In Episode 9 of the Fox drama series Gotham, Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto) wants to close the Wayne murder case and teams up with Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), much to the annoyance of Mayor James (Richard Kind). The character will be a recurring role, sprinkled in a handful of episodes this season, and will expand to a regular character, if it indeed returns for Season 2. And it will certainly be an interesting journey to watch unfold, as Harvey Dent moves down his path towards the villainous Two-Face.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Nicholas D’Agosto talked about how he came to be playing Harvey Dent on Gotham, what made him feel connected to the character, who Harvey Dent is at this point in the story, which villains he might like to see Harvey Dent go up against, the foreshadowing of the character’s duality, how Harvey Dent views both Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and what his first day on set was like. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be playing Harvey Dent on Gotham?
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: The truth is that it happened really, really fast. I was working on something, and I auditioned for something else. And then, the people that were casting that thing that I auditioned for were also casting Gotham. They said, “We didn’t know you were available. Can you come in tonight for Harvey Dent? We need to cast immediately.” That was a Thursday, and I said, “Let’s do it Friday morning.” So, Thursday night, I crammed the Harvey Dent lawyer dialogue into my head and got as best situated as I could. I went out Friday morning for it, and by Tuesday, everybody approved it. On Wednesday, the contract was finalized. On Thursday, I flew to New York. On Friday, I got fitted for suits. And then, on Monday, I was shooting. It was a really rapid, condensed process, but really, really fun. From the minute that they presented the opportunity to me, I was thrilled. It’s one of those great moments, and it hasn’t happened all that much. There’s only been a few times where I really genuinely would have given up a lot of stuff for a role, where I fit it, and it was a good fit on their end, too. As an actor, you’re thankful for that kind of stuff.
Obviously, playing Harvey Dent is a no-brainer, but were there specific things about who this guy is that appealed to you and made you feel like you could bring something to the character that we maybe haven’t seen before?
D’AGOSTO: Well, I don’t know about what people haven’t seen. I don’t want to speak from that position. I did the first season of Masters of Sex, and that guy was a good-hearted guy. We start with him in his worst place, where he’s hitting a woman, but by the end of that first season, we’ve gotten the full scope of his personality and he’s actually a really nice person who can just be pushed to anger and jealousy, like everybody. I loved getting to play that range because, as humans, we get filled with jealousy, at times, and rage, and I am no exception. I can get incredibly angry, to the point that I get ashamed of my actions. The great thing about doing a role like this is that I can be a charming lawyer guy, but I also get to play the deep rage and ambition of this young Harvey Dent. The thing that’s driving him and the rage are what will eventually become Two-Face. That is truly a dream role.
What brings Harvey Dent to Gotham?
D’AGOSTO: He’s an Assistant District Attorney, at this point. Something that is really stressed about him, that maybe is slightly different, is that you see a really young and ambitious Assistant District Attorney who not only wants to save the city, but who wants to be the guy. He very much wants to exercise influence around him, and he is just a little young and has got to prove himself. With Jim Gordon, they are these two young guys that are highly capable and have a lot of potential, and they find in each other this unexpected partnership. We take on different aspects of the Wayne murder investigation and it doesn’t go exactly according to plan, as things often go in Gotham. But at the end of the day, these guys are gonna look at each other and see that they’re ultimately allies.
Are there any particular villains that you’d love to see Harvey Dent get entangled with?
D’AGOSTO: Oh, man! Spin the wheel. There are so many good ones. Obviously, people are gonna really be waiting to see The Joker. That will be the big hammer, whenever they decide to bring that in. I’m not privy to any of that information. Mr. Freeze is one of the oddest and strangest characters. The Mad Hatter is one of those really strange characters. He’s not as well known, but is a really interesting guy. Honestly, I can’t say one more than the other. At this point, they’re all so rich that I just can’t wait for him to get involved with one. I don’t care which one it is, I just want him to get up to his elbows in trouble.
When you play a character like this, knowing that he’ll inevitably become the villainous Two-Face, do you always keep that eventual duality in your mind, or do you just focus on the Harvey Dent aspect of him, right now?
D’AGOSTO: That’s a great question. One of the things that I did, in the very short amount of time I had to do research, and one of the through-lines that I thought was something I could hold onto for my version of Harvey Dent, was focus on this recurring piece of information that he speaks of his childhood as being abusive. He had some psychotic episodes, as a young kid. The psychological and physical abuse he suffered from his dad drove him to eradicate that type of behavior around him, but it also left him walking a little too close to the edge of sanity. I thought that really latched into what I found was the Harvey Dent written on the page for me. At the end of the day, an actor has to just play what’s in front of him. As much as I’d like to bring in as many aspects of Harvey Dent as have come in other iterations of the franchise, at the end of the day, I have to play the scene. The great thing is that there is foreshadowing of mental instability, where ambition may move into behavior that’s too dark for Harvey. They’re quick and short, at the beginning, when you meet him, but that element that I spoke about is something that really helped me play that edge.
If Harvey Dent sees similarities in Jim Gordon, how does he feel about Harvey Bullock?
D’AGOSTO: There’s not a lot that’s established, at this point, so I can’t say. Most of this would just be my own personal point of view, but the truth is that I think Harvey Dent would probably be a bit more welcoming of Harvey Bullock’s tendencies than Gordon. Gordon is so pure and so true, and he’s such a moral center. I hope there’s a moment where we high-five and call each other Harvey, at some point. At the end of the day, Harvey Dent is really more of a politician than he is a cop. He’s an attorney, but he works for the state. I think he understands the art of compromise a bit more, and someone like Harvey Bullock has his own type of compromise. I think those guys get each other a little bit more than maybe Gordon gets them both.
Because you had so little time to prepare for this and were on set so quickly after getting cast, what was your first day on set like? Did you have a moment where you stopped and wondered how you’d gotten to this point?
D’AGOSTO: Yeah, and I appreciate you asking that, actually, because it was a really fascinating experience for me. I did Heroes, where I jumped in, in the second season, and was around for seven or nine episodes. But the thing is, I’d never jumped in with such an important role. With Heroes, I was just fitting into this larger machine. But with Harvey Dent, it’s very clear that this is one of the iconic characters of the franchise and I’m going to be around with these people for awhile. I had to walk in as though I was a part of the pilot, in essence, and that I’d been with these guys for a long time. Thankfully, I’ve had enough experience that that sort of thing doesn’t overwhelm me or anything, but it was very interesting to walk on set.
Because all of my scenes got pushed to the last two days of that episode’s shoot, since it took them awhile to cast that character, I was working all day that day. My first day with these people, I was working all day. It was a ton of work and there were big scenes to put down. The best I could do was go in prepared and excited. The truth is that people were so welcoming and cool and helpful, and they were so excited to welcome a new character to the team. I just truly couldn’t have been more thankful for how everybody just welcomed me in, to the point where people were tweeting me ahead of time and saying, “Can’t wait to have you here!” That means a lot. Actors really depend on each other, in those moments, because they’re high-stakes moments. You’re putting yourself on the line in a very short amount of time. That was really cool. It was a real adrenaline rush, but it couldn’t have been a better shoot.
Gotham airs on Monday nights on Fox.