‘Gotham’ stars discuss playing prototype Penguin and Catwoman

(CBR) Robin Lord Taylor and Camren Bicondova are among “Gotham's” crop of nascent bad guys — two proto-villains in what will eventually become the rogues gallery for the future Batman — and both actors have eagerly been doing their homework in order to breathe fresh life into iconic DC villains the Penguin and Catwoman.

Speaking with Comic Book Resources at Fox's summer party for the Television Critics Association, the young actors reveal their learning curves in the backstories of the Bat-villains and their various pop cultural interpretations, as well as how thrilled they are to part of the ever-expanding, ever-shifting mythology surrounding the Dark Knight.

CBR News: What got you excited about these iconic roles and being able to reinterpret them for a new generation?
Robin Lord Taylor: Well, as an actor, the opportunity to play a role that everybody is aware of, and to follow in the footsteps of amazing actors like Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito. And yet to still be able to illuminate a part of the character that's hasn't been seen before is incredibly exciting. I mean, it's really something that rarely, rarely happens. And so yeah, I'm thrilled about that.

Camren Bicondova: I'm really excited to be a part of this. This is like my big first [role].

This is your coming out party, basically.

Bicondova: Yeah, and so I'm really excited. The cast is amazing, and I get to learn from everybody. I love playing Selina Kyle because she's not Catwoman yet, and I get to read all these comic books and show how she becomes Catwoman. She's really interesting. You never really know what she's thinking. And she's either thinking something, or she's not, or she is. She's very complicated, so that's why I'm really excited to play her.

Have you found things in the source material — the comic books — or movies or television shows — that you've gotten inspiration from. Like, “Oh, that's a really cool angle that I think I want to try and play.”

Bicondova: Actually, I've been watching “Batman” from the '60s with Adam West, and I saw some episodes with Julie Newmar. I like how facetious she is, and I like how she's sexy in a way that — I know I'm still a teenager, so I can't be like acting like an adult as Selina Kyle, but I can still bring a little hint of that, and I think that's great. One of my favorite lines was when she and Batman were having a conversation and Batman said, “You are a very gorgeous woman, Catwoman.” And she leaned over the couch and said, “I know I am.” I thought that was the greatest thing — she's so confident!

The Penguin's an interesting character because for a long time, he was sort of foppish villain, and then Danny DeVito's interpretation was savage and brutal. And now, in the comics, he's more of a behind-the-scenes manipulator. Tell me where you're going with the character.

Taylor: Well, I feel like the portrayal in the television show and the portrayal in “Batman Returns,” you put them like in the middle, that's sort of where we are in “Gotham,” in the sense that like there is a savagery — there is an animal aspect to him. There is this incredible desire for power. And at the same time, he wants to be everybody's best friend. He wants to play everybody against each other. So I feel like those are two ends of the spectrum, and I want to bring both of them together to find where the Penguin is at this point in his life.

Over the course of the series, how Penguin-y do you think you're going to get? Are you going to go on full monocle and top hat, or will we see a variation on all of that?

Taylor: I don't know. I feel like the Penguin that where we start at in the pilot and then the Penguin that everybody knows are so far apart, and I feel — at least, I hope — that he's part-way there at the end of the first season, but there's a lot more development to happen for him. Ultimately, the exciting thing about the show is that different villains are introduced as we go along, and eventually, they're all going to have to work with each other. So that's a really exciting new thing, because that's going to form all of our personalities as well. Once, say, the Penguin meets Catwoman, for example, what is that interaction? How will that play out later? How does that affect both of them at this point in their lives which will then lead to where they end up as we all know them. It's exciting.

Carmen, we get little glimpses of you in the pilot. Does it continue on like that, or do you come a little further into focus early on?

Bicondova: I do come more into focus, but I do not want to spoil when. I want people to keep watching, so I'm not going to say when I come into play or when I have lines and when I don't. I would like to keep that on the low.

Have either of you had to pick up any specific skills to play your character?

Bicondova: Well, I've danced since I was 5, so that helps. And I also took Parkour classes, and that's helped with actually being able to do more of my own stunts rather than having my stunt double do them — which is really awesome, because I like doing my own stunts. It helps me feel like I'm more like Selina Kyle when I'm on set.

Taylor: For me, I would say, physically — it's a rare thing: I went to theater school, where we were trained physically. We learned how to bring physical choice to a character. When you work in television, oftentimes, you don't get to fully explore all of the facets that you were taught. This is really exciting because I actually do get to use some of that physical training, bringing that into his physicalization. Yeah, that's my favorite thing about it, actually. That's like putting on a suit. It's like stepping into character. It makes the job easier, you know.

It's the 75th anniversary of Batman, and you guys are now part of that long tapestry of the comics and movies and TV shows. What does it mean to you to be a part of that now?

Bicondova: It's an honor.

Taylor: I don't know if I can fully wrap my mind around it. All I want to do is be true to the material, and I want people to identify with this character. Even though, in a way, he's a monster, I wanted it to be a real, actual human being, as opposed to an archetype. That's my goal.

Bicondova: That's the other interesting thing about “Gotham,” is that although they're fictional characters, we get to bring them to life in a realistic time. That's also what I love. When I'm playing a character, I usually like to figure out what time zone it is, and that usually helps. But the thing about “Gotham,” it doesn't really have a time zone. It's almost like it's in limbo. It feels like it's in the '70s, but in the '70s, there were no flip phones. It's in the between. It's in the future, but it's in the past.

Do you remember your very first exposure to the character, the world of Batman, your gateway drug?

Taylor: My gateway drug was the first Tim Burton “Batman” film, which I saw opening night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and it blew my mind. I remember what it felt like outside when I walked out of the theater. It was an incredible introduction to the whole world.

Bicondova: To be honest, when I read the first script! And although it's different, it was the first script — and reading the first comics. I haven't seen all the movies to be able to say that it was like my breakthrough for Batman. I didn't really honestly get into comics until I found out that I got this role. And now, it's actually really intriguing!