'Gotham's' BD Wong Talks New Villain Hugo Strange: "He Has a God Complex"

"He loves controlling people, he loves manipulating the human brain and messing with people and seeing if he can use his knowledge to actually change a person," the actor says of the Fox show's latest arch nemesis.
Jessica Miglio/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Gotham's "Mr. Freeze" episode.]

Welcome to Gotham, Hugo Strange.

Monday's return of the Fox drama brought a new villain to the show in the form of Arkham Asylum's charming, creepy head psychiatrist, played by BD Wong. After a conversation that made new inmate Oswald Cobblepot very nervous, the sight of a fellow patient seemingly driven insane by Strange's treatment suggested that there's far more to Dr. Strange than meets the eye — and that was before the audience discovered that he's very interested in re-animating the dead. THR caught up with Wong to discuss what makes the latest big bad on the show tick.

Who is Hugo Strange to you? Did you come into the show with an idea of who the character was?

I see him as someone sophisticated, not an average, scrappy villain, but someone who's intellectually superior and articulate, and in some ways elegant. His obsession with psychiatry and the human brain leads him to behavior and choices and activities that lead him to feel better than other people. He has a God complex.

But despite that, he's unusually charming and restrained, especially for a show like Gotham, which has traditionally gone for far more dramatic villains. He's not like Jerome, Oswald, or even Fish Mooney. He's far more restrained.

He's not a showboater. The thing that is a really huge thing for him — in his behavior, but also every other choice that he makes — is control. He loves controlling people, he loves manipulating the human brain and messing with people and seeing if he can use his knowledge to actually change a person. But he's also a very controlled person himself, so control is a recurring theme with him. I think his behavior is informed by a desire for control.

That comes through in the scene where he meets Oswald [Robin Lord Taylor] for the first time. There's a feeling that they're both feeling each other out, and Strange is pushing at Oswald's boundaries, trying to get a sense of how to manipulate him.

I think it's safe to say that his meeting with Oswald is a sign of how he'll interact with the other characters. In the episodes that I've shot already, that is kind of his M.O., what makes people nervous around him. You're not scared of him because he's got a gun on you, necessarily; you're scared of him because of what he might make you do. You're not quite caught up to him yet; he's ahead of you. That's what scares Oswald, I think, the feeling that [Strange] is ahead of him.

What's that like as an actor, playing this master manipulator?

It's great! You have permission in a show like this to not worry about life — there's a freedom to the fantasy aspect of the show that allows you to explore things that are really just fun to play. It's fun to play someone who's smarter than you, but you have to use your own intelligence to make it believable that you're smarter than everyone else. That's really scary in some ways, but it's really fun, too. I'm a very competitive kind of person, but I quite fancy the idea of pulling that off.

Unlike a lot of characters on the show, your Hugo Strange looks like the comic book character. You've got the glasses, you've got the bald head, the beard. Was that something you wanted, or did the producers ask for it?

It evolved. When the producers first came to me, they said, "On our show, we usually try to shake things up a little bit and not try to make the characters look the way they do in the comics." But I wanted to try elements of the comic book look, and they gave me permission to have an all-day hair and makeup session where we tried, I think, 10 looks to try and determine what would work the best. At the end of it, I was really convinced that the classic look was the best look.

I really love the challenge that, when you look at the archival evidence of how the character has looked over many decades, I don't really look like that person at all. He's obviously Caucasian, he seems older, he's a larger person — he's very imposing and scary-looking. I wanted to take those elements fans remember and put them with my body and face. How would that look? Would it look ridiculous, would it be a strange juxtaposition? But we tried it, and I really liked how it looked.

You described him as scary-looking, and there really is something about Strange that's…disturbing, if not downright scary.

He does like to say things that are seemingly calming, but are not calming at all. (Laughs) The language, the way he presents himself, they appear to be calming, but there's something about it that is really unsettling. I like that. That makes him very interesting to me — he's a person who's in the business of supposedly healing people's minds but is really messing with them at the same time.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, it's clear that Strange has a specific, if mysterious, agenda. Should fans expect to see him stay behind the scenes, convincing others to do his dirty work for him, or will he come into conflict with Gordon and Bullock directly?

I'm all for something being not just one thing but two things at the same time, being complex and layered. That's what's interesting to me. I like that there's a puppet master element to Strange, but you'll see as things progress, he becomes more actively involved with affecting the situation he finds himself in. I like both of those things. As the character evolves, he becomes more intense, and that's very interesting to me.

What does Strange want with Oswald, and just why is he interested in bringing the dead back to life? Leave your guesses below. Gotham airs Mondays at 8 pm on Fox.

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