After spending three years healing people on TNT's "HawthoRNe," Jada Pinkett Smith is ready to get back to hurting them. Smith has been cast in the new Fox/Warner Bros. series "Gotham," a prequel of sorts to the Batman mythos, as "sadistic gangster boss" Fish Mooney.
If that name doesn't sound familiar even to die-hard DC Comics fans, that's because the character was created specifically for the show. However, her underlings include one Oswald Cobblepot aka Penguin, a name we do recognize. Given the nature of penguins and fish, Smith had better watch her back.
Possessed of "street smarts and almost extrasensory abilities to read people like an open book," it's very much in keeping with executive producer Bruno Heller's current show "The Mentalist" — also about a person with "almost" superhuman abilities.
Dark Horse Comics writer Korey Hunt thinks it will give the show legs without taking liberties with established comic history — something that often drives fans into a frenzy. "Gotham pre-Batman was a more traditional organized crime environment. It could be interesting to see the very beginnings of the gangsters versus freaks thing that plays out in 'The Long Halloween,' [the 13-issue comic book limited series that takes place during Batman's early days of crime fighting]."
Fan response online has been muted, but positive. No one has seen Smith in a role like this, but her work in the "Matrix" films proves she can do, "Imposing and hotheaded [...] not one to be crossed."
A flurry of casting announcements for "Gotham" set fans quivering in the past week. Led by Benjamin McKenzie ("Southland," "The O.C.") as Det. James Gordon, the show will explore the origins of the eventual Commissioner Gordon as a fresh-faced cop facing a corrupt city as well as some villains before they meet the Dark Knight.
"Got some reading to do," tweeted McKenzie, lead in "Gotham." The tweet was by accompanied by a picture of a stack of Batman trade paperbacks. The 35-year-old actor was following the advice given to him by Gary Oldman, who has played the role of Commissioner Gordon for the last nine years on the silver screen.
Got some reading to do. # gotham pic.twitter.com/ujRRy6YL1v— Ben McKenzie (@ben_mckenzie) February 12, 2014
Five more series regular roles have been cast, and more names are expected to surface soon. Twitter has been filled with fan reactions (we've culled some below), and the cast and crew will likely be responsive to their enthusiasm. The success of shows like "Arrow" have shown that the TV audience is hungry for an alternative to the flashy, effects-heavy superheroes that populate summer blockbusters.
McKenzie played rookie cop Ben Sherman on "Southland" for five seasons, so the transition to rookie Det. Gordon should be easy. Making it even easier, this is McKenzie's second Batman-related endeavor: He was also the voice of Batman himself for the direct-to-DVD movie "Batman: Year One."
Watch a clip of McKenzie as the voice of Batman:
McKenzie has some support from fans of his "O.C." days:
I liked Ben McKenzies character in The OC. As a young Gordon? Sure. I see great potential. #Gotham— Ardo O-Canada (@ArdoOmer) February 12, 2014
All of this casting news is making me so excited for Gotham. But then again I will watch anything @ben_mckenzie is in ☺️— Jen (@jennnnn92) February 12, 2014
But it's his time on "Southland" that's really generating excitement.
I loved McKenzies casting but not sure abt the rest. I don't want Smallville, I want DC Comics Southland— Rebecca Sun (@therebeccasun) February 12, 2014
Donal Logue ("Sons of Anarchy," "Copper") was being considered to play the lead role according to early rumors, but it turns out he nabbed the role of Gordon's partner and mentor, Harvey Bullock. Bullock is a dirty cop — Warner Bros. uses the euphemism "rough-around-the-edges" — who is nevertheless protective of his new charge. Logue's work as a sitcom dad in "Grounded for Life" and a low-rent detective in the cult favorite "Terriers" makes him an interesting choice for the complex role.
Probably nobody is generating as much excitement, casting-wise, as Logue. People who notice character actors love him and comic fans recognize he's a perfect fit for a pivotal role. Hunt tells us, "Donal Logue as Bullock? I'm on board now."
I dont care about GOTHAM, or comic-book-thing casting in general, or comic books, or things, but Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock is genius— PAPPADEMAS (@PAPPADEMAS) February 12, 2014
@donallogue You as Harvey Bullock just sold me on "Gotham." Grats.— WESLEY (@WesleyOnline) February 12, 2014
That Gotham cast is pretty stacked now that Donal Logue has joined. Really, really looking forward to seeing this.— Kevin Lever (@kevinlever) February 12, 2014
Sean Pertwee (son of the former "Doctor Who" Jon Pertwee) will play Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred — though probably not the polite and nonconfrontational Alfred we're all used to. The role is "a tough-as-nails ex-Marine from East London," so it's probably a bit less Little Lord Fauntleroy and a little more Guy Ritchie-style gangster.
There's also a lot of approval online for Pertwee as Alfred. He's made a career out of playing hardened military men, plus the "Doctor Who" connection doesn't hurt in the nerd community.
Foxs "Gotham" has cast a bunch o' folks, most notably (for me) Alfred, played by the 3rd Doctor's son Sean Pertwee: http://t.co/vi2rujYw3q— Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) February 11, 2014
OMG Sean Pertwee is going to be Alfred in Gotham?!' Thank you TV gods.— Stephanie (@baratheonstag) February 12, 2014
Not everyone agrees.
Sean Pertwee is a poor mans Jeremy Irons. "The Gotham TV show has cast The Penguin and Alfred http://t.co/20CxQXtLME"— Dante Szafranski (@Dante_sz) February 11, 2014
Robin Lord Taylor, whom you may know as one of the two people Rick and Carol encountered in an abandoned house from the fourth episode of this season's "The Walking Dead," will play the pre-costume Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot. Warner Bros. calls the character "a low-level psychopath … who hides his sadistic lust for power behind an exquisitely polite demeanor." He works for Fish Mooney, so his coolness should be a fun counterpoint to Smith's hotheaded sadism.
Taylor is less well known than Smith, McKenzie, Logue, and Pertwee, though most seem to think he looks creepy enough to make a convincing Penguin. Hunt recalled him fondly from his turn as a "hapless survivor idiot" on "The Walking Dead." "It doesn't make me think 'Penguin' at all, but, you know, acting."
This dude is playing The Penguin in the new Gotham TV series. Ok then. http://t.co/aJnzRUA7sA— Rhody Tobin (@Roto13) February 11, 2014
Zabryna Guevara, recently of "Burn Notice" (she played the sympathetic con Ayn in Season 6 of the show), will be Capt. Essen, Gordon's boss in the Homicide Squad. Her role should be interesting: In the comics, she eventually marries Gordon. Whether they changed her role from co-worker to supervisor to exclude that possibility or complicate it, we don't know.
Erin Richards is probably the actor who is least recognizable to American audiences (though she was in the short-lived Christian Slater comedy "Breaking In"), but if you watch U.K. imports often, you will likely have seen her in "Misfits," "Being Human," or "Merlin." She will play Gordon's fiancée, Barbara Kean. Given her job as an ER doctor, his job as a cop, and their comic book history (Gordon divorces her to be with Essen), their relationship will probably be rocky from the start.
Hunt is worried that bringing in young versions of supervillains is a misstep. "It's that Patton Oswalt bit about the 'Star Wars' prequels all over again. 'Hey, you like Darth Vader? Well, you're going to get to see him as a little kid!'" Casting a young Bruce Wayne will also be difficult; Hunt just hopes they'll find someone who "isn't going to Jake Lloyd all over the place" (another reference to the underwhelming "Star Wars" prequels) but thinks Jared Gilmore, who currently plays Henry Mills in "Once Upon a Time" (and also played Bobby Draper in the first two seasons of "Mad Men"), would be a strong choice.
What young actor would you like to see as a pre-Batman Bruce? Are there other characters you're hoping to see teen versions of? How well do you think McKenzie will stand up to the legacy of Commissioner Gordons who have come before him?
Click on the image below to launch our gallery of previous Gordons and decide for yourself: