Robin Lord Taylor Interview on the End of ‘Gotham’ and Penguin’s Transformation

Robin Lord Taylor Gotham The Penguin
Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin in season 4 of ‘Gotham’ (Photo © 2018 Fox Broadcasting Co)

Fox’s Batman spinoff Gotham is coming to an end after five seasons. After introducing the origins of Batman’s most noteworthy villains, young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is finally wearing the batsuit. The finale promises to take us 10 years into Gotham’s future to see what has become of all these famous characters.

After the last Gotham panel for the Television Critics Association, we spoke with Robin Lord Taylor, who plays the show’s Oswald Cobblepot. Taylor had promised that the flash-forward sees him in a fat suit as The Penguin. Gotham airs Thursdays at 8pm ET/PT on Fox.

Is there any chance of redemption for Oswald?

Robin Lord Taylor: “Oswald is a story of ultimate corruption and what it does to a person. We see someone who, even though he had been through a traumatic childhood with intense bullying as he was growing up, he was able to still retain a piece of humanity, a piece of empathy inside there. As we go along, that slowly dies, and dies because that’s what Gotham does to him.

His redemption will be in small moments where he chooses to respect life and he chooses to have an alliance with someone, like Ed Nygma, to trust them. Those are redemptive moments for a person who is on the ultimate track towards complete corruption.”

You’ve done the Penguin walk. Does the fat suit change that even more?

Robin Lord Taylor: “It just emphasizes it. I didn’t mean to sound too flippant about it. I felt very lucky again to have, as we go into the future, to have a physicality that represented those 10 years leading up to that moment. I talk about corruption and being unhealthy and someone slowly dying and punishing themselves, that’s what we get to illustrate in the final episode. Just to be able to inhabit an altered body and let those 10 years manifest itself physically was a really amazing gift for an actor.”

What was it like having Paul Reubens as your dad?

Robin Lord Taylor: “Oh, just a dream come true. I’m exactly that generation who watched Pee-Wee’s Playhouse when it was on Saturday mornings. When I was a kid, it was Michael Jackson and it was Pee-Wee Herman. I had also, as I grew older, learned who Paul Reubens was and how he created that character and also this other stuff that he’s done over his career with the Groundlings and what not. And then he’s playing my dad and to have him be the only correlation between the film universe and what we were doing on our show, to have it be related to The Penguin was just such an honor. He also played The Penguin’s father in Batman Returns.”

Did you fanboy around him?

Robin Lord Taylor: “Absolutely and then we became such close friends. I actually met him before he was cast to play my father. I became friends with Carol Kane who played my mother. First of all, I have the best TV parents you could possibly imagine, Carol Kane and Paul Reubens, forget about it. Carol and I live in the same neighborhood in New York so she invited me to breakfast one morning. She was like, ‘Oh, my friend Paul will be there,’ whoever Paul is. I walk in, it’s Paul Reubens. She of course didn’t even think that that would be startling or a big deal to me and she’s amazing.

Anyway, we met and we connected and he told me, and I knew of course, he reminded me, ‘You know, I played Penguin’s father. Who knows, maybe this could be a spinoff.’ We took a picture of a family photo. I hadn’t even sent it to Danny and he texted me, ‘Paul Reubens is going to play your father.’ It was meant to be and somehow we all knew. We knew at that diner in New York City. Then he’s been nothing but a dear friend, just lovely in person.”

How have you changed over five seasons?

Robin Lord Taylor: “It’s funny. I think we are so intrinsically connected to these characters. In certain ways, my connection to Oswald, the thing that we do share is going from a place of he’s insane, a place of just such strong ambition but very little confidence to having those two kind of meet up. I feel more confident. I can say that I feel proud of what we’ve done and what I’ve done. Just to be able to own that and say this was my stamp on this iconic character and no one can ever take that away from me, I feel so excited for what’s next because I’ve never had that feeling before in my career.”

What do you want to do next?

Robin Lord Taylor: “I just want to be better. I want to do something different than Gotham. I feel like going forward, any other sci-fi, comic book thing could never hold a candle to this character so going forward, I’d like to find something that’s a little bit more rooted in reality, whatever that means, if that’s theater, if that’s TV.”

Do people look at you now for villains?

Robin Lord Taylor: “It’s all types. Yes, typecasting is a reality, but at the same time, I recognize if the character is directly too close to anything that happened on Gotham, then it’s a hard no for me.”

Gotham Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor
‘Gotham’ stars Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor during the 2019 Fox Winter TCA panel (Photo by Frank Micelotta / FOX / PictureGroup)

Is your hair and look part of changing your appearance post-Gotham?

Robin Lord Taylor: “This is just me going back to myself. I complained about it over the years with the hair dying and wearing the fake nose and being in extra makeup, it wears on you especially when you’re not able to be yourself when you’re not shooting. I would have to keep dying the hair over the hiatus. It got frustrating, but then at the same time, when it’s over, I have a physical reset as well as emotional one.”

Do people recognize you?

Robin Lord Taylor: “Not nearly as much. It’s fantastic. Flight attendants and TSA people, people who have to look at your face and engage with you, that’s usually when it happens.”

Were you afraid starting out that this could be it for you?

Robin Lord Taylor: “Absolutely. I was terrified. At the same time, it’s all relative. I think about right now having been through the polar vortex in New York City a couple weeks ago, it was about six degrees. Then the next couple days, it warmed up to maybe 25 and you’d go outside and you’re like, ‘I could take my clothes off and walk around, it’s so warm out.’ At the time, I was terrified but I was also coming off of 14 years of, again, how am I going to make my rent? Am I going to have to go back to graduate school? How do I explain this to my parents that it didn’t work out? It’s all these terrifying questions that working actors face every single day. So even if I knew, even if this hadn’t worked out, at least I had a job.”

When you go back home, do they see you as a successful actor?

Robin Lord Taylor: “My mom and dad, my parents, it was very important to them to make sure that we didn’t live our lives with regret. So they always very much believed in us, but yeah, there’s a little bit of my mom is very smooth and she’s cool, but I can hear that little tinge of relief every time she talks about, ‘The show is wrapping up but he’s in a good place.’ I can just hear those years of all that fear. She’s relieved which is good. That’s the best gift I could give them.”