SPOILERS Ahead for tonight's episode of Gotham, "The Last Laugh!"
With a stab, and a sob, Jerome's tale came to an end tonight on Gotham. It was a shocking ending to a story that flew at a rapid pace for the last three weeks, escalating the threat of the character while also increasing everyone's certainty that this character just had to be The Joker.
Well, he may have been an aspect of The Joker, something actor Cameron Monaghan grasped onto when he first got the role. In a phone interview, Monaghan told ComicBook.com why Jerome as the Joker wasn't a red herring, talking instead about adding to the myth of the character. He also talked about his influences (both deliberate and subconscious), the Joker's legacy, and what it took to film his last scenes. He even weighed in on a certain theory about who else might become The Joker now that Jerome is out of the way, and which other DC character he'd like a shot at portraying.
Check out the full interview below, and have yourself a laugh in honor of the Joker-that-wasn't, Jerome.
Cameron, how early on did you know your character was an elaborate red herring? How did that affect your approach?
Cameron Monaghan: Well I think that “red herring” might be a bit of a misnomer, as no one exactly established what role he plays in the mythos. He is a part of the story, and that’s what we’ve always tried to tell people.
I tried to not let it affect my approach in that I was just trying to approach the character of Jerome within his own context, and applying the beats and the arc of the character, what felt natural and right with him in context of the scene. You know, you can’t be too concerned with the philosophical meanings of the character and how it will affect everything else. You can only approach the character as it is, so that’s what I tried to do.
Your performance has aspects of several great Jokers, with the elaborate line delivery of Ledger, the showmanship of Nicholson, and the pure delight (and laugh) of Hamill. How much was a concerted effort to draw from those while still adding your own stamp, or is that stuff that just really comes out of the character?
CM: I mean, those were performances that I admired so much growing up. Obviously, they’ve sunk into the popular consciousness, and they were also extremely near and dear to my heart – so much so that I didn’t want to touch the character at first, because they honestly intimidated me! There was no way that I was going to directly pull from those, at least consciously.
I’m sure that in some ways it’s sunken into my psyche and I’m not going to be able to help it (laughs), but we are playing very similar characters, and there is going to be a lot of crossover in that sense. Also, I think that each of their performances has directly affected the comics and redefined the character within other media. I tried to read as much of the comics as possible, and not just the classic runs like The Killing Joke or Laughing Fish and Joker’s Five Way Revenge, but also the new stories as well. Each of these actors have redefined the danger of the psychosis of the character in major ways that had ripple effects across the media. So I was just trying to find the core of those ripples, and then hopefully put them back into this in some way that made sense.
Very cool; so you read some of the more recent stuff like Death of the Family too?
CM: Yeah, Death of the Family, Endgame, pretty much every run I could get my hands on!
What is it to you about the Joker as a character and really as a concept that’s so lasting across 75 years and so many different interpretations across media?
CM: I think what has always attracted me to villains in general, but specifically to the Joker is the strange charisma; there’s something intoxicating about anyone who’s so firmly implanted in their beliefs and so completely defines their life in support of this idea, no matter how dangerous or destructive or horrific it is. The Joker really is the living embodiment of a full commitment to an ideal: the commitment to insanity.
Let’s talk a little bit about the climactic scene to me from episode 3, at the ball, when Jerome takes over. How was that shooting that scene? It seems like an immense challenge, leading this troupe of talented actors up to the shocking end.
CM: It was intimidating, and difficult, and exhausting! I was quite literally standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people in a spotlight (laughs) and doing so many strange things, and having to try to be the showman that this character is. He loves being in the spotlight in a way that I personally could never understand, but he loves it, so I had to embody it. It was a full five days of shooting, of fifteen hour days, just one scene after another after another. It was all trying to figure out how to escalate that and play around with it, but retain a sense of showmanship and danger and fun.
Thankfully, I had a really great director, who I have to give a shoutout, Eagle Egilsson, who really not only has a great visual sense, but also has a great sense of performance, and was able to kind of wrangle me.
The fact was by that third episode, I was really going off – I’d sometimes completely throw out the lines and say whatever was working, or felt right in that context. Him being able to structure that into anything that made sense really amazed me (laughs).
Interesting that you did a lot of improv, because it definitely felt very real and off-the-cuff.
CM: It was off-the-cuff but at the same time, it was coming from a really great base that they had given me. The sense of humor and the attitude and the confidence of all the action was built up in the last three episodes. That was there, and I was able to then crack as many jokes as I wanted to, and I had a captive audience, so there it was!
Your give and take with Erin (Richards, Barbara Kean on the show) was also notable. How was it working with her? It seemed like that relationship came very naturally to the two of you.
CM: Yeah, she is great, and she found a sense of comfort, with such a complete turnaround in the character from how the first season started to where she is now, it’s very impressive. She gave it back in a way that was great, because then I could keep giving; we were able to kind of push back with each other, and it was natural. The scenes wouldn’t have worked had there not been a chemistry in our performance, so I was thankful that it did work.”
Bruno Heller told me when I talked to him about this episode, “When we saw Cameron’s performance, there was a moment that we went, oh hell, he’s genius,” and they did second-guess a bit about having to kill you off so soon. If there was any way for Jerome to return (because hey, this is comics), is that a drop-of-the-hat opportunity for you?
CM: I mean, it would depend, just like it has every single time, on how it’s done, if it makes sense, what the ideas were. Obviously, I’ve had an extraordinary time and a fun time with the character so far. But I wouldn’t want to ever do something that felt forced or unnatural to the story that they were telling or to the story of the character. If they could find a natural, logical way to bring Jerome back? Then yeah, I probably would. But there’s no telling as of right now.
I have a personal theory I’ve been asking folks about – I think Barbara will be The Joker eventually on Gotham. What do you think about that, and do you have any other thoughts on who could or should be The Joker now that you’re out of the running?
CM: The great thing about this character is that he can sort of be anyone. I think that if Erin was given the opportunity, I’m sure she could do a great job with it. Regardless, she’s done an extraordinary job with Barbara as a character so far.
I don’t know! I wouldn’t be able to (laughs) tell you who my theory was, because I honestly have no idea! But I look forward to finding out.
Have you seen the final cut of the episode, and that sequence of “inspiration” while you’re lying on a slab?
CM: I actually haven’t seen any of the episodes (laughs). I don’t enjoy watching myself! I’m sure I will watch this at some point because I want to see what this extraordinary crew and these actors have done, I want to see all of that, but I just haven’t quite built up the nerve to it yet.
You have to watch the last five minutes or so of this episode at least! What’s something that surprised you about your time on Gotham?
CM: I have to say, it was an extraordinarily warm set, which is something that I wasn’t sure it was going to be. I think a lot of times, network shows are under a lot of mandates, there’s a lot of moving pieces, there’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of people who are going to be disappointed if anything goes wrong. From the crew to the actors to the network, it was an extremely welcoming environment in a way that I just honestly wasn’t expecting. This show is grim and gothic and it’s about dark subject matter, and I didn’t know how it was going to be on set.
Now that you’ve had a taste of comic book adaptations, and it sounds like you’re a fan, are there any others you’re dying to be a part of?
CM: I don’t know! (laughs) It would just depend on what it is… but to be honest, I’d like to be Batman!