LOS ANGELES — The final episodes of “Gotham” airing this year will leave a legacy built on the villains rather than the caped crime fighters. The decision to set the show before Bruce Wayne slipped on the cape and cowl opened up the door for some of Batman’s most famous villains — The Penguin, The Riddler, The Joker and Catwoman — to take the spotlight.
None of the costumed and crazed criminals have taken advantage of that more than The Penguin, played by Robin Lord Taylor. His “Gotham” arc has taken him from politics to the criminal underworld.
Taylor had bounced around in small TV roles until being cast to play Oswald Cobblepot, known better as The Penguin. Getting to play a character who has been around in DC Comics for 80 years has been a mind-blowing experience for Taylor.
“I just wanted health insurance. I never expected that the writers would be so willing to work with us and to allow us to grow into these characters and bring parts of our own life experiences to these characters that they maybe not necessarily had seen before,” Taylor says. “They teach you in film school or in camera classes to be as small as possible. The camera in this show was absolutely not that. It was bigger.”
The Penguin was part of the story from the start, but getting to where Cameron Monaghan’s character could officially be called The Joker took several years and multiple death scenes. It started with the dual roles of Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, but in recent weeks, he took the toxic chemical dive to become The Joker.
Monaghan was rarely given a warning when a death scene for his character was going to be in a script.
“When my character died in season 2, they talked to me about bringing me back while we were shooting it,” Monaghan says. “I would get scripts where my head would be cut off and think ‘I guess that’s it.’ A couple of my deaths didn’t even make it into the show.
“I think that is something that’s pretty close to the comics with The Joker. It’s kind of a running theme so I think it works with this character as well.”
As for the long time it took to get around to calling his character The Joker, Monaghan looks at it as fitting with the structure of “Gotham.” It has been a show about what it was in the past that made Batman and all his foes who they become.
At the same time he was getting to play in the DC world, Monaghan was working on the Showtime series “Shameless” and has appeared in numerous TV and film projects since he was 9.
The big riddle for Cory Michael Smith was what kind of job he was auditioning for before being cast as Edward Nygma/The Riddler because the actors didn’t get to see a script before signing multiyear contracts. The answer to his riddle was the job proved to be a great acting opportunity.
“The great relief and joy for me personally in this project was the experience of having five years to build a character on such a grand, operatic scale. And every time that you felt like you were sort of peaking, another wave of devastation would come and we were able to sort of adapt and grow as a person,” Smith says. “It was kind of a thrill to recognize the horror that was going to befall you or the tragedy and respond in kind and sort of really digest what that experience is and commit to letting the character change organically and then that’s the new person.
“Until you hit another pitfall — that is your path. And it just felt like we were constantly reinventing and kind of rebuilding ourselves, so I felt like I got to play like five different characters almost. It was really cool.”
During the run of “Gotham,” Nygma went from working for the Gotham City Police Department to being part of a massive plan of destruction.
Rounding out the cast of criminals is the one person who has been able to live in both the sane and insane worlds of Gotham City — Catwoman/Selina Kyle, portrayed by Camren Bicondova. The San Diego native was only 14 when she was cast as the character who would at times be a romantic interest for Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and at other times be his biggest foe.
Bicondova didn’t approach the role as a love interest or villain, but as a human being dealing with a wide range of emotions. She stresses that looking at Catwoman as one kind of person would be doing a disservice to the character.
“She’s conflicted and she’s a survivor,” Bicondova says. “This season I looked at her more as an angry person and I had to dive into more rage. It was the scenes that were filled with rage were the most intense for me.”
The fact she has grown up on television didn’t hit Bicondova until someone pointed it out. She still sees herself as the same actress who auditioned for the role that would eventually give her the first big TV role in her young career.
Now that she’s done filming the series, Bicondova plans to take a little break, unless another great job comes along.
“The fact that the show is ending is sweet,” Bicondova says. “I think there is beauty in an ending because it means there will be another beginning. The fact that we have been able to go these past five years and be as successful as we have been shows how much of a respected show we have been.”