Jeffrey Wright on James Gordon and meeting The Batman for the first time
Exclusive: “They are kind of Holmes and Watson trying to try to track the baddies.”
Fresh from his brilliant turn as CIA agent Felix Leiter in the James Bond franchise, Jeffry Wright is back catching criminals as Lieutenant James Gordon in The Batman.
Gotham, with all its grime and grimness, is about as far removed from the exotic locations of Bond - most of The Batman was shot on a soundstage in London - and it’s clear that this didn’t go unnoticed by Wright when we caught up with him recently.
“If you can survive London in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic,” he tells ShortList while laughing, “you can survive The Riddler.”
He’s not a fan of London’s lovely weather, then, but when we press him on The Batman, he clearly is passionate about the movie and, in particular Gordon’s relationship with Batman.
“Batman is certainly isolated in our film, particularly at the beginning where he's in ‘year two’ of his story. He’s just beginning to have the presence that we ultimately or historically know Batman to have,” says Wright.
“This relationship with Gordon is on the ground level or the first stages and it comes out of necessity, both for the film and also for them.
“For the film it's very much a noir mystery oriented detective story around trying to track the breadcrumbs of the Riddler and all this happening within this grimy once beautiful but now decaying city of Gotham. It sets the two of them at the centre of solving all of this and I think that was clearly by design by our director Matt Reeves.”
For Wright, he was drawn to The Batman, because it went deeper than your typical superhero-tinged action movie and leaned more on the character’s detective roots.
“We really wanted to make a film that wasn't just full of all the spectacle you would expect but had the psychological and emotional and dramatic elements to it,” Wright notes.
“And so that's why we find the two of them partnered in that way and it goes back to celebrate Batman is the world's greatest detective. That's the origin of his story and from the beginnings of the comics and so, Gordon being a lieutenant, it just slots in very nicely with the two of them as a kind of Holmes and Watson trying to try to track the baddies.”
The key to making The Batman work, is making the idea of a man dressed as a superhero viable in the world that Reeves has created. Wright admits that there was uncertainty at first but that didn’t last.
“The first day of principal photography was the scene that’s in the trailers, where Batman and Gordon walk into this crime scene and it’s filled with cops who look at both of them with strange curiosity. I hadn't seen Rob in the suit until that day. We had rehearsed and talked and, when he walked out for rehearsal, he was wearing just the cowl and maybe the top but with sweatpants and tennis shoes.
“There was a slight bit of uncertainty because, you know, is this going to work? Can we do this? And I could see that in him and I thought it was curious. Then he went back, he changed and he came back out in the full suit. And there he was, voilà, it was The Batman,” says Wright.
“I think the suit design really is fantastic. It’s efficient enough, but it's credible, too, and it's grounded. And it just looked spot on. You could see Rob growing in confidence just from those first moments knowing, ‘okay, here we are, this is gonna work’.
“Before we shot, I reached back to him and it gave him a ‘pretend pandemic’ fist bump and said, ‘let's go!’.”
The Batman is out in cinemas 4 March, courtesy of Warner Bros. Head to our The Batman review for our thoughts on the film.