THE RED BULLETIN: Why is Batman still one of the most popular superheroes, 75 years after he first donned the cape?
SEAN PERTWEE: I think it is the question of someone just saying: “Enough!” and “No!” And standing up for the people. I think that has been a relatable concept for every generation since his creation. The enduring legacy of Batman is that he says “No”.
How much of a servent is there in you? Would you make a great butler in real life?
Me? I would be absolutely awful. But I make a fine cup of tea. Here is the thing: always warm the pot first.
How would you describe the relationship between Alfred and Bruce? Alfred is helping him with his training but at the same time trying to make sure Bruce doesn’t go too far.
I have a son myself called Alfred. He is 14. Having a relationship, or a discourse, or a way of communicating with a young person, is difficult at the best of times. You tell any teenager not to do something and more often than not they are going to do it. The relationship between Alfred and Bruce Wayne is dysfunctional, which implies that something doesn’t work. But in their disfunctionality there is function. They find themselves drawn together. My character never asked to be a guardian. He never asked me to be his father. They are drawn together. They both suffer from post-traumatic stress. They are both very dark souls.
Do they learn from each other?
I think Alfred learns as much from the boy as the boy learns from the man. He has learned the capacity to love and to care, which is something that Alfred has never really possessed. You saw it in season 1 with a character called Reggie (Payne) who stabbed Alfred. You could see so easily in that scene, that if Bruce wasn’t in his life then he could have so easily gone to the dark side. And I think one of the great positives of our show is that we all walk that tightrope. All of our characters have the capacity for good and evil.
Gotham seems to be finding its own path outside of the Batman arc. Would you say that explains the success of the show?
We have all become more confident in our world. Everyone has an image of what Gotham is, and how it should be. Some of those interpretations haven’t gone down well with fans, which is why we are honoured and pleased that the fans have accepted our interpretation of the world. The show is about how the city shapes these iconic characters, how and why they became who they are today
One of the great aspects of the show is that each character has his or her own journey and narrative arc. How do you feel about the evolution of your character?
I think that a massive shout out must go to Danny Cannon, our showrunner, who really is a visionary. He knows every aspect, every element of everything. He is an extraordinary man, as is Bruno Heller. You walk on our set and it takes your breath away.
Give us an example …
I have been around for quite some time now and I still get this kind of real buzz, the same buzz I used to get when I walked on my father’s sets as a kid. It is the love and attention to detail. The newspaper you pick up in the show will have actual news from Gotham from that day. It’s these extraordinary elements that personally make me cry. As an actor, I really appreciate detail.
So the crew delivers those details?
I have a tattoo of my father’s crest. On our first day of shooting the costume department took photographs of me. Someone had seen my father’s tattoo and had passed it to the property department who put my fathers crest on the signet ring that I wear. It actually made me cry on my first day of filming. Being offered the opportunity to have 44 hours so far and 22 more to go to develop our characters and to shine spotlights on elements of these people is a true honour. And I think being allowed to influence a young man, I am speaking personally, is an extraordinary honour, you realise how important some of these characters were in the myth that is Batman. I continue to see that as an honour and a privilege to be able to influence the man that later becomes Batman.
Season 2 feels very organic from the beginning to the end. Was the evolution of the show obvious to you?
We were on episode 11 when we were commissioned for 6 more episodes, which really threw a cherry bomb into the writer’s room. They had a 16 episode arc and now they had to go to 22. What they discovered was that the relationships in our world really worked. It happened with the character the Ogre. It was a three or four episode arc and it went down extremely well with the fans. Every show has to find its heartbeat in the first season. So in the last four episodes with Ogre and Barbara they really pulled it together. I think we started season 2 with that feeling, we knew what worked and we had the confidence to do so.
You all play iconic characters from popular fiction. As an actor, did you have to get rid of the baggage from all previous incarnations?
It was an interesting process. We were given generic pieces; we didn’t know what it was. We heard in the ether that there was this kind of Batman thing flying around. We were given these pieces that made no sense whatsoever. They were generic, but very well written. My experience told me that it was about an Eastender who walks into a pub and punches someone straight in the throat. But it was one of the best-written cockney pieces I have ever read. So I thought: ‘I don’t know what this is about but it is obviously well written, and it is obviously written by someone from London, because no one has that sort of sense of 1940’s vernacular that was expressed on this page.’
So you just gave it a try …
I was shooting Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller at the time, and I was flown to L.A. the next day to meet Bruno (Heller) and Danny (Cannon) there. I asked them what they were doing and they said, ‘it is our show, Gotham.’ And I went: ‘Oh! Well who the f**k is this then?’ and showed them my script pages. They went: ‘That is Alfred.’ We were actually kind of cherry picked without knowing what we were going up for. So we weren’t swayed by our predecessors, who were extraordinary - every single one of them - because we didn’t actually know. Had we known, I think we would have screwed it up and not got the job, because I would have had a panic attack. They saw what they wanted from us, which is an extraordinary position to be in.