"Gotham" may be filled with prototype takes on some of the most notorious criminals to one day face down Batman, but it's the series original creation, Barbara Kean, that's swiping a lion's share of scenes. And actress Erin Richards wouldn't have it any other way.
Three seasons into the run of the Fox series -- set in the era when a young Bruce Wayne finds his path to eventually becoming the Dark Knight and incorruptible cop Jim Gordon battles the city's decline on his own -- Richards has seen Barbara through what is likely the show's most extreme evolution, going from Jim's cheating but conflicted fiancée to a patricide-committing psychotic imprisoned in Arkham Asylum to a brazen nightclub owner and aspiring crime boss in a bisexual relationship with the whip-wielding Tabitha Galavan.
When Barbara was last seen in the winter finale, she was on the brink of deposing the Penguin to become Gotham's chief underworld leader, and for months the Internet has been filled with speculation that she's going to transform into the show's take on longstanding Batman villainess Harley Quinn.
And while she stops short of confirming that particular metamorphosis, in a chat with Moviefone the Welsh actress -- who's been doing some standout work alongside the series' stellar cast of baddies -- hints at yet another major and likely supervillainous change ahead for Barbara, as well her own evolution into a creative force behind the camera.
Moviefone: Unlike some of the characters on "Gotham," who have elaborate comic book mythology to draw from, Barbara's more of a blank slate. She doesn't come with a lot of history. What's been the fun for you of filling her in?
Erin Richards: Yeah, I get to paint her in whatever colors I want. Paint by numbers! I am so grateful for that, and I think that in some ways it can be scary. If you have, like, a prototype for your character, there's something to sort of start with, and base yourself off, and relate back to. With Barbara, it's a completely different experience. It's like I just got to make her up with the writers and the creators, however we wanted.
That, I think, has led to her being able to have a huge arc, and a big development, because she obviously started as this not quite pure, but at least removed character from Gotham. Pure in a Gotham way, I guess, which is very different to like regular pure. Even though she had these dark layers, we saw her as being a bit of a beacon of light for Jim, and then by now, she's obviously just completely the opposite, where she's just on a mission to be the queen of the underworld, getting completely out of control, to be honest.
That kind of progression in any of the other characters I think probably wouldn't be possible, because it's a little bit more binary, who the other ones are. But with her, we've got this blank slate, like you say, for her to be anything – therefore, we have made her everything.
How soon into playing the character did the ideas for her roll around, from first being Gordon's "Fatal Attraction"-y ex to now, like, full-on crime boss? When did those things get presented to you? Were those early notions, like "We might go here..."? Or was it like, down the road, all of a sudden, "Let's do this," and you're like, "Great"?
A bit of a mix of both, actually. The initial auditions that I was doing for her had pieces that were written that involved the darkness of her, so it definitely didn't come out of nowhere, but I think that the way that she evolved, and the speed which she evolved, was probably different to how they first imagined it.
A testament to the writers, as always, just being able to create that incredible development, without really knowing that that was what it was in the beginning, and being able to make it so seamless, and being able to get something like the Ogre to come in and torture her in order to make that change, I think was really brilliant.
Given the direction she's gone so far, it seems the next step would be full supervillain. Is that something that sounds fun to play?
Absolutely. I think it's sort of the next natural progression for her. We may or may not see something like that happening in the final episode [of the season].
Do you hope it's a classic?
I know what you're going for here. I know what it is, and it's great.
What I love about the character -- and your performance, too -- is through all of the nasty, mean, crazy stuff she may do, there are moments when we see her heart. And as crazy as she gets, her heart does tell her what to do. Tell me about finding that side of her, especially with Jim Gordon and with Tabitha, she does have emotional attachments to these characters that motivate her.
Absolutely. Jim is a massive motivator for her. I think that he's like the light that is very, very deep in her heart, as sort of a potential get-out from this crazy. It's completely unconscious. It's buried very, very deep down inside her. But I think if anyone was ever going to save her, or if she could be saved -- not in a kind of like man-saving-a-woman way, but just a soul being saved -- it would be Jim, because he is the only thing in Gotham that is actually not dark, even though he has become darker, he's still the beacon of light. So I think if she could ever be redeemed, it would be somehow through that.
Then Tabitha, I would agree, yeah, that's her only other person that she actually feels a connection with, because everybody else she sort of uses. But Tabitha she really needs, and I think needs on several levels, like emotionally and physically, she needs to be protected by Tabitha because Tabitha can fight, and she can't fight.
Yeah, I think that connection between them is something that she cherishes, even though she might not admit it. And, unfortunately, in this part of the season, we're going to see that very strained because of what's happening with them now.
How does that split with Tabitha affect Barbara?
Oh, quite a lot! It's the culmination of the last episode. It leads to a big change in her.
You've gotten away with so many great, crazy, over-the-top moments with this character. What's your favorite?
There was the time that I beat up the guy with the underside of my shoe, like a stiletto. That was pretty incredible. Then there's a brilliant line coming up in Episode 16, when she answers the phone and she goes, "Barbara Queen," which I think is great, because she's become "The Queen of Gotham." There's so many. Then the fights that she gets to have are fabulous, and there's a great fight in the final episode. We just filmed that, and that was great to play.
With 75-plus years of Batman in the culture, what was your entry point with Batman, and how do you feel about that franchise and mythology now that you've been a part of it for three seasons?
Quite early, actually. The films, for me. I was always a fan of the Tim Burton films, and then I used to do little dress-up plays where I'd play Batman when I was a kid. He was always my favorite superhero, because I felt like anybody could be Batman -- he didn't have any superpowers. You just had to have a load of money and a Batcave.
You've got a little money now -- have you built a Batcave yet?
Not yet, no. That's the next step.
There's another Gotham Barbara that does exist pretty prominently in the comic books: Barbara's daughter, who becomes Batgirl. Do you hope that that becomes part of her story somewhere down the line in this? Would that be fun to play?
Wow, yeah. A pregnant crazy Barbara would be quite brilliant. There's one world where you could tell a very interesting story, because you don't see a lot of pregnancy in superheroes. So that would be interesting. Especially, you could tell lots of stories. You could tell a postnatal depression kind of story, which would be very interesting.
Another part of me thinks like, "A baby in Gotham? I don't know how that works." So maybe, like, if there is a baby, that's kind of the end for Barbara. You sort of see that, and then she goes, maybe.
One of the nice things about the show is that it's an ensemble, so you're not always in front of the camera. Have you gotten to do some fun side projects?
Oh my gosh, yes. So many. I've just recently written and directed my own short film. I wrote it over Christmas. I just woke up one morning with the idea in my head, sort of fully formulated. I also want to go on to direct and write a lot more things. So I, yeah, put it together and filmed it at the end of January.
So I put it together in about a month, which was really quite hard to get it done. We did it over two days. It's about a woman who is an actress. She has a very repetitive lifestyle, which is quite painful and depressing for her. Then, she discovers that she has superpowers. Then something happens at the end.
Would you like to direct an episode of "Gotham"? It's such a stylized show. Is that the way you would want to go with your own personal directing style? It's a very specific look and feel.
Absolutely. Yes. I think it's a great place to start learning, that style, obviously. I'm not sure if I would continue with that particular style for the rest of my career. Obviously, it's a style that's been set up by Danny Cannon and the incredible directors that we have on the show. So I would probably want to find my own style, but I'm very happy to be able to try and emulate that style for "Gotham."
It's such a great time for women.We've been waiting long enough. It's time for women storytellers behind the camera.In the big picture, what got you motivated and excited to make that a part of your creative wheelhouse?
I would say that exact thing, in that I feel like women's stories need to be told more often, and more diversely. We need to show that women have so many more layers. To be honest, I'm a little bit bored of watching men's stories. I don't need to see a man make up with his father anymore. We're done.
Hollywood is lacking in stories. The movies that we're watching are becoming quite repetitive. So in order to change that, we have to get women up, all different kinds of women, from all different backgrounds, to tell their stories, so that we can see ourselves up there. I think that one of the most important jobs as an actor, or a director, or writer, or storyteller, is that people in this day and age don't get to emote. They don't get to show their feelings, or feel their feelings, because we're so busy on our phones, or ...
Instagramming our images.
Yeah. We're getting to quite a dangerous place. Because in cultures past, people used to sit down in circles and talk about their day and problems. They'd sit with their whole family or their extended friends, and they would communicate by seeing each other, feeling each other, and emoting. And now, we think that just being on your phone is enough. We don't call our friends anymore because we know what they've done. So it's like, we're becoming a society of people who can't release their emotions.
So the only way we release our emotions is by going to the movies and watching a film. Now if those films aren't showing you your story as a woman, or as a man, in all different kinds of people, then you can't release those emotions that get trapped inside, and then we destroy the world, because we're robots and we're suppressed animals. So that's why I want to be a director, that's really intense.
We're also in a great time in genre entertainment in particular, embracing female characters -- even if they're batsh*t crazy. What's been nice about having a Barbara Gordon fan club that's out there that loves her and what she's up to, even when she's a nasty woman?
What I really like about that is that most people say to me, "I really hated your character in the first season, but when she went crazy, I loved her." I just think that's such a wonderful thing that people are able to feel. They always sort of apologize about it, or they think, "Am I weird for liking a crazy person?" It's like, "No."
It's kind of a release to watch someone be so crazy, because I think "crazy" is a really dangerous word, because it has so many bad connotations, that you could say "free," or "true." I think there's a part of us that -- I definitely do this: I hold back truth because I don't want to hurt people, I don't want to seem crazy sometimes.
So I think if society was allowed to be truer, like if they were allowed to let rip a little bit more with what they really feel, again, this idea of holding everything in, not emoting, not being true to ourselves and our actual feelings, is again, dangerous to society. So if they get to watch Barbara be crazy and feel a little release in that, feel like, "Yeah, I'd love to be crazy myself," it's like, go for it. Don't kill anyone, but let your crazy out a little bit.
Have you seen Barbara cosplayers at one of these? Have you seen anyone dressed up as her?
The hard thing about Barbara is she's not a look. We are trying to channel it a little bit so she has a look. Yeah, it's difficult for people. There are a couple of great outfits that I've had. All have been great, but there's a couple of ones that are quite easy to cosplay. But I feel people need just that one look that they can [identify]...
"Gotham" Season 3 returns April 24th on FOX.