GOTHAM Showrunner Bruno Heller Talks Visual Style, the Absence of Batman, and the Arrival of the Joker

     May 8, 2014


So you saw the first trailer for Fox’s upcoming series, Gotham, right?  Looks pretty good.  But the little we know about the show (that it centers on James Gordon and takes place before Batman swoops onto the scene) raises more and more questions about just how it’s all going to work.  Well, lucky for us, showrunner Bruno Heller was more than happy to spill the bat-beans on all manner of things, from the show’s visual style and tone, and how they’ve changed iconic characters, to how they’ll handle the absence of Batman.  There’s even a tease as to the eventual appearance of the Joker and just how that would work.  Hit the jump to see what he had to say.

gotham-james-gordon-ben-mckenzieIn a wide-ranging interview with EW, Heller talked extensively about his plans for Gotham.  Perhaps most interesting is the idea of doing a show set in the world Batman is known to protect without featuring the protector himself.  Here’s how Heller addressed that:

EW: My assumption has been that the reason this TV show can be done — rights-wise — is because Batman himself is not in it. That way, it doesn’t overlap with any films. Is that correct?
BRUNO HELLER: Certainly from Warner Bros. and DC’s business point of view, that’s why it can be done. For me, if they said, “Do Batman,” I would have said, “No.” I would have not been interested at all. I don’t think Batman works very well on TV — to have people behind masks. Frankly, all those superhero stories I’ve seen, I always love them until they get into the costume. And then it’s, “Oh, okay, they’ve ascended, they’ve stopped becoming humans.” It’s their apotheosis. They go to heaven and they’re Superman. There have been so many great versions of it. This is a version of something else entirely.

So, to tell a Batman story without a Batman, Heller had to start somewhere else, with someone else:

The first thing was starting with Jim Gordon, who is the most human and real and normal person in the DC pantheon. What would the city of Gotham look like to a young rookie cop coming into this world? And that’s where we calibrated. This is a world that’s going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it’s not there yet. It’s an embryo. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the story to look at what these characters were like when they younger. Penguin, for instance, is not a powerful gang leader, he’s a gofer for a gangster. It’s about giving the world room to grow, but at the same time giving the fun and pleasure and drama of that heightened world. One of the great things about the Batman world is [the characters] have no super powers. Nobody flies or leaps over buildings. You start with psychology and that’s where we build from.

gotham-harvey-bullock-donal-logueFans might be interested to know just how Gotham will re-imagine some other iconic characters.  Here’s what Heller had to say about Alfred and Harvey Bullock to name just a couple:

The decision to make Alfred into a tough Marine — there are hints of that in the canon, as well, but I thought that was a cool move.
That was part of the story that I had to reverse engineer. What kind of man would allow their teenage charge to turn into Batman? Obviously, someone with very original parenting notions. So yeah, he’s both a father figure and a dangerous father figure. He’s a tough character, and Sean Pertwee plays Alfred with gravity and humor. We’re lucky to have him.

One character I really liked in your script was Harvey Bullock. He seemed to really jump off the page.
Yeah — Harvey Bullock, for the comic book fans, he’s an iconic early Batman character. I always liked him just because he encapsulates the moral ambivalence and corrupt-but-fun quality of Gotham. He’s very much a Gotham figure. Gordon is a complicated figure, but he’s very much a good guy. He’s an old-fashioned American hero. So it’s important to pair him with someone who has a darker and funnier side, and someone who personifies that ambivalence of Gotham. And we got Donal Logue playing the character. As soon as we got him, I was able to write the character with much more edge and comedy and wisdom because Donal has all those things in spades. And frankly, I love double acts — buddies, whether it’s Laurel & Hardy or Starsky & Hutch or Holmes & Watson. Erin Richards will also pop out of this, I think. She plays Gordon’s fiancé.

Fans will also want to know whether or not they can expect the Joker to show up eventually.  Heller danced around the answer a bit, but it doesn’t take too much to read between the lines:

You mentioned The Killing Joke. So you’ll bring in The Joker?
He’s the crown jewel of the Batman villains. He will be brought in with great care and a lot of thought.

Some feel Heath Ledger’s performance was so iconic it would be a mistake to try to do that character again so soon.
I’ve written scenes for Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. So while that is a serious and valid note, you can’t get into doing this without going there. That was a wonderful performance and — apart from everything else — wonderful make-up. And we should try to live up to that. It will be a different character. It’s certainly going to be more Heath Ledger than Cesar Romero. But like I say, all of these people are real people with feelings and emotions and history and parents. I just build from that.

Be sure to head over to EW for much, much more from Fox’s fall series, Gotham.




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  • Kyle Chandler

    This show might be well done, but I still have an issue with the concept. Scenario 1: we’re shown a Gotham that is in desperate need of a Batman, in which case we’re left disappointed when there isn’t one. Scenario 2: We see a Gotham that can do pretty okay with just Jim Gordon, in which case Batman is no longer necessary.

    Both of those scenarios stress me out.

    • “Welcome to primetime, bitch!”

      Don’t over-think it. Just be patient until the the first few episodes air. DC has a much better track record on television than they do on the big screen. =)

    • LEM

      I assume Gordon will have relatively small wins in an overwhelmingly crime ridden city as we see the impact he has on a young Bruce Wayne. Wayne would recognize the limited good that can be done within the restraints of the law.

  • joeybot

    Maybe we’ll get to see if Joker went to prep school! Won’t that be interesting?

    • Child Bearing Hipster

      Such a hipster thing to say…

    • LEM

      I hope he’s the crazy janitor.

  • Guest

    Rhys Wakefield for the role of The Joker! He was terrific in The Purge.

  • Doug_101

    Part of the appeal of The Joker is that he was a nobody before he became Red Hood and Batman knocked him into that chemical tub. He has no history UNTIL he becomes the Joker.

    • the king of comedy

      I agree we don`t need to know much about The Joker`s past

    • Batt Damon

      Part of the appeal of the Joker is that we never know for sure that he was a nobody or that that he was the Red Hood or that he fell into a vat of chemicals. A lack of a definitive origin is one of the Joker’s definitive characteristics.

  • JBug

    This sounds good on paper, but I can’t see this playing well on TV. It’s so derivative. Maybe a musical would be more appropriate ;)

    • Phantom of the Night

      You may have been joking, but bringing Batman to the stage is such a phenomenal idea. Think along the lines of Phantom of the Opera…

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    Yes, let me chime in on being one of the first to cry “bullsnot” on this whole idea of a series. The Batman’s mythology works as strongly as it does because these villains didn’t “come” to Gotham until well after Batman started his career as the vigilante crimefighter. It’s precisely because Batman is there that all of these freaks are drawn to the city. Seeing Joker’s ‘Smallville’ days interests me zip, zero, and zilch.

    Now, sure, I can appreciate style as much as the next bloke. I just don’t honestly feel this one can rise to the occasion b/c it kinda/sorta defies logic.

  • Polarboy

    Obviously we have to reserve judgement somewhat, but If they give the Joker the same treatment that they are talking about giving the other villains, then I call utter bullshit. The Joker shouldn’t be in this unless they treat it the way Scott Snyder did with the Red Hood gang.

  • Shane McGonnigal

    Psychology…a hero cop…some dirty cops…Sooo how will this be any
    different than any other cop show? Also any Batman fan knows the Joker
    is a response to Batman creating himself (and then fucking the dudes face up)…so what if we get to possibly see him “before he’s the Joker”. Thats not interesting…hed be just another over the top psycopath on another generic cop show.

    “Ive written roles for Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony and Cleopatra…”

    You just sound full of yourself.

  • Ben Kenobi

    I hope that does not appear any type of super guy in this show, please! Although they possibly exist, it should be about only Gotham and its bunch of urban violence and corruption throughout!!

  • Batt Damon

    This is a new interpretation of Batman that’s not cannon with any of the movies. I’m all for the writers going in a different direction. Yes, I’d prefer a Gotham Central show set after Batman’s taken up his mantle but if this is what they have to do to give me a weekly series set in the Batman universe then I’m all for it.

  • amnesiac

    You can’t have the Joker without Batman! Joker would run Gotham if Batman wasn’t around to put him in his place.

  • Strong Enough

    You should just retire the joker from ever being played again. HEath was that good

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