By ANGELA DAWSON and JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For five seasons, he played Officer Ben Sherman on the popular crime drama “Southland.” Now, Ben McKenzie tackles another, nearly iconic, fictional law enforcement figure as James Gordon in “Gotham.” Based on the beloved characters from DC Comics’ Batman universe, “Gotham,” produced by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, is one of the most highly anticipated new TV drama series this fall.
As Det. Gordon, McKenzie plays the lawman before the Dark Knight rose to protect Gotham City from its from a rotating cast of ruthless villains. One of his first assignments is to investigate the brutal murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the millionaire parents of young Bruce Wayne (who, obviously, grows up to be the Caped Crusader). The series also will delve into the origins of many villians from the Batman universe including Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, Joker, Poison Ivy and others. Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sean Pertwee and David Mazouz (as young Bruce Wayne) also star.
The series premieres Monday, Sept. 22 on Fox at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
During the recent Television Critics Association Summer Tour, the 36-year-old Austin native spoke about taking on another crimefighting role.
Q: Is there’s any connection between the realitic cop you played on “Southland” for five seasons and this very famous cop who later becomes Commissioner Gordon in the DC universe?
McKenzie: I would certainly try to bring as much as possible of the sort of training and knowledge that I obtained on “Southland” to this show. We’re obviously dealing in a heightened world, a world in which we are taking certain liberties with the way police work might be conducted if it were conducted on the mean streets of modern-day Los Angeles. Instead, it’s in Gotham—in a time that is neither the present nor the past, or both at the same time. So I do take what I’ve learned on the (“Southland”) and I will try to apply it here as well.
Q: How do you build tension when we know there are characters who are not going to die and whether you kill characters that perhaps we think aren’t going to die?
McKenzie: The tradition of dramatic Greek tragedy is based on a notion of often the Fates come in in the first act and they tell you exactly what’s going to happen at the end, and people still watched them a lot. So I think it’s how you get there that’s the interesting journey. In a city that’s ultimately going to fall into total disrepair and total sort of near-anarchy, they’ll need a vigilante to save it, which is a fascinating setting for a TV series.
Q: If the city is going to fall into total anarchy, what is the challenge of still making us believe that James Gordon is good at his job even though he is as just one man completely unable to prevent the anarchy that’s coming?
McKenzie: Because it’s noir. The structure that exists around him is so daunting and so sort of challenging that no single man, as best he can, is going to be able to overcome it.