Gotham star Ben McKenzie has acted in many popular television series throughout his career, but the actor is finally taking a turn behind the camera.
The man who portrays Jim Gordon on the Batman-themed Fox show is making his directorial debut with the upcoming episode, “Heroes Rise: These Delicate And Dark Obsessions.”
McKenzie spoke with the 21st Century Fox blog about the preparation for directing the DC Comics-based TV show, the difference between directing and acting, and how helming a production compares to fatherhood.
McKenzie, who appeared on the OC and Southland, said that the writing staff had to prepare the show’s production so that he could properly prepare for his directorial debut, which explains why his character wasn’t featured as prominently in last week’s episode.
“They wrote the episode so I was on location in 15, so we could shoot everything in one day,” McKenzie said. “I only missed one day of prep to film as an actor in episode 15, and that allowed me to go through the full process, which, honestly, I've been through before because I've shadowed directors both on Southland and Gotham.”
The first-time director also revealed a key piece of advice he received from the show’s executive producer Danny Cannon: “Don't make a decision on something you don't need to make a decision on quite yet.”
“Everyone's going to come to you and ask you to make a million decisions on the first day. You don't need to make them all immediately,” McKenzie said. “Some you need to make early on because they're more important and determine the rest of the shooting. Many can wait. You can take your time, think about them, and come to a more reasoned and thought-through decision later on, and everyone benefits from that.”
McKenzie spoke about his relationship with the cast, saying it was an effortless adjustment to go behind the camera.
“We have a very good cast who is very professional, very accommodating. I think I was more nervous than they were because the first time you switch roles and you're on the other side, you're trying to guide a scene into a direction that you think fits the story,” he said. “So, you have all these ideas in your head and, of course, when you show up and the actors come and bring all their ideas to it that are usually infinitely better than your own, you need to meld the two. You need to still accomplish what you set out to do and tell the story, but you need to listen to their input and use their input. It worked remarkably well.”
Delving into spoiler territory for the episode that has yet to air, McKenzie spoke about some of his favorite scenes from the episode as well as the opportunity to contribute to the Batman mythos.
There's a scene where James Remar, who plays my uncle [Frank Gordon], reveals that he effectively killed my father, pulls the trigger on himself and commits suicide in front of me. It's a very challenging scene emotionally. That was a scene I felt had to be handled delicately, for obvious reasons, and shot a certain way – more still than anything else. I wanted the dialogue and performance to speak for themselves. I'm very proud of how it worked. I'm also proud of the work of David Mazouz [who plays Bruce Wayne] with Raymond J. Barry, who plays The Shaman character who's mentoring Bruce. I think both David and Ray did excellent work, and their storyline in the episode culminates with Ray giving a call to action to Bruce saying that the city needs a protector and needs to be defended, and you see the beginnings of that glint in Bruce's eye showing he will become the Batman. With a slow camera push-in and the beautiful score swelling behind it, it's quite a moving little piece and I'm proud of it. Robert Hull, who wrote the episode and whom I should give a lot of credit to, delivered on some great dialogue. As a fan of the Batman canon, it was a real treat for me to direct an iconic scene like that.
McKenzie compared the experience to being a new father, as he just had a baby with co-star Morena Baccarin, and said he makes “lots of mistakes, and begging for mercy is never a bad thing, whether it's with an actor, a producer, a crew member or a 1-year-old baby.”
“You have to know what you're doing, come prepared, and adjust on the fly to the problems that will inevitably arise and fix them as best you can. That is quite a lot like being a parent,” McKenzie said. “You are responsible for this little human being, or human beings in my case. At the end of the day, they can't feed themselves, clothe themselves or put a roof over their heads, and you've got to plan it out. The difference with being a director is that, in a sense, you're a father to grown children. These are smart, capable, successful people in their own right. You're just the one who has to ultimately make the call.”
You can check McKenzie’s first go as a director on the upcoming episode of Gotham, “Heroes Rise: These Delicate And Dark Obsessions,” airing Monday, May 1 at 8p EST. Check out the synopsis below.
Gordon discovers new information about his father and uncle's past just as the Court of Owls devises a new plan for the future of Gotham.
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The regular cast features: Ben McKenzie as Detective James Gordon, Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Morena Baccarin as Leslie Thompkins, Sean Pertwee as Alfred, Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, Erin Richards as Barbara Kean, Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle/the future Catwoman, Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma/the future Riddler, Jessica Lucas as Tabitha Galavan, Chris Chalk as Lucius Fox, Drew Powell as Butch Gilzean, Maggie Geha as the future Poison Ivy, Michael Chiklis as Detective Nathaniel Barnes, and Benedict Samuel as Mad Hatter.
The guest cast includes James Remar as Frank Gordon and H. Foley as Winston Peters.
In crime ridden Gotham City, Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered before young Bruce Wayne's eyes. Although the idealistic Gotham City Police Dept. detective James Gordon, and his cynical partner, Harvey Bullock, seem to solve the case quickly, things are not so simple. Inspired by Bruce's traumatized desire for justice, Gordon vows to find it amid Gotham's corruption. Thus begins Gordon's lonely quest that would set him against his own comrades and the underworld with their own deadly rivalries and mysteries. In the coming wars, innocence will be lost and compromises will be made as some criminals will fall as casualties while others will rise as supervillains. All the while, young Bruce observes this war with a growing obsession that would one day drive him to seek his own revenge as The Batman.