The Fox series Gotham is back for Season 2 and — as the season that’s being billed as the “Rise of the Villains” — all hell is about to break loose. Theo (James Frain) and Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas) have arrived in Gotham, Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is running the streets, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is becoming more and more unhinged, Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) is locked up in Arkham, itching to break free, and who knows who or what else is waiting just around the corner.
Collider was invited to participate in a small roundtable interview with one other outlet, to get some scoop on what viewers can expect when Jerome unleashes his madness. During the interview, actor Cameron Monaghan talked about what he’s most excited about with Jerome’s evolution, knowing the general arc for this character going in, how being locked up will change this already unstable guy, perfecting that maniacal laugh, whether we should be thinking of Jerome as The Joker, and playing someone who just doesn’t understand the concept of guilt. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: What are you most excited for audiences to see, this season?
CAMERON MONAGHAN: I can’t wait for them to see how Jerome evolves. I love the first episode, but I think it only gets better from there. I’m really excited for people to hopefully want to see how it all unfolds.
When you did that initial episode, did you always know we’d see this character again?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, they had told me how much I was going to be doing and the general idea of what his arc was going to be. They didn’t tell me specific dialogue or the exact scenes, but I had a pretty decent idea that I could play it according to.
How might Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) change from hanging out with Jerome?
MONAGHAN: I think Jerome has an infectious personality and a very specific brand of insanity that either destroys the psyche or the person of anyone he’s around. So, I don’t think any of the affects that he’s going to have on her are going to be positive.
Will being locked up make Jerome more focused or more ready to burst?
MONAGHAN: I think he’s been ready to burst from far, far before we ever met him. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the imprisonment that ultimately drives him towards his radicalism and his shift in personality, so much as the people that he meets and the interactions that he has with them. There’s this character, Theo Galavan, who becomes the ringleader for the revolution of villainy in the city of Gotham. He becomes this mentor figure for Jerome that really inspires him to go off the deep end, and it’s really fun.
One of the things that your character is known for is his maniacal laugh. How was it to fine tune that and get it how you wanted it to be?
MONAGHAN: I practiced so obsessively that I lost my voice because I was doing it so much. I heard that I had gotten the role, and then I had a few weeks during winter break where I was thankfully able to sit at home in my apartment, lock myself in, and just stare at myself in the mirror and make weird faces and laugh, obsessively, to the point where I was concerned that my neighbors were going to call the cops on me because I was, at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, laughing maniacally at myself. Similarly, when I found out that I was going to be a part of the second season, I continued to do that. It was beneficial to get to the hotel in New York a little bit early, and be able to work within the space of the hotel and be cut off in a city that I’m not familiar with and where I don’t know a lot of people. I was able to focus on that.
What do you most enjoy about playing Jerome?
MONAGHAN: It was great to reach the heights of ridiculousness in performance, and to fully chew the scenery and be able to enjoy chewing it. I wouldn’t be able to do that, as any other character. That’s the great thing about playing this role. To the credit of the producers and everybody, they gave me so much freedom to improv and go off script. With each subsequent episode, as the character continues to become more unhinged and dangerous, they allowed me to improv and go off script, more and more. Thankfully, they allowed me to do that, and then the editors would slog through it all and cut it into something that actually makes sense.
Is this a character that you feel like you can never go too big with or rein him in too much?
MONAGHAN: It all depends on the situations. The situations remain grounded in such a place where the character can be completely ridiculous and unhinged. This takes place in a somewhat heightened world, so I felt like the only way for this character to feel more heightened in a heightened world was to completely go off the rails with him. That was the decision that I had to make, which was probably the most terrifying decision I’ve ever made, as an actor.
MONAGHAN: Thank you!
Is there a possibility that Jerome might not be The Joker?
MONAGHAN: There’s plenty of possibility. The only way to say it is that he either is or he isn’t, or maybe he represents the idea. Maybe in this universe, The Joker is not one specific man, but more of an idea, at least to this point. This is still very early in the mythology. Who knows where it’s going to go from here.
Do you ever think of this character as The Joker, or do you just think of him as Jerome?
MONAGHAN: I have to think of him as Jerome because, as it is, he is Jerome. In our scripts, he is Jerome. Whoever Jerome is, he’s a man who loves pain, and he loves to laugh at other people’s pain. That’s the driving component behind him. That’s what I go with.
Do you have a favorite Joker performance?
MONAGHAN: The great thing about this role is that it brings out the strengths in every single actor who plays it. I grew up obsessively watching the Batman animated series, and so there is a special place in my heart for what Mark Hamill did with the role.
Of the villains on Gotham, which one do you think would amuse Jerome the most?
MONAGHAN: I think this new villain, Theo Galavan, is definitely someone who Jerome very obviously admires for his utter sadism and his cold, calculating, devoid of humanity persona. I’d be curious to see who else. I think as Penguin becomes more and more dark and unhinged that perhaps that is someone who he would find quite entertaining, as well.
Even Nygma is becoming much darker and more unhinged.
MONAGHAN: Oh, yeah. But I don’t think that Jerome would appreciate Edward Nygma’s structure. He’s not chaotic enough for him. It would probably be the reason he would butt heads with him. To be honest, he doesn’t play very well with other people, in general.
Being forced in with these other criminals makes Jerome not want to follow other people’s rules. Was being a leader always in him, or does he just not want to be told what to do?
MONAGHAN: It’s not clear whether he wants to be a leader, or if he just can’t help but destroy every single thing around him. His personality is just this constant ticking time bomb. He goes from a guy who’s completely entertaining to be in a room with, to a guy you realize you don’t want to be in a room with anymore, to a guy you realize has already locked the doors and you’re not getting out of that room. That’s Jerome.
Can he have any guilt for what he’s doing, or does he really not care?
MONAGHAN: I don’t think he would be able to answer that question. I think the concept of guilt is lost on him, at this point. I don’t know if he’s ever had it, but if he did, I’m not sure he does anymore.
How did you end up in this role on this show, in the first place, especially already having a TV show (with Shameless)?
MONAGHAN: It wasn’t a conscious thing. It was getting a call about, “Hey, there’s people asking about this,” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s amazing!” But then, I was like, “No, I can’t do that!” And then, I was like, “Okay, let me think about it for awhile.” And the more I thought about it, the more all I could think about was what I wanted to do with it. It wasn’t a choice of wanting to do more stuff. It was just wanting to do something that I really liked and wanted to be a part of.
Gotham airs on Monday nights on Fox.