The Fox drama series Gotham has recently introduced viewers to hypnotist Jervis Tetch, a.k.a. the Mad Hatter (Benedict Samuel), who is currently in Gotham to search for his sister, Alice (Naian Gonzalez Norvind). And after hiring Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) to help find her, we quickly learned that Alice simply does not want to be found, but we have not yet learned why she so adamantly wants to be left alone, especially when it comes to her brother.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Benedict Samuel talked about his audition process for this show, how thankful he is for the material the writers are giving him to work with, exploring the different facets of this character, just how mad the Mad Hatter is, that his only focus is finding Alice, and why Mad Hatter, Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) would make a great trio. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: How did you come to this show? Did you go through an audition process for this, and did you know exactly what role you’d be playing?
BENEDICT SAMUEL: I auditioned in Sydney. I was not in the country. I was in Australia, so I sent a tape, and it was a really quick turn-around. It happened over the course of a weekend, really, that I auditioned, had a callback, and then had to wait a couple of weeks for a Visa to come through, which was down to the wire. That was really the only thing that was getting in the way of whether I could actually do the job. I also feel like it came out of a great relationship that I’ve built with the casting directors, Sharon [Bialy] and Sherry [Thomas], in Los Angeles. I felt very confident and comfortable going in because these women had seen me work before, and I was just very happy to land the role. Because of the whole secrecy with the casting process, they don’t actually release sides from the show. The sides they released were written for the audition process. I had this awesome scene that was set in an interrogation room, and I was so looking forward to doing it again on set, but they just made the scene up. It wasn’t in the script. But thankfully, the writers are talented and have given me lots of wonderful stuff to work with.
You got a taste of what devoted fans of a genre series can be like, with The Walking Dead. How was the fan reaction to your work on that show, and did that help prepare you for Gotham and the fan reaction you’ll get now?
SAMUEL: I never really thought about any sort of reaction. I didn’t really know how big of a show I was in, with The Walking Dead, until I heard that there was something like 18 million viewers. And there are also a lot of people tuning into Gotham. I’m excited that a lot of people are tuning in because it’s a great show, and the canon of the Batman stories has so many twists and turns. It’s also a show that really respects its audience and listens to them. I think that’s really exciting. It’s a show that is malleable. And it’s exciting to play that type of character, that evolves as the show evolves.
Originally, the subtitle for the season was going to be “Heroes Will Fall,” but then they decided to rename it “Mad City” because they wanted to really explore and delve into the Mad Hatter. What was your reaction when you learned about that?
SAMUEL: I’m not on any social media. I’m a bit analog, when it comes to the internet and technology. It was actually my dad who rang up and said, “Oh, I just read this article that said they changed the subtitle for the show for you.” And I was like, “Really?!” So, it was my dad that told me, and I felt very humbled. I must be doing a good job. So, I felt very happy that that happened.
You not only get to play a cool, mysterious character who dresses very snazzy, but you also get some fun performance scenes. What’s it like to explore the hypnotist side of this guy?
SAMUEL: It’s a great opportunity to develop his traits and attitude. When you have quick scenes, it becomes difficult to ascertain where your character fits and where they’re going. I always enjoy scenes that have a movement to them. I can’t thank the writers and producers enough for giving me this material to work with ‘cause it does allow you to plan a bit more and make some interesting choices. It’s also longer shooting because you have to do the scenes ten different times and from different angles, but that’s an exciting thing to be able to do, too.
This character has been described as “teetering on the edge of madness,” but we haven’t really gotten to see just how mad he is yet. So, how mad is he and what would you say his biggest triggers are?
SAMUEL: It’s become clear that Alice is the most important thing to him, and I can safely say that, without her, he certainly would be plunged down the rabbit hole of madness. Anything is possible from there.
Does Jervis Tetch have a big picture goal, or is it just about his personal needs and wants, at least at this point?
SAMUEL: I certainly think that, at the moment, it’s about his personal needs and wants. He’s also such an adaptable creature that any hurdle that normal people come up against and either go around or jump, the Mad Hatter just makes that disappear.
Jervis went to Jim Gordon for help in finding his sister, Alice. What was it about Jim Gordon that led Jervis to ask him for help, and what does he actually think of him?
SAMUEL: Obviously, Jim Gordon has that reputation for walking the thin line of moral and immoral, if it gets the job done, and it’s always a good thing to know someone in Gotham who’s willing to bend the rules a little bit. But I also think, probably deep down, the reason why he went to Jim Gordon is probably because he realizes that he can use him, if he needs to.
Is this a guy who likes the ability that he has to control people, or do you think he would like to have somebody that he could genuinely count on without having to force them?
SAMUEL: I think he is very happy with the fact that he doesn’t need anyone else. He doesn’t necessarily need the support of someone he trusts because he can hypnotize them, so that he does have their undivided trust and attention. If he wants someone to have a good conversation with, he can just hypnotize them.
Is he aware that Alice doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, or is he just so focused on finding her that he doesn’t really care how she feels about it?
SAMUEL: Part of his madness is the out of sync view that he has of the world and his place in it. That’s certainly evident, in regards to his sister. As far as he’s concerned, their bond is unbreakable. But as we know, just because you think something, it doesn’t mean it’s real.
This guy does some bad things to get what he wants. Is there anything he won’t do? Does he have a line he won’t cross, or a moral compass of any kind?
SAMUEL: I think he’s created his own moral compass because all that matters to him is his sister. I think he would say that the things he did that were wrong were necessary. He’s a very Machiavellian person. He’s very dangerous, where the ends justify the means.
There are a few different types of villains in Gotham, like the ones who use brute force and the ones who blow stuff up to get attention, but Jervis Tetch bends people to his will. Do you think that makes him the most dangerous kind, since he’s the villain you don’t see coming, especially when you’re hypnotized not to?
SAMUEL: I guess so. In a way, yeah, because he can creep up on you and play on your insecurities, your fears and your darkest desires. I think all of us have something, deep down, which we wouldn’t want the world to know or anyone to use against us, and that’s exactly what he does. For a lot of people, that’s probably what’s most terrifying.
You’ve said that you think he’s probably the most similar to someone like Ed Nygma. Why do you think they’re similar, and do you think they’d get along, if they actually had to work together?
SAMUEL: I think they certainly could, happily. There’s probably a greater moral compass to Nygma than there is to the Mad Hatter. I also think he’d get along extremely well with Penguin. There’s a viciousness to Penguin, along with the gentleman nature of him, that I think the Mad Hatter would find delightful and charming. It would be a great trio. The Mad Hatter could use his abilities for good, maybe, and that maybe is underlined and in bold. He could, but would he?
What aspects of this guy have been most enjoyable for you to play, and what have been the biggest challenges in digging into who he is?
SAMUEL: What’s been most enjoyable are the many different facets to him. One minute, he’s this showman. The next, he’s heartlessly murdered the doctor and his wife to move in. He’s an absolute sociopath and psychopath, at the same time, and a child. What’s really enjoyable about that is trying to pinpoint those moments, as best as one can as an actor, and play them honestly and creatively. I think that puzzle that he is, is enjoyable to me, as an actor.
Gotham airs on Monday nights on Fox.