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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Gotham season two, episode three, “The Last Laugh.”]
A week after Fox’s Gotham raised the stakes by offing police commissioner Sarah Essen, Monday’s “The Last Laugh” went even further in proving that no one is safe when Jerome Valeska (Shameless series regular Cameron Monaghan) — the boy who it seemed was destined to become the Joker — was killed.
In a surprise twist, Theo Galavan (James Frain) went further than anyone expected in pretending to save the day from Valeska at a public event, stabbing the villain in the neck to ensure — for the cameras — that he would never be able to threaten anyone ever again. Even as the final scene of the episode showed Valeska on the slab in the morgue — while, curiously enough, citizens of Gotham start laughing uncontrollably for mysterious reasons — it seemed unreal: Could Jerome really be dead? The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Monaghan to find out.
We didn’t see that coming!
It’s quite the punchline, huh?
Is Jerome really dead?
I don’t know! It’s a comic book world, and sometimes in a comic book world, people don’t stay dead for very long! [Laughs.] But I wouldn’t be able to tell you if something was going to happen later this season or in a season to come.
Did you have an idea, going into the season, that this was how Jerome would end up?
Yes. I knew prior to filming the game play of the season and what was going to go down, which I was thankful for. It let me plan out an arc for Jerome, and know which beats I’d want to hit for each episode to be able to build up to that episode, and have it be the gut punch that it is.
What kind of beats were on your list?
I wanted to accomplish a specific goal for each episode. Episode one was the establishment that he has full-on embraced the personality that he revealed in his appearance last season, and at the end of that episode, he begins to understand the concept of being a showman, leading to the second episode, which sees him rise to that stage. And the third one, he becomes the full-on villain, he truly has lost any sense of humanity. He kills his father, he literally takes the stage, he reaches the height of his insanity. It was a matter of trying to find each beat for each stage of that journey.
When Jerome confronted his father, it was as if his mask slipped and we saw the anger and pain behind the clown. He suddenly seemed more human. Was that something you consciously tried to bring out?
No! [Laughs.] If anything, it took effort to try and squash the humanity in him. I think there’s an innate tendency with actors in wanting to humanize, but one of the defining things about this character is that he’s trying to kill his humanity in any way, shape or form possible. [His humanity] was something that came through in the scenes, but it was something that I was consciously not wanting to bring out. I didn’t want it to feel forced.
Jerome was teased as being the proto-Joker, and certainly had obvious callouts to that character — especially when it came to the laugh. Did you look at earlier onscreen incarnations of that character to inspire Jerome?
No. Especially not the live-action ones; those performances are something I admired — Jack Nicholson brought this sense of danger to the character, and then Heath Ledger redefined that danger, and both did such incredible work — but there was no way I was ever going to be able to top them. The only thing I could do was to play Jerome, and let him find his own quirks and his own identity.
So who was Jerome to you?
I wanted him to be someone who has this sick charisma — to make you want to watch him, even though he’s doing atrocious things. He’s a showman, and he has this sense of humor that you can’t help but admire, and this commitment to his insanity on this large level. To me, it was important to push the comedy and the showmanship. That’s where I managed to find him.
Talking about the comedy — that laugh…
For my first episode [in the first season], there was this process that took place for a few weeks over the Christmas break. I found out I got the role, and before I started filming, I locked myself into my apartment and I was doing it every day, all day. Neighbors probably thought I was going to kill somebody, or that I was killing somebody, I think; they still look at me pretty funny.
Between the first and second season, what was important to me was that it never sounded the same depending on the context, because the laugh is reflection on what he’s feeling, and how he’s feeling. Sometimes it’s smaller and more maniacal, and sometimes it’s pure glee. It’s trying to find the different levels, and that is something I did learn from a Joker, from Mark Hamill‘s portrayal [in the 1990s animated Batman series].
Every time he does the laugh, it’s totally different, and totally reflective of the context of what’s going on. That inspired me, I wanted to make sure I did that as well.
Is there a sense of missed opportunity to leaving Jerome behind so early? It looked as if he was going to be one of the major characters in the season.
I was happy to get to touch anything in this mythos at all — I love Batman in many forms, from the comics to the TV series to the movies. I’ve been a massive fan since I was a kid. I did think that the one scene I did last season was genuinely going to be it, and I had come to terms with that. And then, by the end of the season, they approached me about coming back for some more, which was an incredible surprise.
I remember there was a moment in the second episode where I jump onto the side of the moving gas truck and I get to do the laugh as I’m driving away, and, within that moment, I had this surreal experience of, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting to do this right now.’ Most of the time, I was so focused on the work — and it was so nerve-racking — that I was never able to really take a step back and appreciate it. At that one moment, I got to have this out-of-body experience, and it was amazing.
Does killing Jerome make Theo Galavan more of a threat? And what does Jerome’s death mean for the future of the Joker? Use the comments to share your thoughts, condolences and gnashing of teeth.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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