‘Pennyworth’ Interview – Jack Bannon on Playing Alfred Before He Became Batman’s Butler

EPIX’s Pennyworth delves into the life of Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon) in the decades before he became Batman’s butler. The series explores Alfred’s introduction to Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s dad, and fills in details as to how Alfred learned to defend himself and what his world was like prior to his employment with the Waynes.

The series is set in London in the 1960s, but it’s a very stylized, reimagined version of the place and time period. Series creator Danny Cannon says part of the reason he was so interested in telling this story was the opportunity to set it in London, which had never had a DC do-over.

“Everything in the design of this show is slightly different,” explained Cannon. “If you looked at what reality was and then said, ‘What if this happened in history?’ What if these things had happened? What if there was still an armed police force, etc?’ All of that look came from there, just trying to be different, again, and create a world people would want to go to, almost like our ideal London.”

When asked what makes Jack Bannon the perfect Alfred Pennyworth, Cannon replied, “Myself and Bruno (Heller) were working on this for a year before anybody came in to cast, and it’s an impossible thing for any actor to walk into that room. I think he walked into it five times. I think he was auditioning for five months, basically, because the lead character needs to inhabit that part. That part needs to go to him because he knows it better than you. So I think that was just a question of getting to know somebody for a long time, because so much of what we rely on now is what Jack is.

I mean, when we were trying the costumes on for the first time – and it had been a long, arduous journey for him – but he put that suit on and we pushed his hair back, and then he walked from the wardrobe racks to the camera. I said, ‘Put the camera on him now,’ and I opened the stage door where we were. He did the walk and he looked like Caine, and the suit made him walk better. I said to him, ‘Confidence, confidence, confidence, whatever happens.’ I said, ‘That calming nature of someone whose shoulders are always down and the way that you could talk to a gardener or the Queen exactly the same way, that’s him. And that shot that I did of him in that test is in the main titles at the end when he walks towards it. I stole that and then animated it.”

Cannon added, “That’s how much we love him.”

In our interview with Jack Bannon at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, he discussed finding his way into the character and what he latched onto in playing Alfred Pennyworth. Pennyworth is set to premiere on July 28, 2019.

Danny Cannon said during the costume fitting you developed a walk. Did you feel internally you were getting there with Alfred Pennyworth at that point?

Jack Bannon: “Yeah. I mean, it’s all part of the process, isn’t it? I was trying to find him, and Bruno’s script was a great starting point. But the great thing about when you’re doing the first season of something…especially something like this…we created the world so, yes, it’s London back in 1962 but it’s a DC London and it’s weirder and darker. It’s sexier and strange. And part of that is the physicality of the people – the clothes, the music, the smells almost, the whole kind of thing. So, yeah, I was definitely… You know when you put on different clothes, they make you move differently anyway, so these camera test days are long and boring for us anyway because it’s just like you change your clothes all the time. But I was like, ‘This is as much time for you as it is for them to start finding something.’

But, yeah, physicality I always find helpful. The script and the lines and the words are probably the first thing and then the next thing is the physicality. (Laughing) I mean, I wish he’d told me he thought I found it that early because I was still going for a few weeks after that.”

What about his personality did you latch onto and really delve into?

Jack Bannon: “What about Alfred’s personality? I think it was, you know, his moral compass. He always does the right thing, even if that means he has to do something bad or violent to get to the thing that he believes is right and good. I admired that within him. And this show challenges the idea of good and evil. You know, good people do bad things and vice versa. And Alfred’s always trying to stay two steps ahead and second guess. But people constantly surprise him – villains, good people, his family.”

What kind of journey would you say he’s on this season?

Jack Bannon: “Well, when we see him in the pilot he’s just out of the army and he’s a young boy, almost. He’s trying to shake off…it’s that strange age. He’s 26 and I think throughout your early 20s you’re sort of working out who you are as a person and what’s important to you. But by the end, he goes on a journey through loves, loss, the trauma and stress of his time in the army we explore in depth. That almost completely derails him. He grows up fast.”

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