remember from that first day is like, “Wow, there is just a lot of commitment to the show, can you just see it in all the detail.”


Nicholas: Thank you, everybody.

Photos by Jessica Miglio/Courtesy of FX