Anyone who watched the first episode of Fox's Gotham could make the argument that James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is actually responsible for turning low-level thug Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) into the man who will eventually become the Penguin.
But did Oswald's descent into evil start before he was marched to the end of that Gotham City pier at gunpoint? On Monday's episode (8/7c, Fox) viewers will meet Oswald's mother, a European immigrant named Gertrude Kabelput — and in a brilliant bit of casting, she'll be played by Oscar nominee and two-time Emmy winner Carol Kane.
Carol Kane: They just came to me, and I was extremely excited because it's such a great, intricate, fascinating character they've written. Now, I'm sort of beside myself with joy because I just love my son. I love Robin. He is so brilliant, and I was ignorant and didn't know of him before I worked with him. He's just an extraordinary actor, an extraordinary young man.We've seen the Penguin's mother in differing versions of the Batman story through the years. Did you look to any of those for inspiration?
Kane: No. I wanted to stick to what they wrote for me because it's very distinctive. It's a lot to go on, what they've written, and really informative about who Gertrude is. Because this is pre-anything else we've seen in a way, I thought I would just go with what they created.You've done both dramatic and comedic work. Gotham is a pretty dark world, but will your character lighten things up?Kane: I don't think of Gertrude as comic. I was nominated for an Academy Award for a dramatic role [in Hester Street] in which I barely spoke English. So, this is a nice kind of throwback and return to that kind of work, which I really adore. I feel that the character is delicious. And that it would come to me at this time in my life — it's just a special gift.
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What can you tell us about who Gertrude is?
Kane: She's European, and I think she lived a much more genteel life when she was young and in Europe. Now, money is obviously a problem. [As Gertrude] I strive to keep up my standards of etiquette and dressing carefully and trying to impart the best standards for my son. I love and treasure him, and I wish I could take care of him, but he's a grown-up now. So, he's gone out in the world, and that's difficult for me.
Is Oswald's father in the picture at all?
Kane: I don't know anything about where he has gone, or if he will be showing up. They send me a script, and that's as much as I know.
You said it's difficult for Gertrude to deal with Oswald being out on his own. Has that brought strife to their relationship?
Kane: No, I think not. He loves me back. He comes to visit me, which is very nice because not all grown boys do that. I've raised him very well. I've raised him to dress beautifully, to be very polite, and I've educated him in European manners. Since it's just him and I... I think that we have become very, very, very close in a way that you do bond if it's just the two of you.
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So what does Gertrude think about Oswald's lifestyle?
Kane: It's worrisome because he works in the restaurant business and his hours are horrible. He doesn't get enough sleep. I'm assuming he eats OK because they probably feed him there, but I think it's a very stressful business, and I don't understand why. And I want him to be very careful in his choice of women, and I fear that he might not be.
Why is Gertrude worried about other women? Does she feel they would take Oswald away from her?
Kane: I can't tell you why. That's private between me and him. [Laughs]
In this episode, Gertrude is concerned that Oswald has gone missing. How worried is she?
Kane: Well, I don't think something bad has happened to him because I would sense it, I would feel it. It is worrisome, but I think I have a certain amount of confidence that he will always come back and tell me what's happening in his life.
Well, the audience obviously knows that Oswald has some darkness in him. What about Gertrude? Does the apple fall far from the tree?
Kane: Well, I think he is similar [to Gertrude], but I think the big difference is that as a young man, and my sole supporter, he has the obligation to make money. That can change a person. He can get into negative influences out in the world, and I'm just hoping very much that that doesn't happen to him.
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So, Gertrude doesn't have a dark streak?
Kane: Well, I'm quite strict as well. I don't put up with bad behavior or fooling around. So, I will not necessarily always be sympathetic because it's my role to keep [Oswald] on the straight and narrow.
But I assume she's gotten good at protecting Oswald through the years, too.
Kane: Oh, yes. He's unusual. He's always been unique, and because he has good manners, I think he was bullied and made fun of.
So can Gertrude be a Mama Bear when she needs to?
Kane: No question. I will protect my son at all costs.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox. Check out an exclusive clip from Monday's episode below to see Kane in action.