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Erin Richards is no stranger to genre television, having appeared in the British version of Being Human as well as superhero series Misfits and the BBC’s Merlin, but her role as Barbara Kean on Fox’s Gotham is her highest-profile project to date.
The show, which aired its second episode last night, takes place during Bruce Wayne’s formative years, before he dons the cape and cowl, with Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) one of the few forces for good in an increasingly corrupt town.
Richards’ Kean is Gordon’s fiancee, and as the actress tells The Hollywood Reporter, she’s not just the hero’s better half, but also someone who’s ready to “steer Jim on the right path.”
How did you come to be involved in the show?
I basically got very lucky. It was the first week of pilot season. I arrived and went straight into five auditions that week and got screen-tested for five different things, which was crazy. We had to position Gotham at the front because it was the one that I wanted to do the most. I did a couple of rounds of auditions, all with Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller, met them really early on and got on really well with them. They were really relaxed about the whole process, and we were like three Brits in a room having a really great time.
Danny and [Bruno] got me really excited about the project. I wasn’t allowed to read it until they got me in the room to do the audition. Just straight away, I loved it, I love Barbara. I love that it’s the origin stories for all these major characters. That’s the fun of it for me, to find out how these iconic characters became who they are.
Was it Bruno and Danny that made this project the right thing for you, or did you have any affection for Batman growing up?
I’ve always loved Batman. Personally, he’s always been my favorite of the comic book characters because I felt that anyone could be Batman, as long as you’ve got a cave and a load of money! (Laughs.) It’s not like he’s got a super power, it’s just like, as long as you’re a bit of a vigilante, you could be Batman.
I always used to put on plays when I was younger for my family to watch, when I was 10 or something. I used to force older members of my family to watch the plays and younger members of my family to be characters in the plays — and my personal favorite was Batman. I’d play Batman — I wrote it and directed it — and made everyone be Catwoman and Joker and whatever. There’s probably a video of that somewhere that’d be really embarrassing to watch.
In the second episode, Barbara seems more proactive than Jim when it comes to trying to move the case along. Did you know that was going to be part of the character before you started?
We discussed a lot about Barbara and who she is. I think she’s got a lot of different sides to her. There is her proactive side; she’s completely in love with Jim Gordon; she’s completely intelligent and a strong, bold, committed individual. When things come up that she really wants to fight for, that she really believes in, she’ll go hell-for-leather to get them and to steer Jim on the right path.
But, because Bruno is so fantastic and writes these incredible female parts, she obviously has this total other side to her — this dark past that she’s hiding from Jim and from herself, essentially, with all these layers of intrigue and mystery. As the series continues, those secrets are revealed to the audience and to Jim, and that then leads to problems in their relationship and their trust in each other and where the relationship can go to after that. That’s fun to play, and hopefully will be fun to watch.
Barbara is definitely a more complex character than it first appeared.
I’m a feminist, and I’m really all for amazing female characters in stories, and I think TV is leading the way with that right now. In our series, Bruno has written some fantastic female characters who are so driven and strong, with so many different layers. They’re not just the wife, or the boss, or whatever. They have multiple things going on in their lives that make them more real. It’s so fascinating to watch that, and I think women and men like to watch characters with depth and history. It’s liberating to have female characters like that. In the past, female characters didn’t really have that depth of character. It’s an exciting project for me to work on, for that reason.
It’s funny talking to you now and hearing your genuine [Welsh] accent, which isn’t even vaguely apparent when you play Barbara.
There was no voice coach or accent coach. It just felt right. When I do the American accent for Barbara, my voice drops — I go a tone lower, which makes me feel stronger, more grounded, more centered, which feels right for Barbara. I feel like, when I play her and I go into that voice, I just become her. Sometimes I prefer speaking in her voice to my own.
What can you say about Barbara’s relationship with Renee Montoya? There was a scene in the pilot that suggested that the two of them had been involved in the past …
We’re not entirely sure what that relationship was. It’s not been revealed where that will go. We talked about it [ahead of time], and I said I didn’t really want to know long term where it was going. But we talked about where it has been — I’m trying not to give anything away. (Laughs.) Renee Montoya is a factor in Barbara’s life, and it’s something that will creep up and cause problems between her and Jim. You’ll have to watch and see what that means.
Do you have a good idea about what’s going to happen to Barbara in the future?
Sometimes [producers] don’t want you to know what’s coming up, and I quite like that. In real life, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you, so why would your character know? It’s liberating to play the emotion your character is feeling at the time and not know what’s coming up. I like it.
You don’t know where she’s going, but where would you like to see her character go?
I would just like her to go in the most natural direction, and the best direction to bring out the most drama between her and Jim, and the rest of the cast.
I think she’s going to end up becoming Batwoman at some point.
(Laughs.) I honestly don’t know! We only get the scripts a week before we shoot. I have a vague idea of where things are going, but I have no idea [about that]. You’ll have to watch and see! (Laughs.)
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