'Gotham' Exclusive: Cory Michael Smith Answers Burning Riddler Questions
A long-simmering "Gotham" conundrum finally has an answer.
When will the increasingly malevolent Edward Nygma finally embrace his super-villainous identity as The Riddler? According to actor Cory Michael Smith, the man inside Ed's greener and greener suits, the big reveal is now.
With "Gotham" returning after a winter hiatus for the remaining seven episodes of its third season, Smith has finally stepped into the center ring as Gotham City's emerging prince of psychotic puzzles who uses his razor-sharp intellect in the service of increasingly malicious and attention-seeking antics.
And, as Smith reveals, after all the lengthy, deliberate setting of the table and plenty of time to chart out Ed's evolution, it's been pretty easy being green -- as long as it's in a suit and not a question mark-covered leotard.
Moviefone: Here you are, right at the doorway of becoming The Riddler that we've all been expecting him to become. Tell me about getting him to the point where we left him, and where we're about to go.
Cory Michael Smith: It's been quite a long ride here. Where we are at this point: he just killed the mayor, who happened to be his best friend, and also kind of his mentor in villainy. Frankly, the only person that he would trust to kind of guide him into this lifestyle. Perhaps the only person equipped to deal with him and guide him that way.
So he's kind of in this crisis at the moment where he has to decide what his next move is. Does he continue to run the city by proxy, and pretend like he has no idea what happened to Oswald, until a new mayor is elected, and then maybe he finds a different job in the government? Which I don't imagine is what he wants. There's that path.
Or, this thing that he's kind of preparing himself for, that he kind of yearns for, this challenge, and this exciting option, which is, have a coming out party as a villain. Find your identity. Figure out someone to kind of replace Oswald as this person who can help you find your identity, figure it out, and then, like, go for it, man! So that's what this first episode back is all about.
What was fun for you playing, first, the bond and the friendship that Ed and Oswald had, and then how it all turned ugly? Tell me about that arc for you and what was the kind of delight as an actor to play.
First of all, it's imitated real life. Not the bad part, but the good part; Edward admires Oswald as a villain and as a leader. He was happily No. 2 to Oswald. I certainly admire Robin [Lord Taylor] , and I've enjoyed everything he's done in this show. So it was kind of this really easy thing to be like, "Oh my gosh, now Robin, a dear friend of mine, and I get to work together and be like buddies." So it just kind of was easy and fun.Then as I figure out that I lose the second person that I've fallen in love with, it tasted like this second opportunity at normalcy somehow, which wasn't ever the plan, but it found me again. When that was stolen from me, and I found out that Oswald was the culprit -- this was the only person I ever really, outside a relationship, trusted, or admired in such a way that I became their friend, they let me be their friend, and then this is how they kind of repay me. First it was Jim, sort of trying to pretend like he was my friend, and now it's Oswald.
I just think there's a lot of scar tissue there. This is someone who never really had friends, and wanted them, and then all of a sudden had his best friend, and is lied to and betrayed, and has a love stolen from him. So the kind of turn and fall into wanting to hurt someone was kind of, I think, easy for him. It felt like this is just justice, and this is vengeance, this is Oswald's language, so it seems only fair that I would use his vocabulary on him.
Is Ed almost an entirely different person from the Ed you started playing?
Absolutely! Yeah, I think a theme in the journey of Edward is issues with identity. I've leaned really hard into, every time something happens to him, and he's seeking for an answer, or he wants to change, or he's trying to change, he's making these declarations about how he's going to live now, and how he's not going to live, I've made sure that he really committed to each thing he was doing, and tried a new kind of life and existence.
One of the most freeing things that happened was when we had two Edwards, and there was a physical manifestation of all of the qualities about himself that he thought were outside of himself. The kind of swagger, and confidence, sexuality. These are things about him that he was intimidated by, and never practiced as sweet little Ed at the GCPD.
So when he kind of accepted the fact that this was him, and this was his identity, or that fate has given him of maybe he's a bad person and he doesn't deserve a good life, accepting that, and accepting all of these colors that were a bit murkier, really freed him up to be a fuller human being, and constantly surprised himself with his capacity and capabilities.
So this season, for example, I made a really strong choice for him, when trying to intimidate people, to really lower his voice, and try to offer a sort of commanding presence by altering the way that he was communicating with people physically. And the thing that happened, in my experience as Ed, was that people actually responded to that. So Ed kept doing that.
That wasn't something that I had planned out. It was like an experiment of his. Of like, "Oh, how do I make people think I have purpose, and I have strength, and I have power?" And it worked, and people were listening to him. I've really allowed him to explore identity and try stuff out, and then respond to the fellow actors and adjust accordingly.
You took your research and the character's 60-odd year history very seriously. What has it meant to you to really do such a defining version in a mass media format with The Riddler, to go deep with the character in a way that nobody else has really been able to do? And in a way that probably hasn't really gone that far in the comics even?
Look, I certainly feel privileged for a couple reasons. One, that I get to contribute to a part of the mythology that really hasn't been charted extensively at all; two, that we now have three years in the can, and hopefully more to come. It's my first time I've done long form television, and there's such a joy as an actor, not only to be able to tell a story of a character over a long period of time, but to tell a story of a character that's as dynamic as this, and that has gone through such a change in three years. It's so exciting and invigorating.
Lastly, I feel really privileged because the audience, they were receptive from the beginning, and they gave him a chance, and they went along with what started as a pretty slow journey, and I felt a real commitment and support from our audience with what we've done. So I feel really grateful for that.You're getting more and more shades of green in your wardrobe.
Yeah, man. Yeah. We're getting really green!
Tell me what's been fun about plotting that evolutionary direction, and working with your costumers to get Ed to full-on Riddler green.
This season has been super fun because we kind of found the shape and template of the suit that we wanted. Then it was just about gradually changing the colors of green. So over the course of Season 3, I must have had, I don't know, eight to 10 different colors of green that we were working with, leading up to the green suit that we introduced in [Episode] 15, which is quite a vibrant green, especially for "Gotham," because most of our characters have a bit more of a darker, dull tone. You'll get like a splash of color here and there, but I am wearing a very bright, glittery green suit.
When I first saw it in the fitting room, I was like "Wait, wait, wait, is that the suit?" They were like, yeah. I said, "Have you shown the producers pictures of this material?" They were like, "Yeah [director/producer] Danny Cannon loves it." "Danny loves this color green in our show?" I lost my sh*t, because I was like, this is really bright. When I do scenes with people and they're all in black leather, I'm going to look like a Christmas ornament.
But it's been quite fun, and it feels right to me, because there's something about Ed's coming out that is like, it feels flamboyant, and I like that all of a sudden he's saying, "Look at me. I am ready for the attention, I am ready for this, and you all need to look at me. Look at my bright green suit." I added a line in 15 on the day when we were filming it. I have this scene, because the mayor is obviously missing, I am speaking to the cadets, and it's their graduation. And I'm like, "You all look fabulous. How do I look?"
It's the first time that I wear my suit, and I loved it so much. It was the first time I got to wear it, I was on set, everyone was, like, freaking out. So I had to add it, because I just thought it was such a delicious moment where he was like, look at me. Does anyone like my green? No one notices but him. I just wanted him to like relish in it.
As you mentioned, the two people closest to him are out of the picture right now. Does anybody kind of fill the void early on in the rest of the season? Do you get to do some scenes with some other characters that maybe you haven't gotten to play with as much?
I do. There's this interesting ... I don't know that you can call it an alliance yet, but I have a relationship with Barbara, and she is the person who kind of lifted the veil on Oswald's actions and intentions.
So there's a sort of interesting partnership between the two. They both have needs and wants, and they're not necessarily complimentary, but they try to help each other out get what they want, and it's a very interesting companionship they develop, and it's certainly been fun working with Erin [Richards].It seems like you're still going to have to wait for scenes with David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, because that seems like something that's really more going to happen further down the road. Tell me what you're looking forward to in getting to play that dynamic.
What I'm really excited about is ... we've already been introduced -- it was in Arkham Asylum, so he knows who I am, but I didn't know who I was at that point. So to be reintroduced in, like, the classic way of, "This is Bruce Wayne, and this is The Riddler," is kind of exciting.
Also, what I'm doing here at the beginning of Edward kind of calling himself The Riddler, and pursuing this title of villainy, the reality is, he doesn't know what he's doing, or what he wants to do with it, or how he's going to act, or present himself, or behave. So I have everything starting really intense and forceful. He's like really aggressive and brusk.
So what I'm excited about going into Season 4 is him kind of like figuring out exactly what his presentation is of a riddle -- like, really finding his elegance as the Riddler, the showmanship, the grace. I'm like really excited about Edward finding his way to that, which I think should take some time.
If they ever ask you to put on a Frank Gorshin-style leotard, are you up for it?
Oh boy! If they want to pay for my personal training months in advance of me putting on a friggin' leotard, then that's cool. But otherwise, I really dig the suits.
I think they're classy. I think it fits into the version of Riddler that I really like, which is someone who is a showman, and is elegant. I think it's most appropriate based on where we started, which was this like clunky, socially inept, gawky, awkward, tense guy that was like scooting around the GCPD to becoming this man who has some prowess, and some power, and is like smooth in his presentation.
I think it's actually quite intimidating to have someone be so slick present you something, and your life is on the line, rather than someone trying to scare you and intimidate you. Like I said, I think that's kind of where I want to work toward.
I've always liked the iteration of The Riddler as kind of a psychopathic game show host.
Yeah. "The Riddle Factory" is my favorite. It's great. I like the guy that is a bit of a showman. I just want him to be able to be really slick, and classy, and then explode from that. But until you learn how to be a graceful, elegant dancer, then the snapping out of it won't be as impactful.