Gotham: Bruno Heller on Origin Stories and the City as a Character

by Clarissa / September 17, 2014

The highly anticipated new series Gotham is premiering very soon. You may have seen previews that introduce fans to some of the main characters of the show (watch here and here), but now the executive producer Bruno Heller shares his thoughts on fleshing out the origin stories of Gotham’s villains, how much of a role the city itself will play in the show, and whether there are any characters that will definitely not be seen on Gotham.

The Format of the Show. When the wide variety of villains introduced in the pilot was brought up, Heller admitted that it’s something they did on purpose, but also something that will slow time as the episodes go by. “Obviously, the demands of opening big mean that we will frontload it with lots of characters in front just to indicate where we’re going. As the show rolls on, it won’t be villain of the week simply because these are such great villains and their story lines are so big and epic that it would be short changing everyone if we did it in that sort of production line way. So there are a lot of big characters in that first episode, but as it rolls on, other iconic characters will be introduced, but in a much more measured way, if you like.”

Gotham as its Own Character. “It’s an urban story, it’s about city life. I think often it’s kind of a dream world that everybody shares. Everyone has a vision of Gotham in their mind, so you really have to create a three-dimensional, believable world that is both believable but a notch above reality, that has that fantastic element. Both me and Dan Cannon, the director, had kind of seminal moments in New York in the ‘70s when it was a really gnarly, dark, but very sexy and attractive, charismatic place. So that’s the seed of the city is that old New York. The show very much relies – Danny and his crew did such an amazing job creating a believable but fantastic world. What that allows us to do is it allows the actors inside that city to be a notch up. It’s both real but slightly surreal, and that means you have a broad and powerful canvas to work off of. So Gotham is a central character. It’s not an accident we call it Gotham.”

The Benefits of Filling in the Blanks. “This is a world that everyone knows. Everyone knows who Batman is, everyone knows who the Riddler is and who the Joker is, so telling their fully fledged, adult stories is kind of – it’s not been-there-done-that, but it’s tough to find a fresh way in. This way, you get to learn how things go to be the way they are, and that, to me, is one of the great gifts of good narrative. It’s like seeing pictures of your parents before you were born. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about that period before the period we know, and that’s really the feeling we were going for. I hope that answers the question.”

The Balance of Telling Origin Stories. When asked specifically about the Cobblepot/Penguin character in the pilot, Heller talked about how they want to stay true to the character that everyone knows, but that Gotham as a prequel also allows him some flexibility: “It’s a tricky balance, because obviously you don’t want to simply create a new character. You have to create a character that is that iconic character and you recognize who that is and they have to have their iconic characteristics. But on the other hand, if we just deliver the character that people have seen before, than we’re failing the audience. There is so much – the Batman world is such a vast world full of so many great iterations of these characters that you can’t simply take those elements and regurgitate them. You have to give the audience a fresh look. For me, with Penguin [for example], it was important to be true to the psychology of that kind of person. The sort of graphic novel version of the character, as opposed to a comic book version of the character. In comic books, I wouldn’t say he’s more comedic, but he’s not – it’s hard to distil it down to an essence. It just seemed to me that that kind of person has to have some kind of [indiscernible] with his character. There’s also a certain amount of charm. Also, this is Penguin as a young man, striving and struggling and hungry. That’s going to be a very different character from who he is [indiscernible] and has reached his goals in life. Right now, he’s that hungry, violent, scrabbling character that he must have been to get where he got to.”

Any DC Characters That Won’t Show Up? “There are certain characters that would be very, very difficult to put on the screen. That crocodile guy is a tough one – although we may go there. We haven’t excluded anyone from the mix, potentially. But generally what we’re looking at is characters where there is some drama or a story behind how they got to be the way they are, and we’re looking for characters who can live in the real world of Gotham as opposed to the even more super-real world of Metropolis, if you like. It’s not about super powers; it’s about super will, if you like. So we have veered towards those characters who are interesting as people rather than interesting for their particular power or their particular gimmick or their costume. So that’s how I would divide that world. But the simple answer is no. We’re ready to go with any of them.”

Don’t miss the series premiere of Gotham on Monday, September 22 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Clarissa is Managing Editor at ScreenFad and former Managing Editor of TVOvermind. A lover of genre shows (like Supernatural and Arrow) and quality dramas (like The Good Wife and Homeland), Clarissa provides on set and event coverage as well as news, spoilers and reviews for all things TV and movies. Follow her at @clarissa373 or email her at clarissa @