Ben McKenzie on Directing Gotham’s “A Dark Knight: One of My Three Soups”
WARNING: Spoilers for Gotham
GothamÂ star Ben McKenzie dons another hat in tonight’s episode, “One of My Three Soups,” when he takes on the role of director in addition to his day job playing Jim Gordon.
While it’s not his first time behind the camera, it is one of the more ambitious episodes in recent memory and so he had his work cut out for him. TV Goodness took part in a Q&A with McKenzie where he talked about the directing process for the episode, as well as how he crafted particular moments with Bruce and Selina as well as with the many delightful villains that take to the streets this week.
The biggest shift for him when tacklingÂ GothamÂ as a director rather than as an actor was understanding what a small part of a larger process he is. “It definitely affects your understanding of your place in the cosmos in a very humbling way,” McKenzie explains. But precisely because he deals with these characters on a weekly basis, he had more experience with exactly what they needed.
“No one knows the show better than me. Well, Danny Cannon, and after that me,” he jokes. “I know the tone, I know the characters. I know where we are in the story in terms of their evolution.” One way in which he differs from journeyman directors is that he had the room to work more one-on-one with them. “[I] give them a lot more feedback than I think theyâ€™re used to hearing.Â I know what traps not to get into, and how to talk to people.”
One moment in “One of My Three Soups” that required special attention was an intense moment between Bruce (David Mazouz) and Selina (Camren Bicondova) that McKenzie is particularly proud of in retrospect. “I specifically wanted to lean into how much we as an audience want them to figure it out,” he recalls. “We want them to be able to have these tender moments of affection. [That scene] was very important to me… And they were game for it. They have grown a lot in four years, and to watch them come into themselves and be able to use that to bounce off of each other was really rewarding.”
But there’s a lot more violence this week than romance, and much of McKenzie’s directorial work involved balancing the gore with the grounded nature of the show. “I prefer when the violence is rooted [in reality],” he shares.
For example, the opening sequence is one that is shocking but still manages not to feel gratuitous. “Charlie, the writer, wrote a sequence that was obviously brutal and incredibly violent but spoke to the control and power that Mad Hatter had.”
And it’s not just the Mad Hatter who’s wreaking havoc, asÂ Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome Velaska plays a major role in the proceedings. “The end of the season sort of kicks it off, but it becomes even more a story of his Machiavellian plans to either take over Gotham or destroy it trying,” McKenzie teases. “And it was really fun to work with him.”
Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) is also on an interesting and evil journey of her own that was teased at the end ofÂ Gotham last week, involving Ra’s Al Ghul and the Demon’s Head. “There is a female empowerment story in there,” McKenzie ventures, “But itâ€™s masked by a power struggle and acknowledgement that Barbara is a sick, sick person. She has a journey sheâ€™s going to be on, and she has a responsibility to kill a lot of people. Sheâ€™s up for that.”
One villain who may not be as up for it is Tabitha (Jessica Lucas), whose loyalty to Barbara may be stretched too thin once once more. “Tabby is somewhat playing the role of the Bullock to [Barbaraâ€™s] Gordon,” Mckenzie hints. Questioning her boss and friend can only lead to tension in the weeks to come, but if anyone can handle themselves in a catfight it’s those two.
Beyond the array of villains, “One of My Three Soups” also relies heavily on special effects in a way that McKenzie’s previous directorial effort did not. “The first script that I got was a more introverted story, much more of a slow burn,” he remembers. “This one was much bigger, obviously. A lot of action, a lot of green screen work, a lot of big set pieces. We had several hundred background performers in several scenes.”
Thankfully, he was less afraid of tackling such a challenge this time and instead focused on making sure the post-production team had everything they needed from him as a director. “This is a lot of work that a lot of people are doing, they need to have the tools to be able to do their job. They can always fix a lot of it, but your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them.”
Looking towards the future ofÂ Gotham, McKenzie admits that he has no idea if there will be a fifth season or not. But if there is, might Barbara and Jim ever become romantic again? “I would never say anything is completely off the table,” he acknowledges. “Maybe we donâ€™t have to tell Jim and Barbara having a baby in the run of Gotham. That could happen five years from now when Barbaraâ€™s even crazier.”
Jim may not be as off-the-wall as Barbara is, but heÂ hasÂ gotten a little dirtier by necessity in the last few years just as young Bruce has become more steadfast in his beliefs. “Bruce coming into his own at the same time as Jim has sort of meandered in his journey because he canâ€™t help but do so helps equalize them a little bit more,” McKenzie explains, likening the new dynamic to one that’s similar to Jim and Harvey’s. “It makes it a more well-rounded relationship. Jim could try to lecture Bruce again, but Bruce probably wouldnâ€™t take it as fact.”
At the end of the day, McKenzie’s favorite thing about bothÂ Gotham and Jim as a character is precisely that weathered and jaded aspect. “Thereâ€™s always been a sadness to Gordon,” he muses. “What I like is actually to watch the world beat him down and knock him to shreds [while he has] to get up in the morning and pick himself up every day.” His summation of Jim Gordon is actually rather poetic: “[He’s] this everyman hero keeping the wolves at bay as best he can until they ultimately need a guy dressed as a bat to save them.”
Gotham “A Dark Knight: One of My Three Soups” airs tonight at 8/7c on Fox.
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