Gotham interview: Sean Pertwee on Alfred, Bruce, Ra’s al Ghul, and season 4 hopes

Sean PertweeWith Gotham season 3 returning on Fox at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight, there was no better time to preview the upcoming batch of episodes — especially when it comes to the Alfred – Bruce relationship. The Court of Owls has taken hold in the story, and with Ra’s al Ghul looming now in the shadows, Bruce’s slow journey towards Batman may be about to heat up.

Given that Alfred’s been through everything with Bruce so far, how will the story ahead change their relationship? We spoke with Sean Pertwee this morning about this, the course of the story to date, and the optimism surrounding a season 4 renewal.

CarterMatt – I want to start with this past episode, which I do really think is one of the best episodes of the show so far. When you get a script like that with so many big moments, what’s the reaction to it?

Sean Pertwee – For some of us in the company — we like to call ourselves a company — it was the pinnacle of some of our work so far. There’s been this sort of tremendous swell of support from the fan base, and people really understand and trust us now. That was a real benchmark section with the Jerome story. It was a culmination of not just performances, but the world. It was jelled and unified. Everyone was on the same page for the first time. You could see Gotham start to bubble and rise to the surface.

There’s been this huge descent [into darkness], and it will continue to get darker and weirder. I’ve said this before, but from the ashes the Batman rises. We have to get to the bottom, but within the archness and perverseness of the city now there is a sense of enjoyment with the lunacy in the city. Jerome, you can see, is a huge influence in that. He’s influencing [the progression] in people like Edward Nygma, who you will see tonight. The pendulum swings, and you’re going to see him become the Riddler after starting out as this child-like misfit. He gets to his lowest, and then he swings upward to where he starts to enjoy [what he does]. I think that’s applicable to the rest of Gotham. A lot of that stems from characters like Jerome.

What I love is the different ways in which the characters react to the story and the city, which is breathing on its own. It’s running out of control. It’s turning into the land of nightmares and dreams that people expect from us.

There were two scenes I really enjoyed from this past episode in particular — the one where you’re fighting off some of Jerome’s guys with Jim Gordon, and then you had that powerful one at the end where Bruce determines that he’s not going to kill. He’s forged that one part of his code.

That was one of my most favorite scenes. It was one of the most important moments, since they don’t have to butt heads … They’re acting almost as one. He allowed Bruce to get there on his own. He allows him to make the decision. It was a huge relief that he got there by himself, and that starts to segue them into the relationship that people know and love.

With that said, there is a huge [wrench] thrown in that you should experience any second now on the show. It goes to a place that I find extraordinary. Towards the last four episodes of the season, it goes to a place where we’re all extremely excited [to watch]. I can’t wait to see it. It pushes our relationship further, as did that scene [in 3×14]. I think that was a well-deserved scene over three years of this boy’s dark existence, working to become the man he will later be. It was one of the first rules carved in stone for Batman — ‘I will not kill.’ He makes that decision with Jerome, and Alfred’s there behind him to back him up.

It was a very powerful scene, and we’re really proud of it. It was beautifully written.

What’s the evolution of your own relationship with David [Mazouz]? I’m sure just as Alfred and Bruce are evolving, the same could be said for the two of you.

It is sort of bizarre how Gotham mimics life. I spend so much time with him — I spend as much time with him as I do my own son, because my son’s being educated in England.

Being able to work with someone of his caliber, but also as young as David is, it’s so interesting. Our relationship is so set in stone that we find ourselves around each other easily. I’m so fond of him and I love working with him, and the development seems to be completely natural. Seeing him get [to where he is] has been nothing but a joy to me as an actor myself. There’s such trust that I think people can see the relationship between the two is close, and I think that’s the most important thing. They’re dysfunctional, and they have this sort of dysfunctional relationship, but they find functionality through that in a way. It works — they’re on these different ends of the spectrum, but they find each other in the middle. The boy helps the man as much as the man helps the boy.

Going forward, and with Bruce becoming this man and with that relationship being accepted, things change. Bruce realizes that Alfred isn’t going anywhere and that he’s going to stand by him — he’d throw himself in front of a train to protect that boy. They can [work together in a stronger way]. There are still some bumps and turns at the end of the season, but there’s some stuff that is rather off the chain.

I know it’s already out there that Ra’s al Ghul is going to be appearing at some point this season. Can you speak to what his arrival means, especially in terms of the Bruce – Alfred relationship?

It’s a long journey getting there, since you have to go through the Court of Owls and we explore that territory. It then continues on with another character you will meet [soon]. It’s a ranking system that they go through, and the pinnacle there is Ra’s al Ghul. He’s the head of heads, who you will meet at the end of the day. The thing is that there are curveballs along the way.

In talking about emotionality, things go to an extremely dark and an extraordinarily place. Boy, can David Mazouz act. They put him through the wringer in the penultimate episode and the finale, which segue into each other. I watched this young man do 15 takes giving every possible emotion, living it and breathing it. When you’re two and three inches from someone’s face and you see everything that they’re putting themselves through, it’s terrifyingly good. He’s extraordinary. The fans will not be disappointed and they’ll be hungry for more … as are we. That’s the nature of our profession at the moment. We’re itching to get back into the driver’s seat for next season in terms of what’s coming up. We want to see the journey continue.

I know you’re still waiting to see a season 4 renewal just like we are; what’s the sentiment among the cast and crew. Is there optimism?

I was with Robin [Lord Taylor] and Drew [Powell] this weekend, and the feeling we all have is very strong that we’re continuing. We feel like we’ll be seeing each other in June when we’re supposed to be back. I know there are possibilities of strikes with the Writers Guild, but we are full steam ahead. We know where we are going, and we continue to talk with the showrunners about that.

We’re all extremely positive. We have this immense support from the Batman and DC universe. I think they understand our interpretation of the world. I think we’re working to influence the perception on some of these characters because that was the original intention of Bruno [Heller], Danny [Cannon], and John Stephens. We were meant to see these characters at a time we’d never seen them before, and how these people became who they became and why. We know how these characters end up, but we’re seeing how they get there — emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Now, people are really interested in the backstory of Alfred, which has never been explored, and his relationship with Thomas. That’s something that I would love to be able to look into — what the [nature of their] bond was.


I know that this is such an enormous cast, but moving forward now into the end of this season or season 4, are there people you are interested in continuing to work with?

All of them, really. It’s a large company, but you often find yourself drawn to someone. With Donal [Logue], for example — I just got done doing a lot of stuff with Donal. There’s this weird thing that doesn’t leap off the page at you, but the approach to the world of Gotham is not dissimilar. You find these magnetic attractions and repulsions with people you meet along the way.

I love working with Chris Chalk, and the bond between Alfred and Lucius. They trust each other. I would love to work with him more, and I love the development of watching Bruce Wayne starting to slowly become a man, which he is now. He’s maybe as tall as I am now, and he can throw a punch!

I’d love to work with Donal more, with Ben [McKenzie] more. That’s the great thing about the show — although the world may be slightly heightened, it’s also grounded into a sense of reality. Our characters do cross path, and there’s a reason and the danger is real. The caliber of acting is at such a high order that the sparks always fly. [Take] when you saw Penguin and Nygma butt up against each other, or when you see Lee meeting Jim for the first time; there’s a palpable sense of love in the air.

When you put any one of the characters up against another one, it’s exciting every time. So, to answer your question, I am looking forward to working with everyone.

Further Gotham news

Thanks to Sean for all of the time and the responses! As a reminder, tonight’s new episode “How the Riddler Got His Name” airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and you can preview that further over at the link here.

Meanwhile, be sure to sound off with some of your thoughts on this interview now in the comments. (Photo: Fox.)

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