‘Gotham’ exclusive: Cory Michael Smith on Edward Nygma’s season 3 evolution, impending Riddler transformation

Gotham -Is “Gotham” season 3 the year of Edward Nygma? There are moments when it certainly feels that way, as we’ve seen a character who is more ruthless and confident than ever before. He’s become closer to his famed Batman counterpart the Riddler, but there is still some of that kindness and caring that lies underneath the surface. It is in those moments, such as with his relationship with Isabella, where you start to wonder whether or not this character could have a different outcome. Unfortunately, these moments of hope never last too long for him.

On Monday night’s new episode, we saw the beginning stages of Nygma’s new plan, one to seek revenge on Oswald over the death of Isabella, and one that involves him methodically breaking the character down psychologically. He’s damaged his public persona, and in the process caused Oswald to believe that he’s seeing visions of his late father Elijah. Judging from what Cory Michael Smith told us in our latest interview, this may be just the beginning of the turmoil coming up for Oswald. We spoke about Nygma’s revenge tour, his thoughts on the season to date, and how we could be seeing more of the Riddler’s true birth as we move further into the season.

CarterMatt – So how has this journey been for you so far this season? How are you feeling about it?

Cory Michael Smith – It’s been quite enjoyable for me. I feel like his evolution has been one of the more extreme ones on the show, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. At this point, it’s not necessarily about what’s airing at the moment — we just aired episode 12, and we have two more in this little winter [run] — but when when we come back in the spring with episode 15, the title of that episode is ‘How the Riddler Got His Name.’ I’m having a f—ing ball.

How much of a sense did you have before the season that this was going to be such a prominent season for Ed, or are you more flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to when you learn about things?

I had certain ideas, vague story-points that they sort of give us to guide us and let us know about trajectory; but things move rather quickly in ‘Gotham.’ Some of it may be stuff that I can prepare myself [for] to know where we’re going, but it’s really not until I read full episodes and understand specific events and the nuances of them before I can really understand what’s next, or how he feels about people or what he needs to do.

The thing I can have conversations with them about is versions of the Riddler that I respond to, or I think are exciting or appropriate for our show stylistically or what I want to do. I’m really happy with where we’re going, and I don’t feel like we’re flying by the seat of our pants very much.

What have you made of this character’s evolution, from this sheepish, strange guy in the lab to a major power player? He started this season institutionalized, and now it’s almost like one of the inmates is running the asylum, so to speak.

I think it’s beautiful — you know, art mirrors life (laughs). I think what’s really exciting is that Ed is not bashful about his intelligence, and what’s really exciting for him is that he’s got this big project. He’s out to ruin Penguin, and if that actually works, he has to figure out how to run the city himself. That’s where we are heading — whether or not that actually works is another thing, but he’s undertaking quite a sophisticated plot. It’s quite bold and I’m really excited about it. If he pulls it off he will have a lot of power with Barbara, whether he wants it or not.

What is it about Nygma where he allows himself to get so close to people so quickly? We saw some of that when it comes to how quickly he forged a bond with Oswald, and then also with Isabella. Is there just something within him that reaches for that connectivity after spending so long feeling alone and on the outside?

He’s a little inconsistent with it, but I do think he yearns for connection, which is something that we saw in the very beginning with him. I do think that his emotional judgment is not as developed as the other parts of his brain. I think this row with Oswald is going to be a turning point in his ability to have or want friendships. I think maybe Gordon made him feel like he was kind of used or not actually appreciated, despite thinking they were friends. This one is different because it’s about betrayal on a really deep level. He was your best friend, the person who cares for you and who understands you the most. You look to as more of a mentor and a guide. When you have this person who you admire and respect [so much], it’s really devastating [when the betrayal happens].

It’s so funny. I’ll read on Twitter — we have all of these devoted fans who are really active, and they are super loyal to specific characters. It’s so funny to me how protective people are of Oswald — they’ll write things to me like ‘Ed, don’t be so mean, don’t be a snake, why are you doing this to [Oswald],’ and I’m like ‘are you ‘f—ing kidding me? Look at what this guy did!’ It might have been out of love but it’s really horrendous. Edward is really responsible for a lot of Oswald’s success behind the scenes, so to seek retaliation and retribution is kind of easy for him at this point. Oswald’s running a lot of stuff, but Ed was the one really running everything. I think for him to seek revenge is in this world quite understandable.

We said it in last night’s episode — once we’ve damaged the bird and ruined his life, we’ll put him out of misery. We don’t need to see him suffer forever and ever; let him see his empire fall, relish in that, and put him out of his misery. There’s a little bit of respect there (laughs).

So I take it there’s not any way that Oswald’s going to be able to win him back?

I don’t think there’s anything he can do. It’s much more than Isabella. Ed fell for her so quickly and it really felt like what Kringle represented — this normal life. I think there’s a part of him that knows he’s good at scheming, and he could be this criminal, but there’s an option [that was there]. He felt like a man, he felt normal, he felt like there was someone he was really connected to. The way that he hated himself for ruining it with Kristen, the second time he finds normalcy and it is taken from him. It was his best friend who betrayed him, and that’s tough! It feels like any chance that he has of being normal is over now.

You guys are in a little bit of a Jerome arc, and while I have these ideas of you and Cameron [Monaghan] getting to do things together, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Will Jerome potentially being back serve as a distraction so that Ed and Barbara can execute their plans without anyone getting involved?

Absolutely. It does work as a distraction unintentionally. The way that we have it structured is that they’re separate in the world, so they really don’t know what’s going on (laughs). The stories we have are in three arcs. We have the Jerome resurrection, which I’m super-stoked about, Selina’s mom and how it affects her, and then Oswald and Ed. Episode 14 is when all of these stories are going to come together, and it’s just insane. These things are living in different worlds, but they all impact each other and you’ll see that in [episode 14].

[Jerome] does kind of clear the city for what I’m doing. Nobody’s really worried about my actions. 14 is MASSIVE. As my plot against Oswald continues, I can’t really be around much. In 12 and 13, I’m hardly there because it works better if he’s not suspected at all. In 14, as we try to land this plane, I’ll be around quite a bit.

For you, is it more fun to play the character more unhinged, or do you enjoy showing off more of Ed’s human side? I know for me those scenes with Butch and Tabitha earlier this season were on another level.

I do relish the scenes that are a little more unhinged, where he’s a little unbalanced — but I also feel like those are earned from when he is strategizing or a little more calm. The thing that happens when he becomes Riddler is that he develops a persona in public, and that’s something that we’re playing with a little bit right now. He’s figuring out who he is, and how he wants to be written about in the papers. What happens after episode 15, ‘How the Riddler Got His Name,’ is this other color that we’re getting to try out now and it’s something I’m having a lot of fun with. I was really interested in having a Riddler who is a showman — not in the Jim Carrey way, but in a way where there is a flourish and some presentation. I wanted him to bring some class to criminality in a city that is often gruesome.

What’s the sentiment like with the cast right now on season 4? Is there optimism, and do you get the sense that the writers are starting to get together some stories?

I work with wonderful people, so of course we all want this to go on. I know that the producers and the writers are prepared for season 4 and they have some great ideas. It’s certainly being talked about and planned creatively. But, it’s only on the air if Fox says yes, and I don’t talk to anyone over there. I don’t what the actual plan is, but I know that creatively we’re excited about it.

We want to thank Cory for his time and his candor, and be sure to check out the next new episode of “Gotham” Monday night on Fox. For more news, including episode reviews and other content, be sure to head over to the link here. (Photo: Fox.)

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