“Gotham” Exclusive: Danny Cannon on Mr. Freeze and Harvey Dent
by Fred Topel
Back in June I got to be in the first audience to see the pilot for Fox’s new series Gotham. Danny Cannon, who directed the pilot, and series creator Bruno Heller hosted the screening, which introduced Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) trying to solve the murder of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz)’s parents. Thus, he began meeting all the future villains of the Batman universe.
That night, Heller and Cannon shared with me their plans to tease The Joker, and Cannon shared his hopes to incorporate Mr. Freeze into Gotham. By the time I saw Cannon again at the Television Critics Association party for Fox, the rumor had spread that every single episode of Gotham might introduce a red herring for The Joker. I followed up about that, Mr. Freeze and other important characters in the Gotham universe in anticipation of the Sept. 22 premiere of Gotham on Fox.
Nuke the Fridge: There have been some theories going around that every episode will introduce a red herring for The Joker. Are you going to take it that far?
Danny Cannon: Absolutely not. No, I think that’s a rumor that got spread very quickly. I think what got said originally was: will The Joker be introduced in the first season. We were like, “We’re uncertain, but a lot of other people will and perhaps one of them will resemble him.” I think that was just a teaser that may have gone too far.
Nuke: But it’s not going to be the comedian from the pilot, right?
Danny Cannon: Probably not, no.
Nuke: Are you going to direct any more episodes?
Danny Cannon: I did the first episode, I just got back. I’m in the cutting room with that tomorrow. No, other than that, I have very, very talented directors following in my footsteps.
Nuke: The pilot always has to establish the template for the show. Do you meet with the subsequent directors to talk over what you established?
Danny Cannon: No, I’ve learned the hard way to really, really pay attention to that because you don’t want to just have somebody share the aesthetic with you. You want somebody to better it. That’s what I’m hoping these very talented people are going to do. I always do the first episode back because I believe that not only does the show need to be proven that a show can be done in nine days. We’re also proving to myself that we did the right thing with the pilot. I get to tweak on that, do some new sets and hopefully improve on some of the things from the pilot.
Nuke: What are the keys stylistically to make sure Gotham looks like Gotham?
Danny Cannon: Myself and the producer were joking about perhaps we should do some kind of test, like for Gotham do you choose this car in the background or that car? Does the extra wear this suit or that suit? But I think all the directors share that same aesthetic. It is a specific one but truthfully it’s like a mashup of all of our favorite things. With my genius production designer, my genius costume designer and our great casting agent, I think we’ll be fine.
Nuke: Right, the directors may change but the production designers, costumers and prop masters are consistent.
Danny Cannon: Very much so. My God, I owe them my life.
Nuke: You also established a stylistic device where there’s a camera attached to Jim Gordon. Is that something they’re going to bring back?
Danny Cannon: I don’t know about that. I think that just seemed to serve the moment and just really put ourselves in Jim’s shoes. So if there’s a need for that, I certainly never enforce that kind of style on other directors. I’m hoping they come up with something better.
Nuke: When you have so much to establish in the pilot, is there a little more breathing room in episode two?
Danny Cannon: There is actually, and I really appreciate that about the scripts, that we’re able to slow down a little bit and make the scenes breathe and really allow the characters to emerge from their scenes. It’s very actor driven so as long as I give ‘em the right things to wear and the right sets to be in, we can now give these actors enough time to really shine.
Nuke: I guess we all sort of know that it has to begin with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. How did you imagine portraying that differently than we’ve seen it in previous versions?
Danny Cannon: I know, that was a lot of pressure. At some point, very much like the actors did, I just let that pressure go and said it’s not stylistically how I pull that together, but emotionally if they feel the same things that I felt when I read that, or if they feel the same things I did when I saw Nolan’s flashbacks. To me, if I can just touch on the emotion of it, then I’m going to forgive myself any technical faux pas.
Nuke: Since that just happens in the pilot, do we see a lot more of Alfred in episode two taking on the role we know he eventually plays?
Danny Cannon: Very much so. Alfred features in the first season a lot. Him and Jim Gordon’s relationship goes through turbulent moments and very tender moments because they’re both men who’ve never been parents. And yet, here they are parenting somebody who may be unparentable.
Nuke: Were there any key issues of the comic books that helped you establish the style for Gotham?
Danny Cannon: No, I think what comic books allowed me to do is just jump headfirst into the style of the piece. The great thing about comic books is they still give you enough room to project your own personality and your own thoughts into the story. Hopefully we’ve done that. We’ve just created a world where hopefully people will want to visit every week.
Nuke: If viewers are astute, will we notice any famous panels you recreated?
Danny Cannon: No, I have not done that and I believe that the great artists’ work in comic books should be their and theirs alone. I would never rip them off, but they’ve all been an inspiration.
Nuke: Ivy and Selina Kyle are so young when Gotham starts, how far do they have to go before they become the women we know them to be?
Danny Cannon: A long, long way. Same thing with Bruce Wayne. And what a delicious, terrifying, often funny journey that’s going to be. That’s why I was so happy to work with Bruno, because that was the journey he wanted to go on. He didn’t want to rush it. He didn’t want it to be a race to get there. We’ve watched our children grow up. Let’s watch these characters grow up.
Nuke: Will you stay on the series as a consultant?
Danny Cannon: Oh my God, yeah. I never leave my children. I think this first season, I will be supporting my directors. I will be in the cutting room, on the mixing stage, in the color, in the music, very much so, and in the writers room as this show’s greatest cheerleader.
Nuke: Do you have to balance Gotham with your other shows?
Danny Cannon: My other show, The Lottery, and obviously I still have CSI on the air and I’m very proud of that. And I will always develop something new every year. Every year I either start something from scratch or join forces with somebody who I enjoy working with. I do like doing that.
Nuke: You mentioned to me you’d like to see a version of Mr. Freeze on Gotham. Is that something that could happen in the first year?
Danny Cannon: Oh yeah, we all have our favorite villains. That was my favorite villain and I still think the origins of that story are really beautiful and tragic. The technicalities of it are quite beautiful too, so that’s something I keep bugging Bruno about.
Nuke: Does that require a little more science fiction?
Danny Cannon: Not really. Not really. Depending on how you do it. I just find him a very tragic character.
Nuke: I assume it won’t be a guy in a cryo suit.
Danny Cannon: Well, luckily we’re in a show where we go way, way back for the origins, so perhaps he’s just a man who goes through a tragedy and he doesn’t know how to express his anguish yet, but he’ll find a way.
Nuke: Would Harvey Dent have graduated college yet, let alone running for office? Do you imagine we could see a young Harvey Dent?
Danny Cannon: I would say that would be a good thing to hope for because he’s a fascinating character.
Nuke: He is, but have we ever seen him before he’s DA?
Danny Cannon: I don’t think so. I don’t think we’ve seen a young lawyer, or a young DA or a trainee. s
Nuke: Is he Bruce’s age? What would Harvey Dent be able to contribute to Gotham City as a kid?
Danny Cannon: I always assumed that Harvey was older than Batman. I always assumed that Batman was a younger man. I don’t know but it certainly gives us really great problems to have. I always imagined Batman as a young vigilante. I never imagined him as middle aged.
Nuke: So Harvey could be a law student at this point.
Danny Cannon: I would say that was a good guess.