Gotham‘s Robin Lord Taylor promises that his version of The Penguin will be a ruthless monster by the time the series ends. The assortment of villains who have tormented Batman over the years is incredible. Perhaps no other hero in history has such an impressive gallery of rogues, from The Joker and The Riddler to Catwoman and Mr. Freeze, to relatively recent additions like Hush and Black Mask, Batman’s bad guys are arguably more iconic than the hero himself.
Fox’s Gotham is fueled by this idea. Set in a city before the emergence of Batman, the series deals with Jim Gordon and the GCPD’s futile efforts to combat the over-the-top villains of DC Comics, without the aid of iconic heroes like Batman. Throughout the show’s run, one of Gotham’s many breakout stars has been Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin.
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During a recent visit to the New York City set of the series, we spoke with Robin Lord Taylor about his character’s unexpected popularity and how he wants that early audience sympathy to play into Penguin’s arc during this, the final 12 episodes in the series. When we asked him about reflecting on Penguin’s journey over the course of the series, he shared his gratitude toward the creative team of writers and producers who facilitated his role on the show:
I couldn’t have been asked to play a more dynamic, emotionally rich, intellectually complex character than The Penguin. To see where we all have taken the character, it blows my mind. That’s all I’m feeling right now. I’m so grateful and so proud of the work everybody’s done. It’s been amazing.
Even among the esteemed ranks of Batman villains, The Penguin’s fandom, particularly for this incarnation, is palpably strong. We asked the actor about his considerable fandom, why his character is so particularly adored despite his long track record of heinous misdeeds, his face lit up with excitement, surely because of the plans the show has for the character:
It’s so weird! One of the stories that I’ve always tried to tell with this character, and just with the show in general, is that Gotham City is a place that beats people down and either turns them evil or into heroes. It’s a polarizing place. We start Gotham with someone of very low status, and who is just striving and striving. There is something sympathetic with Oswald in the beginning. Something identifiable, and something human inside of him. We see that he makes terrible decisions and does terrible things, but it’s out of necessity to survive. As we go forward in the fifth season, I want to see the culmination of all those years of being in Gotham and making those terrible decisions and watching someone’s humanity get stripped from him. When we end, I don’t want him to be likable. I want him to be a monster. That’s what this city has done to him. That’s what we’re working towards. It’s gonna be really amazing when we get there.
As Taylor explains, his character was able to be developed over the course of many years, from lowly underling to Fish Mooney to ruthless criminal kingpin. In addition to his charismatic performance, this dedication to long-term storytelling is a key factor in the character’s success with fans. Audiences have seen The Penguin’s rise over the course of the show’s lifespan. The apparent goal of season 5 will be to establish The Penguin as an irredeemable villain, a monster with no redeeming qualities who has crossed lines from which he can never return.
Of course, knowing internet fandoms, there are bound to be those who love the actor even more as his character becomes more and more evil. Eager fans won’t have to wait long to find out what happens with Penguin.
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Gotham season 5 premieres January 3 on FOX.