Film Interview: Jeffrey Wright – The Batman, Or Going Pair-Shaped

March 7, 2022

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Jeffrey Wright stars as Lt James Gordon in The Batman.



How did this role come to you?

It came to me via phone call from my agent.


The old-fashioned way.

Yes, in the usual way. I got a call, and I was told that Matt [Reeves] wanted to get together and talk about his next film, that it was The Batman, and he was curious if I’d be interested in playing Jim Gordon. And so, I replied to my agent, yes, I would be interested in having that conversation with him. And so, I followed up with a meeting with Matt. I believe, if I’m not mistaken, I had not read the script at that point; he gave me the script at that meeting, and he just talked about his vision for Gotham and the ways in which he wanted to try to view The Batman and all the attendant characters through a fresh lens.


What did you think of Matt Reeves’ vision?

I was curious, I was excited, liked what I heard. I went and read the script. And, I found that it was a strong script and it also happened to be a Batman film, that he was trying to create something authentic and something grounded and something that didn’t make assumptions that we may ordinarily make with these films. And, it had this noirish quality to it. I thought it was an exciting revamping of the franchise, in a way that was meaty and dense and inviting to me. So I said, “Yeah, I’ll come on board. Yeah.” And away we went.


It’s year two for this character, and all of the surrounding characters, which is uncharted territory for us on the big screen. The DC Super-Villains come and go in the stories, but Gordon is a mainstay character; where The Batman goes, Gordon is always a part of it. So where is The Batman in his process of becoming this vigilante persona in this story, and how does Gordon factor into those actions?

I think The Batman is on the first floor of his journey as this vigilante/hero, and he’s compelled to do this for reasons that we begin to delve into in this film, in a way that I think is new. This is not an origin story. It’s a post-origin story. The Batman is, in some ways, made by his own hand. His costume is not hyper-refined, the Batmobile seems to be something that he’s crafted with his own mechanical hand. And so, this is early days. And I think what was interesting for me and for Gordon, in playing Gordon, is there’s a curiosity that’s built into that. And there’s still a mystery around his understanding of The Batman and the relationship that they are building. We’re not making a lot of assumptions in that we don’t assume that when The Batman walks into the space it’s like, “Oh, wow, that’s The Batman, he’s heroic. And isn’t that a cool suit?” Rather, I think, we look at him and go, “Wait, who is this guy? What is he doing? And why is he wearing that get-up? And what’s going on here?” We get to answer those questions. And one of the scenes, in fact, the first scene that we shot, we walk into this mysterious room that’s inhabited by all of these cops who Gordon knows well. And he’s walking into this room with The Batman, and in that moment, the two of them, The Batman and Gordon, become isolated from everyone in the room, and all eyes turn. And there’s a bonding that happens there outside of the Gotham Police Department for Gordon that I think is a wonderful entree for the two of them, because it’s strange. And we ask ourselves, “Why are they together?” And I think during the course of the film, the clues as to why they are together become more evident. But at the start, it’s all new.


It’s especially interesting because obviously Gordon is a seasoned cop. He’s not where we know he’s going to end up in the canon later, he’s a lieutenant, but we wonder what’s going on in Gotham that leads a cop with his experience to turn to somebody like The Batman, what makes someone like him think that this city needs him and that he, Gordon, needs him.

Right. Well, Gotham is very much on a precipice; it is not the city it once was it seems. It’s decayed. It’s corrupted. And for Gordon, even within the police department and within the political circles, he’s uncertain where he can place his trust. And somehow, he finds repository for trust in The Batman. And likewise, The Batman is trustful of very few, if any, and somehow, he comes together with Gordon. And I think the isolation that both Gordon and The Batman find themselves in is a draw for audiences because audiences are looking for a place to place their trust as well. And this world that’s unstable, this world that seems to be falling to these nefarious forces… I think it kind of mimics in some ways a contemporary setting for audiences, where things are fluid and it’s hard to find the things that are reliable, they find them in these two characters and their relationship. So the isolation serves many purposes and ultimately it serves as a bond between them.


Tell me about the on-set partnership that you and Robert Pattinson [who plays The Batman] must have had to create these characters in these scenes together – what was it like working with him?

From the first moment on set, we walked into a room together, so it was a duo. And whatever I do is reliant on whatever Rob is bringing to the scene and likewise for him, he’s playing off of my energy. We’re all doing this within the scope of Matt’s vision for the film and the mood set by Greig Fraser’s cinematography, which is absolutely singular. I’ve worked with some amazing cinematographers, but what Greig was doing in every frame was blowing my mind. And it set a tone for the way we were telling our story. We were fully immersed in this thing in a way that informed everything we did. Anything that I did was informed by the work of every other actor around me, most specifically Rob, and all of the designers, and Matt, and I think we were all playing off of one another in that way to create our own unique Gotham. Our Gotham is its own thing, and we built it together.


I’m glad you give the designers and the DP a shout out because it’s so well deserved. So, for the comics fans out there, did you turn to any of the comics in your research for the role? Have you read them before, or did you find inspiration there?

Absolutely. I wanted to trace the evolution of the series. So I started at the beginning. I went to Volume 1, 1939, and started there. The first frame is Bruce Wayne and Gordon. I read a few from the Golden Age, and then the Bronze Age, and then, of course, the contemporary things. I haven’t read the entire canon, but I picked up some breadcrumbs along the way because I wanted to understand specifically how my Gordon might exist in our Gotham. And what’s wonderful about this series is that it’s lasted over these many decades but also it was continually updated along the way. So, the first Batmobile we’ll see is an off-purplish/maroonish sedan. It’s tricked out, but it’s certainly not a vehicle that you would place in a film of the 21st Century. And Gordon in 1939 is a very specific man, but not the man that I’m portraying in a contemporary Gotham. And what was curious, too, was going back and reading about Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and the way they created this world based on New York City. They lived in the Bronx and they were using New York City as a canvas for creating their Gotham. So, the New York City of 1939 is different than the New York City of today. What I wanted to understand is how we were updating those characters, how we were updating the population of Gotham. Because the demographics, for example, of New York City 1939 are different in the extreme from the demographics of a contemporary New York City. Therefore, the demographics of Gotham in our film are going to reflect that. I wanted to answer the question for myself, how do I place myself in this world in that sense? And then also I just wanted to follow the trajectory to the extent that I could of the storytelling, to understand where we were placing ourselves along the way.

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