'Gotham's' Victoria Cartagena Talks Montoya's Strength, Sexuality and "Gaytham"

"I feel lucky to be playing someone who’s so important," the actress tells THR.
Jessica Miglio/FOX

From Jim Gordon to Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot to Harvey Bullock or Selina Kyle to Edward Nigma, Fox’s Gotham is filled with colorful characters vying for attention. One character has won a sizable fanbase despite a relatively low profile on the show itself, however, thanks to a well-chosen hashtag and a dramatic comic book past. Even Victoria Cartagena, who plays the character on the show, eagerly calls herself a fan of Renee Montoya.

“She’s pretty amazing,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m playing such an iconic character, and I feel lucky to be playing someone who’s so important to the [LGBTQ] community.”

For those who aren’t familiar with Montoya beyond her Gotham appearances, such excitement might surprise. The character was actually originally created for the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series television series, although DC made a point of introducing her in 1992’s Detective Comics No. 475 before her on-screen debut. Initially portrayed as an upright, if somewhat intense, cop, Montoya came into her own under the pen of writer Greg Rucka in a number of stories running in the Gotham Central and 52 series.

Gotham Central, which ran from 2002 through 2006, promoted Montoya to a lead character and, in a number of critically acclaimed and award-winning storylines, dealt with her being outed against her will and coming to terms — or, really, failing to come to terms — with being an out lesbian on the police force. (52, which continued her story, saw Rucka bring her out of her alcoholism and into life as a costumed vigilante herself.) It was also the series that convinced Cartagena of Montoya’s strength.

"When I was reading Gotham Central, I was like, ‘Oh my God — a Latina, lesbian bad-ass vigilante? Yes, please!’ ” she recalls. “I has decided that I wasn’t going to read any of the comics, and that I was going to base my performance on what the script told me about her because it was so descriptive and right on, but when I Googled her and saw she was so important, I thought, ‘I want to find out more about her.’ Gotham Central made me a comic book fan. My goal now is to read everything Montoya has appeared in. I have quite a journey to go.”

It’s Montoya’s status as an out lesbian that has secured much of the character’s fanbase online, but Cartagena admits that she had no idea about the character’s sexuality when she got the role. “I didn’t know anything!” she insists, explaining that she auditioned using fake sides and a fake character, not knowing that she was up for the role of Montoya. “At the first cast dinner, Erin Richards [who plays Barbara Kean, Renee’s on-again, off-again lover] came up to me and said, ‘Are you playing Renee? Hello lover!’ [laughs] I didn’t know until I got the first script and then I realized.”

The fandom, however, was well aware of what was in store. “The Friday before the first episode aired, I did an interview with Heather Hogan at AfterEllen,” Cartagena remembers, “and at the end of the interview, she said, 'We’re going to be live tweeting under the hashtag #Gaytham, if you want to find your gay fans, here they are.' ”

(Hogan, now senior editor at Autostraddle.com, told THR that the #Gaytham hashtag was “one of a million hashtags that spawned out of a desire for gay women to be able to watch TV and talk about it with other gay women.” The remarkably catchy pun, she says, is the result of “needing the hashtag to be close enough to the show so people could contextualize the tweets, but arcane enough that we could find each other!”)

The community that has organized around the #Gaytham hashtag on Twitter and Tumblr is something close to Cartagena’s heart. “I love them so much,” she says. “They’re so supportive, they get me excited about everything in the show.”

While many of Gotham’s cast interact with fans through social media, Cartagena’s bond with the #Gaytham community is especially strong. “I’m a part of it because they allow me to be part of it, part of their community. I just so happen to play Renee,” she says. “I care about their opinions, they suggest things I haven’t thought about, and provoke me to look deeper into the character. They help me more than they even know.”

The #Gaytham community has helped Cartagena discover her own fandom for the show, she says. “I found that I was as excited as they are,” she admits. “It can be hard — I want to gossip and share my interpretation of something, but I can’t. I don’t want to spoil it for them. My go-to response when they ask about #Keatoya is, 'Maybe — you’ll have to tune in to find out.’ ”

Ultimately, Cartagena says, the combination of Montoya’s online fanbase and comic book roots have convinced her that she’s as much a fan of her character as everyone else — and, like the rest of the Montoya fanbase, someone that’s hoping for a happy ending with Barbara at some point. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen down the line,” she says, adding, “There’s always hope when two people have loved each other as they have.”

Gotham airs Mondays on Fox.