Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin may be the reigning king of comic book villains on television, but Cory Michael Smith is ready to make a run for the title. In the back half of Gotham's first season, we will be seeing more of lab tech Edward Nygma — who will eventually become the Riddler.
"[The Penguin] and I could not have more different trajectories," Smith tells Yahoo TV. Cobblepot is "a very sadistic bully" from the beginning. Ed, by contrast, is "way, way out in left field," just "hanging out, doing his job, loving his work, loving science, having a good time, getting a little weird, being a little off the wall, a little eccentric." He's not really a bad guy — in fact, he's really more of an overgrown boy. His journey, Smith says, will be to "claim his identity and claim his power and perhaps finally become someone that is a player in the field and not just this irritating, flimsy young lad."
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Of course, he will become evil, though it won't be in a single moment when he drops into "the bowels of hell and becomes this horrible human being," Smith says. "But you start to see this deterioration of his patience and kindness with people." And it starts with Kringle.
In the episode airing Jan. 19 ("What the Little Bird Told Him"), Nygma offers some critical assistance in tracking down the escaped lunatic Gruber. But he's too preoccupied to take credit; all his attention is on Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack), the GCPD's file clerk.
Watch a sneak peek clip:
"It's really lovely to have her back in the story," Smith says. "She's certainly a major part of the future of Edward's evolution." His playful attempts to win her affection continue to backfire, and the disdain with which the rest of the force treats him doesn't help any.
The chemistry between the two is key to Nygma's transformation, but Smith says it was never a sure thing. He was cast long before Spack, and the producers didn't bring him in to read with her. Rather, the show brings on people and they "see who fits and who clicks," he says. "The writers are really responsive to the work that they're seeing from us." If it works, they go with it. In fact, the scenes between Kringle and Nygma from Episode 6 weren't shot until much later and then inserted. After seeing the chemistry, they brought her back for more.
As the series continues, you will see Nygma grow from being this spastic young man to the point where he "starts to touch the floor and become a man," Smith says. Compared with the more grounded acting of Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, for example, "Edward has to look like he's putting out a lot of effort because it has to be unappealing to everyone else for him to be around. It has to be irritating; it has to be annoying."
As more things happen to him, I think his joy will start to lessen and be redirected to the point where eventually all his joy comes from causing havoc," Smith says. "There has to be joy that is lost in him finding this evil nature."
Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.