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article imageRobin Lord Taylor on being the Penguin and a part of 'Gotham' Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 2, 2015 in Entertainment
Even after a year of being on a show as big as 'Gotham,' Robin Lord Taylor — who plays the power-hungry Oswald Cobblepot — is still humbled by the whole experience.
(Some spoilers from the first 18 episodes of Gotham to follow)
Filming finished for the first season of Gotham just last week, and the last scene was a simple one.
"It was me walking down a hallway," Taylor says over the phone. "It was the last scene of the day, and we were shooting in Staten Island. It was two, three o'clock in the morning. No lines, two or three takes and we were done. It took my breath away. I was like 'That's it! That's it!' you know, and I couldn't help but be emotional. I'd be lying if I didn't say I completely fell apart like a little baby."
Gotham is ostensibly an origin story of sorts — how Jim Gordon establishes himself in the city's corrupt police force; how a young Bruce Wayne deals with his parents' death — but it's become apparent that the origin of Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, is another significant part of the show's mythos.
Robin Lord Taylor
Robin Lord Taylor
Benjo Arwas
It was actually Taylor's guest-starring role on two episodes of The Walking Dead that helped pave the way for his role on Gotham, both literally and figuratively.
Figuratively, because, quite simply, The Walking Dead is a phenomenon. "That was by far, before Gotham, the biggest thing I had done at that point," he says. "Just to be part of something so big and where the fan base is so fervent and enthusiastic about everything that goes into the show — that definitely prepared me for this insane roller coaster that I've been on."
Literally, because that was how he met Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy, who casted for both shows.
"They were the ones who kept me in mind for this role, who moved past preconceptions that they had of how people thought the Penguin should be portrayed or how the Penguin should look," he said of the two. "They moved beyond all of that and they remembered me and supported me for so long. I have to give so much credit to the two of them."
To become Oswald Cobblepot, he undergoes what he calls an "intense physical transformation." Besides the makeup, suits and hair dye (he's a natural blonde), he also gets a prosthetic nose. Cobblepot walks with a pronounced limp, and Taylor placed a bottle cap in his shoe to help him remember the pain, as he told Esquire last year. Put another way, Taylor goes "full method" to become the character, but the transformation allows him to "turn off" his character easily once the camera stops rolling.
"It's almost therapeutic in a way," he says. "It's like taking off the pieces, taking off Oswald and putting him away until we put him back on again. I feel like Superman in a way. He's Clark Kent when he doesn't have that stuff on and is Superman when he does."
Within the narrative of Gotham, Cobblepot is at first seen as a powerless character, and has spent this first season slowly acquiring power, with mixed results. Cobblepot is constantly shifting his place in the world — he starts as an underling of Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) before switching sides to serve Sal Maroni (David Zayaz) before, in episode seven, it's revealed that he's been working for Carmine Falcone (John Doman) the whole time.
It wasn't hard to keep these alliances straight in his mind, but because Taylor doesn't like to get scripts too far in advance, the latter revelation was as mind-blowing to him as it was to the audience.
"I had no idea! I got that script and I was like 'What?'" Taylor exclaims. "To wrap my brain around that, that was a huge thing. And then it completely changed so many of my relationships with other characters, and also my personal relationship with Oswald." He says these curveballs are thrown at him often, creating a "singular experience" for him on the show.
Though Oswald Cobblepot has been in a number of precarious situations throughout the show — almost being flattened by a car crusher, for instance, a situation which literally had Taylor's adrenaline going even though he was in no real danger — Taylor's favourite moment as the Penguin comes from the pilot.
"I would have to say my favourite scene is in the pilot, on the pier, that scene with Ben McKenzie," he says, referring to a scene in which Jim Gordon is ordered to kill Cobblepot in order to go free. "It was one of those moments that was so big, it was so very new, being part of this world, being part of this show. I stepped out of myself, I stepped back and looked down at what was happening. I would have to say that moment forever to this day is one of the best moments of my life."
Robin Lord Taylor
Robin Lord Taylor
Benjo Arwas
Naturally, he formed a close bond with McKenzie on set. "Our characters' relationships since the pilot are completely intertwined," Taylor says. "To be able to explore that with Ben and talk about where our characters' relationship is going, what makes sense to us and what doesn't, I cannot be more lucky than to have someone like him to work with in this way."
He's gotten close to Pinkett Smith as well: "She is by far the most poised, successful actor that I've ever worked intimately with. And to have her be so supportive and kind and generous is such an amazing gift."
With just four episodes left to air for the season, Cobblepot has seen his social stock rise, but there's still plenty of room for him to move. He also has options — in "Everyone Has a Cobblepot," he earned a favour from Jim Gordon.
"To have a favour to call in from someone like Jim Gordon, of course Penguin will use every tool he has at hand to survive and to achieve his goals," Taylor says. "You'll see him use that to help himself get forward and progress."
And progress he will:
"I think what you'll see in the last four episodes is he really makes his big move. He really sets some things in motion for himself to be a big power player in Gotham City. You'll see to the degree of which he's successful, but just the fact that he makes such a big move and puts himself out there, and really asserts himself in his ambition, he's automatically going to change the landscape going into the second season.
"He now is fully out and open and saying 'This is what I'm going for, you're either with me or you're not,'" He continues. "He's wanted that power, he's wanted that ability. However, in a place like Gotham City, once you do that, you're putting a giant target on your back."
Taylor doesn't know what's in store for the show's second season, but for now he'll be attending various conventions throughout the summer, including San Diego Comic-Con. And he really wants to step back into his role as soon as possible.
"People love the hiatus — personally I had many years of endless hiatus, if you know what I mean so I'm one of the few [of the Gotham crew] who was like 'Can we just keep going? Let's take a week, can we get right back into it?' I just want to be there as much as I possibly can."
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