Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot in GOTHAM | © 2015 Jessica Miglio/FOX

Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot in GOTHAM | © 2015 Jessica Miglio/FOX

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin on Fox’s GOTHAM, the actor discusses the Oswald/Jim Gordon relationship, his work on THE WALKING DEAD and more. Read Part 1 here.

AX: Oswald has a very complicated relationship with Gotham police detective Jim Gordon [Ben McKenzie]. How would you describe it?

ROBIN LORD TAYLOR: Jim Gordon wouldn’t be in the place that he is now if he hadn’t saved my life, and it goes both ways. It’s classic, they need each other even though they’re complete enemies. I think deep down, he actually is fond of Jim Gordon. He has no friends and he doesn’t trust anybody except his mother and now in his life, he has Jim Gordon, who I think he actually really does trust. And I think in his ideal world, they would work together and develop that friendship. But at the same time, because he is manipulative, he understands how things work in Gotham City. He knows that he needs an ally on that side of the fence, and he will ultimately, because his ambition is so great, he will use any tool he has at his disposal. He doesn’t ideally want to think of Jim as a tool, but he knows that that’s something that is of value to him, that relationship is something that he needs to foster, because again, there’s no black and white in Gotham City in terms of good and bad. To do what you want, you have to be able to work all of the sides. Jim is learning this as we go, and Oswald almost already knows this. But personally, from where I’m coming from with the character, I think that he really does value that friendship and wishes it could be a real partnership. And maybe he’ll get there some day – we don’t know yet.

AX: Do you think that Oswald has sort of a crush on Jim?

TAYLOR: [laughs] No, I don’t think he has a romantic crush on Jim, but there’s a scene [between Oswald and] his mom, and he says that he’s met a true friend. And I think it’s a new feeling for him to actually have a friend, even though Gordon doesn’t reciprocate so much, Penguin does recognize the fact that he owes him his life, and also that he is the only trustworthy man in Gotham City. And Penguin’s not stupid – he wants to keep that close to him. And also, I think it’s a genuine respect and a genuine admiration.

AX: Oswald has now encountered Edward Nygma, the future Riddler, played by Cory Michael Smith. Before you got that script, were you expecting their meeting to go that way?

TAYLOR: I wasn’t expecting it to go exactly that way. Part of me wanted them to be best buddies from the get-go, but it turned out so much better than that, because there’s a place for us to go with this interaction. The fact is, of course Oswald wouldn’t trust this person on first meeting. And the fact that Edward knows so much about Oswald is very upsetting to Oswald. Normally, he’s the one who knows about people before they know about him, and the fact that I have to ask him who he is and he says, “I know who you are,” I think that’s terrifying to Oswald, the fact that someone knows something more than he does. Again, I think that’s setting us up for this incredible dynamic, where maybe there’s someone out there who can maybe match him in terms of being ahead of the game and being as smart if not smarter than he is, and it’s a challenge that I think is going to be really exciting to explore.

AX: Do you think that Oswald may be Edward’s mentor in turning to the dark side?

TAYLOR: Edward finds his own way to the dark side. That’s by circumstances in his own life, but I would love it if they had to come together and Oswald could impart some wisdom to Edward in terms of how to be more effective in this world and in getting what you want, because Edward doesn’t read social cues very well and he doesn’t fully understand where people are coming from, just on an interpersonal level. And I certainly think that’s something that Oswald could show him and teach him. That would be such a dream. I mean, I love Cory so much, to be able to work with Cory in that capacity I think would be so exciting.

AX: How is it working with Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, who plays Gordon’s partner Harvey Bullock?

TAYLOR: They just work so well together; they’re incredible guys. The whole cast in general – we really have one of the nicest casts. No one has ego, no one. It’s just been a dream. You never know what type of people you’re going to work with in this kind of situation, and, not to sound trite, but so blessed. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people.

AX: How long does it take to get your hair into its GOTHAM look?

TAYLOR: The haircut is its own thing. There are not a lot of things you can do with it. I’m also naturally a blonde. I have to get it re-dyed every two weeks, because my blond roots start coming in. I have the opposite problem of everyone else, who get dark roots coming in. When my roots come in, it looks like my hair’s falling out. That’s not a good look.

AX: Oswald also has a pronounced limp, which is due to Jada Pinkett Smith’s crime boss Fish Mooney, who was his former employer …

TAYLOR: She is the one who gives it to him, which is a very interesting aspect to their relationship, in the sense that every step he takes is painful, and that pain is directly related to what Fish did to him. Being an intelligent person, he knows that he is the one who went behind her back and set her up to fail, so it’s understandable to him why she did that to him. But it definitely feeds into his desire to take over from her.

AX: Did you study that sort of injury and see how people walk with that?

TAYLOR: I did do some studying and I talked a lot with our stunt coordinator about if someone suffers a traumatic injury to their leg and they don’t set it right and it doesn’t heal correctly, is this something that would make sense? I showed him what I was doing, and he was like, “Yeah.” He helped me find what that looked like, what it felt like and we sort of developed it together.

AX: And did he work with you on how to not actually give yourself an injury while moving your body like that all day?

TAYLOR: [laughs] Yes. I don’t work every day, so it’s not as intense as I think people might think it is, but I do feel it if we have a long day; at the end of the day, I’ll be favoring my left leg. I feel it in my knees a little bit, so yeah, he gives me some tricks, some stretches and stuff to do, which has been very, very helpful.

AX: Oswald gets a lot of drinks thrown in his face. Is that a particular skill you’ve had to learn, to not anticipate that?

TAYLOR: Well, yeah. That and the slaps and the punches. Bottom line is, you want it to be real as possible, because the camera doesn’t hide anything. You don’t want to be anticipating anything – you want it to look as real as possible. But then you also have to learn that we are human beings in a space and getting thrown up against the wall, no matter how realistic you want it to look, you still have to take care of yourself and take care of your body and not be actually beaten up on set [laughs]. So it’s been interesting learning how to ride that line between how do we make this as real as possible and yet still look out for our own well-being.

On days where we have a stunt, they always bring the stunt double in, even if it’s the smallest thing, but I tend to be one of those people, unless it’s jumping off the pier or something like that, I would much rather be the one doing it, because it’s fun and it’s so exciting and it ultimately looks better when it’s me doing it, so yeah. But they always say, “If you are uncomfortable at any time, we can have Jay come in and do this.”

Jay’s fantastic and he’s so ready to go and he has such a better body than I do, that’s for sure [laughs].

AX: Was there anything specific that series creator/executive producer Bruno Heller and/or pilot director/executive producer Danny Cannon told you that you’ve found useful in playing Oswald?

TAYLOR: It’s almost like they didn’t really have to say anything, because it was so much there in the script. One thing that Danny did say to me very early on during the pilot, “You tend to go small with your choices. This is not the time to do that. Make big choices, go full out. We can always pull it back, but don’t be afraid to go over the top. It would be hard for you to go so over the top [that it’s too much]. I want you to go there with each take. Just don’t be afraid to go big.” And it’s been invaluable advice. To work on something for so long, which is an experience that I’ve never had before, to really delve into this character and then to find out things that I do personally as an actor, my own pitfalls that I find myself in, to be able to work through those has been just an incredible experience.

AX: Can you say what those pitfalls are?

TAYLOR: Just being shy and pulling back and getting small with things. In my real life, I’m a person who avoids all conflicts and I tend to be the one who goes to the side of the room instead of the middle of the room [laughs]. Learning that’s something that I do and then working through that and really just owning the moment and owning the stage and making it as big as possible and being fearless is the main thing that I’ve been working through, which has been a really invaluable experience.

AX: You were also on WALKING DEAD for a couple of episodes. Who did you play?

TAYLOR: I played Hippie Sam – his name was just Sam in the scripts, but we call him Hippie Sam – Rick and Carol find him and his girlfriend holed up in a house and then Carol is thrown out of the group for actions in the prison when she killed those people. And then Rick gives me his watch and then you don’t see me until the first episode of the fifth season, where I’m lined up at the trough, and I’m the first one to die in Season 5 [laughs], so I wear that as a badge of honor.

AX: Did being involved with WALKING DEAD, even on that small level, give you some sort of preparation for the Comic-Con culture excitement that surrounds GOTHAM?

TAYLOR: Oh, absolutely. It blew my world wide open in that way. It was the first time that I’d participated in something that has that [type of] following, and just from social media-wise, it was amazing to be a part of something where the fan base is so intelligent and so invested in these characters in such a personal way. I say it to everybody – fans of this genre are the smartest fans ever, because they look at every detail and analyze every detail, and everything means so much to them. So it was like, to know that and experience that on a much smaller scale, I sort of had an idea what to expect, not nearly to this extent, but I had kind of an idea of what to expect when GOTHAM came on.

AX: Well, you could compare it to Shakespearean scholarship, the interest in the details and the discussions of the hidden meanings …

TAYLOR: Of course, I studied [Shakespeare] in school. The amount of analyzing every stanza, every metaphor that Shakespeare used, it’s very similar. That’s how people analyze the BATMAN world and the WALKING DEAD world and just the comic book world in general.

AX: Now, Oswald/Penguin has really popped for the show. Were you expecting that?

TAYLOR: I wasn’t expecting it to the extent that it’s happened. Bruno and Danny had both told me before we started shooting the pilot, “The first season is going to be a lot about the rise of the Penguin, so it’s going to be a lot about your character’s story and what he goes through.” So I knew that there would be a focus on me, but I didn’t for the life of me expect the amount of just sheer sympathy that people have for the guy, and the fact that people are constantly letting me know on Twitter, “I’m rooting for you, even though you’re a psychopath.” [laughs] I wasn’t expecting that at all and it’s just so gratifying, because it really was something that I wanted to bring to the character. I wanted to find a sympathetic aspect to him; I didn’t want him to just be evil for the sake of being evil and just be your traditional Snidely Whiplash-type character. I wanted people to understand where he’s coming from and why he makes the decisions he makes. And I think because of that, people are having this sort of sympathetic response, which again is so validating, because it’s exactly what I set out to accomplish, and it’s been so great.

AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?

TAYLOR: Nothing concrete lined up, but we have a lot of potential stuff. There is definitely talk of a WOULD YOU RATHER sequel, we’re seeing if maybe that can happen, if not this year, then next year, and the whole gang will be back for that.

AX: And is there anything else you’d like to say about GOTHAM and/or the Penguin?

TAYLOR: It’s just been the best time in my life and I couldn’t have asked for a more complex, more fulfilling character to play.

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ArticleGOTHAM: Robin Lord Taylor on the final episodes of Season 2 – exclusive interview Part 2

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