Actor Ben McKenzie (Col ’01)—best known for his roles on the dramas Southland and The O.C.—is a Batman fan, but not a hardcore fan.
That’s ironic, given he’s the first actor to play both Batman and Commissioner James Gordon. McKenzie, 36, portrayed Batman (and alter-ego Bruce Wayne) in 2011’s animated movie Batman: Year One—based on the best-selling graphic novel—and currently plays Gordon on the FOX TV series Gotham, which is in its first season.
“It’s both exciting to be a part of this kind of mythology that’s been around for 75 years, but it’s also a bit daunting,” says McKenzie.
Gotham takes place more than two decades before Batman comes on the scene. Here, Gordon is a young detective, rather than the middle-aged police commissioner. The first episode begins with the parents of 9-year-old Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) gunned down before his eyes, which sets him down his path to becoming the Dark Knight. In the aftermath of their murder, Gordon—one of the few idealistic, honest cops in a corrupt police force—is assigned the high-profile case.
Determined to catch the Waynes’ killer, Gordon runs afoul of gangsters Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman), as well as those who will become Batman’s deadliest enemies: Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) and the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor).
“You can walk down any alley in Gotham and encounter some bizarre human being who might become a villain or a hero,” McKenzie says. “In Gotham … we want to keep the sense of realism, but at the same time, it is fantastical.”
When he took the role, McKenzie told series creator Bruno Heller that Gordon, while an honest cop, can’t be naïve and completely blown away by the corruption so prevalent in Gotham.
“He can be idealistic, but he has to understand that people are capable of terrible, terrible things because he’s a war hero. He served overseas; he’s seen terrible things himself,” explains McKenzie. “[Gordon] is an old-school hero—just a man—completely fallible, who can’t jump over buildings. I think that grounds it in more of a sense of reality.”
Adds co-star Victoria Cartagena, who plays Det. Renee Montoya: “He has this quiet stillness while he works that reads so strong on the screen. His choices are bold, yet subtle, and it makes his Jim Gordon a force to be reckoned with.”