'Gotham': Paul Reubens Discusses "Downfall" of the Penguin's Father

"It shouldn't be that surprising that the father of the Penguin isn't this dark, screwed-up terrible person," the actor tells THR.
Nicole Rivelli/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Gotham, "Prisoners."]

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be Oswald Cobblepot.

Just as Gotham made it seem as if the former Penguin was bonding with the father he never knew he had — Elijah Van Dahl, played by Paul Reubens — said father was murdered by his wife and stepchildren, who, it turns out, weren't too excited about the idea of sharing their future inheritance with anyone, never mind a crime boss who's just been released from an asylum.

The Hollywood Reporter talked to Reubens about his all-too-brief stint on the show and what it would take for him to return.

Gotham audiences are used to Oswald having bad luck, but this feels like it's taking things to a whole new level. To lose his father so soon after finding him…

I tried everything in my power to make sure he did not die. I decided I wasn't going to die on the first take. I told Robin [Lord Taylor] that they would have to kill me off camera. The first version of the scene, I drank a sip of [the poisoned] wine, and then I drank another sip, and another sip, and then I downed the whole glass and poured another and said, "This is delicious." I couldn't keep from laughing. I looked up and the script supervisor and director were both looking at each other going, "What is going on?" And then I died. I died in the next take, but I had to have my comedic version of it for a second.

I was shocked that I was dying, and I didn't really want to die so early. I understand why — in the episodes that follow, everything is going to go berserk after this. It's going to get really insane — but I'm not around!

This is actually the second time you've played the Penguin's father; you had a cameo in the same role back in 1992's Batman Returns. Is this a coincidence, or are you secretly a big fan of this particular character?

It's a coincidence. I wasn't campaigning to play this role, I had no idea about it — my friend Carol Kane was playing the Penguin's mother, and I asked her if we could have lunch while I was in Manhattan doing The Blacklist, and she said, "Oh, I'd love to bring someone along that I'm working with," and she brought Robin along to this lunch. The two of them, in the middle of the lunch, said, "You know, they're talking of bringing in Penguin's father into the series, and would you consider doing it?" I said yes immediately.

You and Robin seemed to have a really good bond. Your scenes together were surprisingly sweet, especially considering how dark the show can be.

I can see why people would be expecting the character to be dark, but when you think about it, we're unfortunately in a situation today where we have all these crazy current events happening — all these shootings, all these people who are battling mental illness and acting out — and oftentimes with that, we hear comments or statements from family members. It shouldn't be that surprising that the father of the Penguin isn't this dark, screwed-up terrible person, you know what I mean? For whatever reasons that happened to the Penguin, it's not the father's fault, and that's the case in many situations where you see these people come out and make these statements in the real world, and they're feeling so responsible for some hideous comment or action that somebody took.

I loved the sincerity of the character and the sincerity of the relationship, and getting to work with Robin on it. We were both extremely emotional; it was an undercurrent to everything we did together, this huge big well of need and love and emotion. I'm playing somebody who is really his lifeline — it doesn't work out that way, but before the downfall, it's all about trying to take advantage of this beautiful situation that we both find ourselves in. It changes him, it changes me, it was lovely to get to do that with him.

And even though Elijah is dead, there was that conversation about ghosts this episode. Elijah thought the house was haunted, so was this some entirely unexpected foreshadowing for the show's strangest plot twist yet?

I mentioned it several times while I was there. I'm hoping they listen and do that, but I have no idea. I feel like his father could always have a twin brother, though….

Just how "berserk" are things going to get for Oswald if he looks into the circumstances of his father's surprise death — and how likely is it that the GCPD will consider him the prime suspect? Leave your guesses in the comments below. Gotham airs Mondays at 8 pm on Fox.

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