Gotham season 3: Robin Lord Taylor interview

We talk to Robin Lord Taylor about how he nabbed the Penguin role, and what to expect from Oswald Cobblepot in Gotham season 3...

Contains spoilers for Gotham season 2.

If you read my Gotham reviews on this site, you’ll know that – more often that not – they feature gushing praise for Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. Over two seasons, he’s taken Penguin from a shuffling lackey to the king of Gotham and then down into a big ol’ personal disaster in season 2, with Oswald remaining the MVP of the show despite his topsy-turvy, tumultuous peronal life. It was exciting, then, to chat to Robin Lord Taylor about all things Gotham back in June…. 

So I was noodling around on Twitter a bit this morning.

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Uh oh. [Laughs]

And I was just wondering, what is it about being in London that makes you say ‘the C word’ so much? 

[Laughs] That was a joke. I mean, obviously I didn’t say it… I actually hadn’t said it at all. You know, I work very closely with Erin [Richards] and Sean [Pertwee, Gotham‘s British contingent] and they are, again, two of my favourite people in the world. And suddenly, ever since meeting them, my use of the C word has just gone… increased and increased.

And yes, a lot of people are writing back, like saying, ‘oh, no worries, it’s a term of endearment over here’. And it really is, with them, they’re like, ‘oh, you right c**t’, and I’m like, ‘oh, bless you’, you know? [Laughs]

So season 2 was something of a rough time for Oswald, wasn’t it? 

Oh, to say the least. Yes, yes.

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Was it refreshing to take him out of the gangster game for a bit?

Oh definitely. You know, it would be so much less interesting if he declared himself as the king of Gotham and then he just stayed there. You know? He needed to have a fall, and he needed to fall as epically as he did. In order to learn the lessons that he needs, to go forward. And if he should become king of Gotham again, he will now have the tools to hopefully hold onto the job a little bit longer than he did the previous time.

But, yeah it was just incredible. And, specifically, one of my favourite aspects of this season was after was ‘cured’ by Hugo Strange and then he became a gentle, pure, kind person. To me, that’s who he really is, underneath, it’s like he’s built up all of this scar tissue from the abuse that he’s received, from his peers, from the people in his life… he’s always been treated like an outsider. Like someone who is undeserving of love and of affection.

So, that is what feeds his violent impulses. Or that’s what creates his violent impulses. But then to be able to play him as kind and soft and quiet and beautiful, was just an amazing aspect to be able to play and just an amazing opportunity as an actor, for me.

And for him to come out of Arkham and then straightaway run into his dad –

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I know! And to have his dad played by Paul Reubens was honestly one of my favourite things that’s ever happened to me in my entire life.

And you guys have such a great chemistry. What was it like to work with him? Did you have that spark right away?

Oh, immediately! Actually, a funny story: so, I worked with Carol Kane, as she played my mother [in Gotham]. And there was one day, before I even knew that I even had a father coming into the storyline at all. Carol and I had become very close, and we’re actually neighbours in New York City. And she emailed me one day, and she was like, ‘let’s have brunch, or something’, and I was like, ‘oh great’, and she was like, ‘my friend Paul is coming’, and I was like ‘okay, whatever’. Random friend Paul. Whoever that might be.

I show up, and it’s Paul Reubens. And this is such a Carol thing. Carol doesn’t see… she wouldn’t even really acknowledge… she wouldn’t even know that that would be, like, an incredible moment for me, having been raised on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. So that was jarring to say the least. We sat down, we had a lovely brunch, and then we went outside.

And we also spent the whole time talking about how he was the Penguin’s father in Batman Returns, and how lovely and amazing it would be if they could put him in our show. And, you know, again, this is all speculation. So we go outside, we take a cute little family photo, where we’re all doing, like, devilish Cobblepot faces. And on a whim, a couple of weeks later, I sent the photo to [Gotham executive producer] Danny Cannon, like, ‘script idea! Maybe some thoughts on casting?’ And he wrote back immediately, he was like, ‘OMFG, I’ve been trying to get Paul, to play your father, for the last three weeks.’ 

And so it was like this crazy synergy, it was meant to be. And from day one he was just an absolute delight to work with. One of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and also just so excited and thrilled to be a part of our show. And it’s just, the day that his character passed away, along with the day that Carol’s character passed away, were two of the hardest days I’ve ever had to shoot in my entire career. It was really heart breaking, in real life and in Gotham life.

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And now Oswald’s got nobody.

No, I know. But you know, there’s that amazing, wonderful moment between Oswald and Edward [Nygma], right in the middle of the second season, after he loses his mother, before he learns that he has a father… Nygma nurses him back to life. Oswald is inconsolable, and is gonna leave Gotham City forever. Edward reminds him that he’s free now, because he has no one. Because he has no love in his life, he is not vulnerable, he’s now invincible. In a way. And so, going forward into season 3, that’s gonna propel him. That’s gonna help him be as ruthless as he can possibly be. That’s gonna help him, you know, maintain his grasp on power. Because no one can get to him now. No one can hurt him anymore.

And Fish Mooney has superpowers – 

I know! That’ll be fun! I have no idea how that’s gonna play out, I just know that, like, her superpower now is, when she touches someone, they do her bidding. We ended the season with her touching my face, so now I’m just expecting to get the first script and it’s like, ‘Oswald is Fish Mooney’s slave, she has him doing her laundry’, or something like that, I don’t know! Yeah, we’ll see.

So this year you had the Gotham Stories webseries as well –

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What was that like? Obviously you’ve been playing this character for a while, but then to just do it as a voice… was that weird? Were you like limping around in the studio as you did it?

It’s funny, yeah, I’ve done limited voiceover work. But I realised, like, there are some… like, I’m a big fan of The Simpsons. And so I had the DVDs from the earlier seasons, and I would listen to the commentary. And it’s very interesting, they’re… some actors, when they go in the booth, it’s very contained, it’s just the voice. But then there are other actors like Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer, he is like, if the character is doing something physical, he is like bouncing around the sound booth. 

That’s sort of where I go. That’s sort of, much more where I am. So yeah, when we were doing the voiceovers, we did them all in my dressing room, at the stage. And thankfully I was in full costume, so it really did help, you know, get into the voice of Oswald.

Just to backtrack a bit. Back in the day, how did you end up auditioning for Oswald? Because I spoke to Sean Pertwee about it once and he was saying that he didn’t know what he was going in for, it was so secretive.

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Same exact with me. It was pilot season, which, for actors, is like, if you’re lucky, you go out on twenty more auditions. And it’s basically just throwing stuff at the wall, and you see what sticks. You know what I mean? And so this was just one of them. I think it was ‘The Untitled Warner Bros Project’, and the character’s name was Paul. 

And it was a scene… and of course we get no script… and the character description was very minimal. And it’s a scene between Paul and some mafia don, and yeah, we do that and it’s like, ‘oh, by the way, you’re auditioning for the Penguin, in Gotham, in the Batman origin story.’ And it’s like… ‘okay! What do I do with that?’ At that point, I had made all of my choices in the scene, and it went very well, so I trusted my instincts and thankfully they were correct. And Danny and Bruno [Heller] saw that.

Were you a big Batman fan before that?

I was. I didn’t read a lot of the comics. I had some, but not a lot. But really it was the movies and the Adam West series, that I grew up watching, that were hugely influential to me. Um, yeah, I watched the Adam West series every day after school, after Scooby-Doo. It was Scooby-Doo and then Batman. So I would watch that every day and also I saw… I went to opening night of the Tim Burton Batman film when I was young, and those were just, you know, incredible. Incredible experiences for me, really opened up my eyes to this whole universe. 

And, I know you’ve been asked about this a lot, but it must have been amazing to get the Danny DeVito seal of approval.

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t… that… you know… Immediately, tears welling up when I heard him say that. Because this is an actor that I’ve been such a fan of my entire life, and then also Batman Returns… I watched it a thousand times when I was younger. And just to have that validation from him just meant everything to me. And also to hear it through – I know that he spoke about it in the press somewhere – but I first heard it through Carol Kane. Because she and Danny are very close, having worked together on Taxi, they’ve been best friends for like 39, 40 years, or something like that. 

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And she was the one that told me initially, and it just was… I felt like I was walking on air. It was incredible. Incredible moment. 

It’s funny, because I’d guess that his Penguin wasn’t necessarily an inspiration for yours. Like, physically, he’s got flippers for hands –

Yes, right, that that incarnation of the Penguin is very much… it’s a beautifully realised, Tim Burton-esque treatment of the character. Which, you know, again, was just beautiful and fantastic. Obviously, we’re going in a different direction with our show, but yeah. I would say I was influenced by him but just in a sense of, like, the humour that he brought to the role. Any chance I get – our show is very dark – to bring some of that humour in, it’s almost like a homage to what Danny did. Obviously I could never do it as well as he does, but you know, that’s where the influence is.

Speaking of lighter moments, one of my favourite moments this season was Oswald and Butch just showing up with a bazooka –

Yes! That was one of my favourite, favourite days of shooting. It was just amazing. Also, one of the coldest days, but I will never forget that day. ‘Always bring the right tools for the job’ is the lesson we learned. Yeah.

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And just one final thing. Back in January there was talk about, or potential ideas for, Gotham spin-offs going around. And my first thought then was ‘ooh, they should do a Robin Lord Taylor Penguin series. 

Make it so!

Even if there had been, you couldn’t tell me, but has there been any actual talk about spin-offs?

There really hasn’t. But I’m so happy with the show. With our show. And just the richness the world that we’re creating. And also the fact that I get… my favourite parts of the show are when these iconic characters interact. When Penguin and Riddler have scenes together. When Penguin and Barbara Kean and Selina Kyle. When our lives intertwine it informs the audience and myself so much about these characters. Like, seeing how they interact with each other, it fleshes them out all the more. So, yeah. You know. But whatever, if there was a spin-off, I’d do it! 

Robin Lord Taylor, thank you very much!


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Gotham Season 2 came out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday the 1st of August.