Jada Pinkett Interview: ‘Gotham’ and Playing Fish Mooney

Jada Pinkett Smith Gotham Season 1 Interview
Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney in ‘Gotham’ (Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr)

Fox’s Gotham takes place in the dark, dangerous, and seedy streets of Gotham City where ruthless supervillains rule empires, the majority of cops are corrupt, and the boy who will become Batman is just getting used to living without his parents. In a series packed with colorful characters, Fish Mooney is the most lethal female of the bunch. Jada Pinkett Smith tackles the key role in the series, and in a conference call with journalists she discussed how she’s able to get into character, the appeal of being a part of this comic book-inspired world, and Fish’s future.

Jada Pinkett Smith Interview

Fish Mooney has an amazing wardrobe. Do you have any input into her style?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I actually do. Our fantastic costume designer usually just comes to me and says, ‘What do you think about these fabrics? What do you think about this idea?’ So I pretty much told Lisa [Padovani] to do what she feels, because she’s such a fantastic artist. We usually just talk about shape and color.”

At the end of the Jan 26th episode, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,” Fish appears to be leaving. Can you tease us about what’s coming or maybe when she’s coming back?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “Well, it’s not quite over yet but we’ll see if Fish survives the season. It’s a little tense from here on out, that’s for sure. It’s a little rough on Fish from here on out.”

What’s been your favorite scene to do thus far?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I think one of my favorite scenes would have to be that Maroni scene when I go to Maroni and I hear that Penguin’s alive but I have yet to see him, and then he comes from the back in the kitchen and I see him for the first time. I think that’s probably one of my favorite scenes that I’ve done so far.”

What was it like preparing for this role since there wasn’t any source material to reference?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “That’s one of the reasons why the role was so interesting to me because it was something that Bruno [Heller] really wanted a partner in creating this Fish Mooney character. I love female gangsters. I just really love them. I think they’re really interesting characters and interesting people. There’s one, Griselda Blanco, who I had studied and I really love the character from Sunset Boulevard and it was kind of a mishmash of those two. Bruno had some suggestions and [we came] together and I said, ‘Well, I would really like to do a mixture of these two women.’

Jada Pinkett Smith Gotham Interview
Jada Pinkett Smith (Photo ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co)

One thing I love about the supervillains in Gotham is that they’re always so colorful. I really wanted her to be grounded but also have quite a flair.”

Are you enjoying being a part of a comic book universe?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “Yeah, I am enjoying it. I love comic books and so it’s been a real pleasure to be able to participate in this way, for sure.”

What did you add to Fish that wasn’t originally scripted for you?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I would say some of her Fish-isms. Her ‘tik, tik, tik.’ A lot of her mannerisms and just some of those little added attitude phrases that Fish has. I would say that would be pretty much what I would add. Thank goodness I have a lot of room on set just because Bruno and the writers know that we’re still trying to find the voice of this character so I have a lot of room to improv at times when it comes to Fish, so that’s been fun as well. Just adding those little flavors that I think make Fish Mooney, Fish.”

Are you enjoying the instant fan feedback you’ve been getting on Twitter during the episodes?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I have so much fun. Yeah, I have a lot of fun. This is such an enthusiastic genre. The fans that participate in this particular genre are just so much fun, so I have a good time when I’m on Twitter talking about the show. I have a blast.”

Are there specific acting challenges in developing a character people love to hate and yet root for?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “That’s a really good question. As I was saying before I love how powerful Fish can be but at the same time you still want her to be relatable, you know what I mean? You still want people to be able to look at this woman and they might not necessarily know her story but be able to relate to her. I think that this world of Gotham, sometimes in finding where you need to be emotionally or how grounded you need to be in a scene or how far you can actually go with the colors of Fish Mooney, sometimes tends to be a bit challenging. That’s always a seesaw; it’s always trying to find that balance. That aspect is the most challenging of trying to keep her grounded and real. That can be really challenging.”

How would you describe her relationship with Penguin? What have you enjoyed most in seeing that relationship develop?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I would say that I think she saw Penguin as one of her adopted orphans, somebody she took off the street and helped him become something, so I think that she felt deeply betrayed by Penguin. It will be interesting to see where their relationship goes from here. Right now they’re not getting along too well [laughing] and she’s still pretty upset with him, you know? But it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.”

There have been comments about people noticing a change in your delivery style.  Is this a conscious decision for you to be playing Fish Mooney the thug pretending to be Fish Mooney the sophisticated gangster? Is that something you discussed with Bruno?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “Yeah. You know, the thing about Fish Mooney is that you’ll see, especially in the upcoming shows, you will see the many faces of Fish Mooney. I think Fish Mooney is a woman who because of her background and because of who she really is has taken it upon herself to do a lot of cover-up. She has all of these different kinds of personalities that she picks and chooses to use during certain times. You have this kind of sophisticated Fish, what she considers to be sophisticated – what a sophisticated women sounds like, what a sophisticated woman looks like – but then there are times when she loses her cool and you kind of see her original essence, which can get a little gutter. And then sometimes when she has to be influential with men, you’ll see her put on her little sexy kitten voice, which is coming up.

This is a woman who has created all these different masks to fit different times just depending on what she’s trying to do at that point in time. It’s interesting because when watch people in real life, you’ll see that happen often. She just does it in a more extreme way.”

Is it true that when you came in to audition for Fish Mooney you came in with a man on a leash and liar written across his forehead? What gave you the instinct to show the people that’s what Fish embodied?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “Well, it wasn’t for an audition. I know that’s a better story, but it wasn’t for an audition. We were actually doing a work session about Fish Mooney and trying to find the character. That was one of the reasons I decided to do something as extreme as that because I felt like instead of talking about it, just show it. I just felt like from the psychology that I had put together in regard to who I thought Fish was, that’s something better to show than to explain verbally. And so that was one of the reasons why I decided for that particular creative session that I had with Bruno and Danny [Cannon] at the time, which it had already been decided that I would play Fish, I decided to come in with the guy on the leash to just go, ‘This is who this woman is. This is what I see.’ They’re like, ‘Okay, got it.’ [Laughing] It was a very short session to say the least!

They’re like, ‘Okay, we’re clear.’ I was done up and I had this guy on a leash with no shirt on with liar written across his head in red lipstick and they are like, ‘We are clear.’ It gave Bruno a nice foundation to work from, for sure.”

You are known for playing strong characters. Which one would you say is your favorite to play?

Jada Pinkett Smith: “I would say I love playing Fish Mooney. I think you’re going to see a lot more color from Fish in the next episodes to come. I think you’re going to see a lot more vulnerability, you’re going to see a lot more of a human side of Fish Mooney. I see Fish Mooney as a more extreme version of a woman who wears many faces, a woman who is strong but yet afraid. I would say that the Fish Mooney character has, especially in these coming episodes, has been really fun and I love how smart and perceptive she is.

She’s just decided to use her skills and not…you know, she’s a criminal. She decided to be a criminal instead of, you know, a doctor. But I really love her and what she’s becoming, too. I think in the next few episodes and definitely toward the end you’re going to see a whole different Fish and a woman that definitely has some heart. You’ve seen the ruthless, now you’re going to see some heart.”

Is there a character you’d like to play in the future?

“I think there’s a character coming up in Magic Mike that I’m really happy about that is totally different from anything I’ve done thus far, once again. And this woman is strong in a much different way also, and I think that from the response that we’ve been getting in regards to the character that I play in Magic Mike I’m really happy with how that turned out. She’ll probably end up being one of my favorites as well.”

Can you talk more about the sexuality of the character and what that’s been like?

“It’s been great. I think with the Fish Mooney character everything pretty much goes as far as she’s concerned. By any means necessary is kind of her motto. I definitely think that Fish doesn’t discriminate when it comes to her sexuality.”

What did you find so fascinating about the world of Gotham?

“Because Gotham is so mysterious, you know? There’s this kind of undertone to Gotham and the idea that the city itself is kind of this underbelly. It’s just like, ‘What is going on in these alleys? What’s going on in these so-called high rises? What is happening? Why is it that this place has some of the most incredible villains and you have one of the most beloved superheroes which is Batman, that comes from this dark, gritty atmosphere?’ I just felt like Gotham itself has been such a mystery and I’ve always been drawn to it. What is Gotham? What is the city about? Who’s there, and why is it this place? What is it about this place? And so that has always fascinated me about the Batman story, is just his backdrop which has been Gotham.”

Was there a particular scene or episode where you felt like you really clicked with Fish and became her?

“I think, funny enough, it really felt like as soon as I put on that wig, Fish is there. As soon as I put on that wig and her gear, because it’s so specifically her, it’s like it’s a unique and immediate transformation. So the first day as soon as I put on that wig and that dress I just felt like, ‘Oh, there she is.’ And every time I do it, she just arrives. It’s a really beautiful thing to have. As an actress, you just don’t have to work hard for it. That, I’m grateful for. That wig and those heels and the nails really conjure her.”

– – Also of interest: Interviews with David Mazouz / Camren Bicondova

-By Rebecca Murray

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