‘Gotham’ season 2 exclusive: Sean Pertwee on Alfred’s arc, Bruce’s decision, exploring the past

“Gotham” is currently in the midst of a rather-nice run of episodes, and specifically, we’re coming off of a huge one for the Bruce Wayne and Alfred characters. After Bruce opted not to pull the trigger on Matches Malone, he still made the decision to leave Alfred behind to live out on the streets and take on the reality of the city. This, of course, could have huge ramifications in the relationship between our young Master and his butler / protector / master of many other things.

Earlier this week, we spoke to the man behind Alfred in Sean Pertwee about his character’s arc, looking after Bruce through these tough times, and why sometimes the present really is the best way to get to know a character better. One funny thing is that we had actually asked Sean in the interview about the possibility of a season 3 renewal, which was actually announced mere hours later while we were in the process of getting this together.

CarterMatt – So how are things going on set? I have to imagine that you are rather close to finishing this season.

Sean Pertwee – We are sort of an exceptionally close family on ‘Gotham.’ We’re very proud of the way of the show’s expanding, of the fact that our audience and our fan base is growing every week. Our re-imagining of a lot of characters that people love and hold so dear is being accepted. [We’re giving characters like] Fries, as you saw in an extraordinary episode a couple of weeks ago, a ‘Romeo & Juliet’ sort of love affair with his wife, these are wonderful sorts of backstories that have never really been witnessed before. It’s been so well-received. It’s been a great way to go out with the second season, and I think the whole second season has been like that. We’re very proud. Tired (laughs), but proud.

I want to talk about some of what we saw on this past episode, where you had some of those brutal scenes with Cupcake. What was it like working on that scene in particular?

Well we have an extraordinarily talented stunt team, and you can talk to any of the guys [about the technical aspect]. I’ve still got a penchant for doing as much stuff as I can myself, because I love doing that and getting the opportunity to turn out and show physically Alfred’s past, the fact that he can take care of himself. It was a big reveal for the first time when you saw him fight, when he did that in season 1, and people started to realize why he was there. So it was great doing it, and now the writers know I love doing it so I’ve been able to have a couple of different altercations, one with the great Jessica Lucas (Tabitha), and one with Cupcake, Jamar [Greene]. There’s a huge one coming up before the end of the season.

I do tend to splat [now]; I don’t bounce up like I used to (laughs). I am 51, so the next day it sort of wanes, and I sort of feel the burn, as it were.

When you were first joining the show, was this a side of Alfred you knew was going to be explored?

No, not necessarily. It was something I was very keen on doing, and I had spoken to Bruno [Heller], our showrunner, and John Stephens and Danny Cannon, about the direction in which we wanted to go. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time at the Kill House in Herefordshire, where [the SAS, the Special Air Service] train … We made him SAS because there are several different things that you need to be to be in the Special Air Service. You have to be competent in medicine to small weapons to explosions to all of these elements. It was something that I was keen to do. Then when one of the [EPs] realized that I could look after myself, they started to include it more, and like I said it was meant to be a surprise what he could do. [It adds to the idea] that he was there to protect Thomas and Martha Wayne along with Master Bruce when he was very young. He was there as a protectorate, and not just a valet or butler.

I was hoping we were going to go down that route, and the more active Bruce becomes the more active Alfred is.

At the end of this past episode we saw Bruce declare that he wanted to be on the streets where he could experience the real world and see it for what it was. How do you think Alfred is coping with that?

With the utmost of horror, of course! It changes the relationship between Alfred and Master Bruce considerably. People say it’s a dysfunctional relationship, and it errs towards not working. It’s a bizarre relationship. Ever since Alfred almost died and was almost stabbed by his former SAS comrade, he sort of questions his own mortality and realizes his life’s work is important. He has to be there to protect this young man.

With any teenager, they are always going to elbow their way towards trying to find their own path. They have to come apart in order to bunch back together, and I think Alfred to his dismay, has to accept that. There will be an indication that they have to go through these processes. I have a teenage son like Alfred myself, and you have to find ways to be able to communicate. They can go off on their own, but you hope that you can continue to [reach] a young person, especially a damaged young person like Master Bruce.

Would you say that he will be content to just let him be out on the streets? There is a part of me that imagines Alfred almost hiding around every corner spying on him.

I’ve always sort of said that Alfred always knows a lot more than he ever lets on, and he’s a pretty good judge of character, and normally he’s quite right. [The skills he brings to the] brilliant Chris Chalk, who plays Lucius Fox, will be more and more evident as the season progresses. He is teaming up with Alfred and with Bruce. They’re taking on big guys. They are vigilantes to a certain degree, detecting wrongdoings within Wayne Enterprises and in Gotham.

I don’t wan’t to give too much away, but I think [Bruce] is going to have to find himself in order to communicate with Alfred properly. They need to find a proper bond.

You mentioned in there some of the great stuff you’ve gotten to do with Chris Chalk, but we’ve also seen you with Lee Thompkins, Jim Gordon, and some other characters. Do you particularly look forward to these opportunities to step outside of [Alfred’s typical social circle] and spend time with other people?

I am rather lucky to work with Jada [Pinkett Smith] as Fish Mooney, and of course I had the chance to work with Lee Thompkins, Morena [Baccarin]. I love the fact that on the streets of Gotham you get to see the real Alfred. He’s very street-savvy, he uses language as a weapon, and that scene with Chris Chalk is actually one of my favorites … They used language in a way where you never quite knew where you [stood], and Chris Chalk kind of stonewalled Alfred. It was almost like a fencing match between the two of them, and I was very pleased with that. I am very pleased when Alfred is able to interact with all of Gotham, he’s a badass and people now know that. He’s a man of action.

He’s also got these strange relationships with some of these other characters. With Jim Gordon, he has this relationship where he doesn’t know if he is dodgy or not. With Harvey Bullock, they seem to be cut from the same cloth to an extent. That seems to be the fun stuff about the show, when you get a chance to work with so many different people. You get a chance to see which characters you have an affinity to and you’re really drawn towards. The great thing about the writing is that it always approaches things from a realistic aspect. It’s arched, but it is our world of Gotham and it’s firmly planted in our reality.

Do you think we’ll see a little bit more of Alfred’s past coming up soon?

I’ve talked to Bruno about this, and I almost feel like you get to see more about characters when you see them interact in the present. ‘How can he know that?’ ‘How did he do that?’ You start to discover that he’s a very complex character with a very complex past, and he’s [got a variety of skills] that people didn’t expect him to have. There’s a whole tapestry from the comics that is yet to be explored.

As we start to wrap this up, is there a strange sort of comfort of knowing that you have this point in the comics where this character is going? Are you comfortable knowing that Alfred will be around, or do you still have that same concern that he would die almost as though you would in any other job?

We’ve tried to stay away to a certain degree. I mean, I was a Batman fan before the show, and I knew a lot about the character and I have many favorites. You have to start by looking back [at the material], and looking at detail. I read a thing about him that he could get in an altercation without creasing his suit. To me that was a really telling portrait. What he wore was important, the specific little things he does [are important]. All of these elements are important, and then you start to build from there.

We’re very lucky on the show because we’ve been allowed 44 hours to build these characters. We know where they end up, with many of these characters, and [here] you know that you end up with Sir Michael Caine, the sort of Alfred people imagined that I would be initially. The fun part about our show is that we are allowed to recreate our characters with traits that haven’t been seen before, and the fact that Jeremy Irons, I’m going to the [Batman v. Superman] premiere and I can’t wait to see it, is coming on board [now with his own take on Alfred]. It’s like we are influencing the past to tell the story going forward, if that makes any sense at all. (Laughs.) We’re fleshing out the bones now, which is a great honor. Scary boots to fill from where we started, but as we gain confidence and our audience starts to grow, people accept our world.

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