When Fox unveils its Batman-inspired crime drama series Gotham, surely this fall’s most anticipated new show, it will have to face the inevitable question: how do you make a show about the Caped Crusader’s beloved city without him? In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ben McKenzie, who stars as a young detective named Jim Gordon (left), touches on that very question and discussed the struggle in playing a white knight surrounded by compromised cops who often aren’t much better than the criminals they chase.
When Gotham opens, Thomas and Martha Wayne have been gunned down in Crime Alley in front of their young son Bruce (David Mazouz). The investigation into their murder becomes Gordon’s first case in Gotham City. Discussing Gordon’s struggle to remain pure even in the crime-ridden metropolis, McKenzie said:
He’s a truly honest man. The last honest man in a city full of crooked people. It’s very tricky nowadays to play a true, honest-to-goodness hero. Everybody is so cynical of people’s intentions. What’s interesting about him is he comes into this city that he hasn’t lived in for two decades, since he was a kid, and has fresh eyes to a world he doesn’t actually know. He thinks he knows it, and his journey will be to figure out how to make it better both for Gotham and himself without completely [losing] the moral standing that he has. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s a true hero — but he will have to compromise.
Of course, as a detective, Gordon is quickly drawn into the titular city’s criminal underworld. When asked how Gordon could expect to keep his morals intact in the face of all that, McKenzie explained:
He won’t. And that’s one of the things we talked about very early on. This is not a Batman-from-the-’50s kind of show, with moral duality in black and white. In this world, everybody lives in the grey. Everybody is on the take. Everybody is compromised. There is no way he’ll emerge unscathed from that. How does he hold onto the thread of his mortality while getting things done?
McKenzie discussed the transition from another cop show, the acclaimed but low-rated gem Southland, to Gotham, noting that the shows are very different but that he’ll be incorporating what he learned about actual law enforcement on Southland into his work on this project:
It’s clearly a different show, it’s clearly not reality. But I learned so much on that job over the years. The thing I run into here is that — there’s nothing wrong with having a moral center, and it sets [Gordon] apart for the rest of the people in this world. And that’s an incredibly compelling concept. At the same time, for audiences, that moral centeredness can come across as naivete unless the character is written to be as smart as everybody else in the room, if not smarter. It’s sort of that noir-ish thing — Phillip Marlow is going to stumble, and he’s not going to know what the criminals know. But he’s as smart as they are, if not smarter, and so he’s going to figure it out as he goes along. So you have to juggle those balls without having the character go, “I can’t believe everybody is corrupt! What are the odds?” So that’s been an ongoing conversation.