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It’s not been easy to be a cop in Gotham since the start of the Fox drama’s second season. One commissioner has been forced out by the head of the criminal underworld, and another has been murdered in the middle of police headquarters — and when the killer is stopped, it wasn’t the police that were responsible, but another criminal mastermind.
But that’s about to change as there’s a new sheriff coming to GCPD. Enter Michael Chiklis, who begins his series-regular role as Capt. Nathaniel Barnes during Monday’s fourth episode of the season. A no-nonsense cop who’s determined to clean up the city, Barnes is a man who will do whatever it takes to put away the bad guys — as long as it’s inside the law.
Here, THR talks with Chiklis about what makes Barnes a force to be reckoned with — for villains and other cops alike.
Showrunner Bruno Heller described Barnes as someone who believes absolutely in the law, and in obeying the law to the letter no matter what. Is that how you see the character?
I see him as a guy who’s clinging to the law because of his own personal experiences. He’s a guy who sees the law as the thing that separates us from the animals — and the animal within each of us. This season is called ‘Rise of the Villains,’ and thus far the villains have been kicking ass and taking names, and my character is serving as a counterbalance to that. He comes in like a wild man — like a bull, not a china shop, but in a bull ring — he’s the cavalry, pushing back against all these villains and looking at it as a war.
How does that attitude impact his relationship with the cops who have been fighting the good fight all along?
Barnes looks at this kid Jim Gordon as the hope and future of law and order in Gotham. He’s worried because the kid is slipping down the slippery slope of “the ends justify the means” law enforcement, and from his own personal experience, he’s trying to pull Jim off that path for his own good. That creates this dramatic tension between these two guys because he’s at once a mentor and an ally, and at the same time, an antagonist and someone who’s butting heads with Gordon — and with Harvey, in particular — throughout the season.
That sounds like the way that Gordon was himself at the start of the series — this character who comes in and sees a corrupt system and tries to clean things up. But Jim has found himself making these morally gray choices along the way. Do you think Barnes is going to have to deal with that choice as well?
I have no doubt of that, yes. Especially in light of the episode we just shot, episode nine, which I have several bruised ribs from, after certain things that happened with some villains this week — one thing about Barnes is that he is not a desk jockey, he’s more like a field captain, very hands-on and jumping right into it. He stands with his men, he gets his hands dirty. There is no doubt that what he’s warning Jim Gordon about is a threat to him as well.
In episode nine, he reveals some things about his past that make him aware of the potential for any man [to be weak]. It makes him really three-dimensional, finding out the reasons why he is the way he is. He’s a mentor with his own struggles.
Which explains why he’s as strict as he is, in terms of sticking to the rules.
Absolutely. That’s part of the reason why he feels the need to be so hard-core about getting things done. He wants to attack these guys and vanquish them, but he’s adamant about the way in which to do it. It has to be according to the rules of law, and within the guidelines of the law, otherwise there’s nothing to separate “us” from “them.”
Without spoiling anything, can you say if there’s a specific “them” that you’d want Barnes to deal with, either in terms of outright villains, or even characters inside the GCPD itself?
I’m really looking forward to having some kind of showdown with Robin [Lord Taylor], who’s done an incredible job with his portrayal of the Penguin, and I can’t wait to see how Nigma (Cory Michael Smith) emerges. He’s been terrific. But I’ve really been enjoying working with my old pal Donal Logue, as well as Ben McKenzie.
You mentioned Barnes being three-dimensional because he’s flawed, and Gotham is a show that’s filled with flawed characters. That’s a break from other comic book work you’ve done, like the Fantastic Four movie, or even No Ordinary Family …
I was a comic book kid, when I was young — 12, 13, 14 years old. I think those are formative years, and things you love then, you’ll always love, and comic books are a big part of that. I love the genre, especially when it’s done well. I think it’s done well when it’s grounded by some really human moments, when it’s given some weight that doesn’t require such suspension of disbelief from the audience.
I think they’ve done a great job on this show this year to move away from the procedural elements they got into last year, especially midway through the season. Now they’re moving into this personal, serialized story that everyone wants — the origin stories of the good guys and the bad guys of Gotham. There’s so much potential now. The show’s started firing on all pistons and the cake’s just beginning to rise by the time I show up.
Is Barnes really the man to bring law and order to the city, or will Oswald, Theo Galavan or the “curse of the Joker” manage to claim him before he has a chance to leave his mark? Leave a comment below to rate his chances. Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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