“Both friend and enemy reside within us. One lives by the rule of
compassion, the other by the rule of hard knocks. Though potential
influence of either extreme is inevitable, our actions bear witness to
the one we embrace.”
― T.F. Hodge
Love is in the air on “Gotham.” Edward Nygma, played by Cory Michael Smith,
recently bumped into librarian Isabella at a wine store and fell head
over heels for her – and why not? She happens to be a dead ringer for
Edward’s former girlfriend Kristen Kringle (who he accidentally killed),
and that can’t simply be a coincidence.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems happy for the new couple. Oswald Cobblebot (Robin Lord Taylor)
is showing signs of jealousy now that Edward’s time is divided. From
the sound of it, Edward’s broken heart might finally push him over the
edge of sanity.
Smith spoke with CBR about Riddler’s rebirth, what he and Penguin
mean to each other, Nygma’s run-in with Lee and how love could
ultimately devastate him.
CBR: Season 3 opened with Edward still a resident at Arkham Asylum. How did his stay there further shape who Edward is becoming?
Cory Michael Smith: One of the things that I really
love about Edward is his glee, especially when he thinks he’s in control
of something. He gets giddy and excited. There was something quite
punishing about being locked up for months and months and months, so I
was able to show a deflated, miserable Ed. That was a brand we hadn’t
seen yet. We had seen a young guy who had been picked on and felt
friendless, but we had never seen someone who started to feel some
confidence in himself and then, all of a sudden, was relegated to
loneliness and maltreatment. I thought it was nice to see his spirit
completely deflated. Him getting out and having this rebirth of
innocence and being absolved of all his sins and crimes – that was done
solely by Penguin. His loyalty now belonged to this person who gave him
Penguin visits Edward, and the two engage in a fascinating
conversation. Besides working with Robin Lord Taylor, what have you
enjoyed about how that relationship has progressed?
It’s been out of character for what we see as the Riddler, in my
opinion, which I like. It signals he’s not quite there yet. By that, I
mean someone who is severely independent and quite a narcissist and
would never allow himself to be second, or, not be given credit for
something. We’re seeing someone who is quite compassionate, whether it’s
a sign of gratitude that Penguin got him out, or this genuine
understanding of Penguin’s motivation. A lot of things that happened for
Penguin – his success, this clean election – are things I manufactured
and made happen for him or happen to him. I think there’s something
quite satisfying for Edward at the beginning of this season where he’s
kind of the architect of Penguin’s mayoral run.
Edward didn’t like Butch getting in there because Butch has no nuance
or skill beyond being a brute force. Edward was just excited about
running the show, but not taking credit for it. I think Penguin
understood what he was doing, so they got along well because Penguin
acknowledged Edward and how intelligent he was and how much help he was.
It was only until we saw Butch try to get any sort of acknowledgement
over me that I was bit sour. I’ve really enjoyed this season. It’s felt
like a very non-volatile version of Riddler, which I think is kind of
Lee literally didn’t pull any punches when she ran into
Edward at the GCPD. What were your thoughts on that confrontation, and
who should be afraid of who?
That whole episode where I go back to the GCPD was the other brand of
Edward that I mentioned earlier. He gets a little cocky. He goes back
to the GCPD and pushes people around because he’s in charge for the
first time. This is so delicious. That interaction with Lee was
particularly jarring because, first of all, she gets violent. It wasn’t
even a slap – she roundhouse punched me in the face.
The news that Lee is somehow connected to Falcone is terrifying. He’s
a genuine threat. As far as Edward was concerned, he thought Carmine
was out of the picture for good. Just the knowledge of having Falcone
back in the city is intimidating. Ed has plenty to be nervous about in
the future. He has plenty to be worried about, knowing Falcone could
potentially be making a play one day.
Oswald is currently the mayor and Edward is his right-hand
man. Viewers have noticed this brewing bromance between them. What is
your take on what they mean to each other?
I think what Edward means to Oswald is quite different than what
Oswald means to Edward. It’s a tale of two emotions. There’s a genuine
investment in the other. They’ve both helped each out at critical times.
There’s this alliance that they have. Something that Edward had said to
Penguin, which for me is very important to the character, is that their
weakness is love and is the one thing that can destroy them. If they
don’t allow themselves to feel that, then they are unstoppable. I like
the idea that Edward could follow that because he’s a bit more cerebral
and perhaps his mind could outweigh his heart sometimes. I don’t think
Oswald has the potential to even live by that motto, no matter how much
success it could potentially bring to him.
I can’t speak for Oswald or Robin in expressing exactly what he’s
trying to portray – whether it’s a deep, deep love and affection that
warrants a partnership – I don’t know whether Penguin is a sexual
person, so I don’t if that’s what the relationship is. But, he’s used
the word “love,” which I think is genuine. I think Oswald has fallen in
love with Edward, because Edward is not subservient, but certainly has
made it a point to cater to Penguin’s needs. I don’t know what brand of
love this is. Nothing is ever traditional in Gotham. We’ve learned now
that Isabella is in the picture. Edward is never going to be interested
in Oswald that way. It’s already created some tension and when Oswald
doesn’t get what he wants, he becomes a juvenile in the way he handles
things. That’s what we’re in store for.
And going back to what I said is Ed’s motto about denying yourself
love – What I think is interesting that the writers did was lean on this
one woman, Isabella, who is so similar to Kristen, that it’s truly
Edward’s Achilles’ heel regarding this motto. It’s really the one person
that can pull him out of his constitution.
Do you believe Edward is saner when he’s in love?
He’s much saner. What was really important in his development with
Kristen was it’s one of the few times Edward feels normal. His whole
life, Edward has been picked on and underestimated and mistreated and
abused at work. Kristen was available to him and willing to go on dates
with him. It felt like the first time Edward had a normal life. He went
on double dates with Jim and Leslie. They were friendly to his face and
that felt nice. He felt happy. Edward lost his virginity in his late
twenties. Although it was delayed, it was nice to feel normal for the
first time in his life. What was so psychologically destructive was that
he’s responsible for ruining the one thing that could have brought him
normality. The mourning of Kristen was not just about killing his
girlfriend, but killing his once chance at being normal. Now that he’s
out of Arkham and absolved of his crimes, he hasn’t done anything
horrible in Season Three. He fought for a clean election. He saw what
Butch was doing, and took him to task for it. He’s been a pretty clean
So here comes a second opportunity for normalcy, and he’s leaning
into it. It’s been interesting to play him this season, because I
haven’t felt like a villain. He’s been a decisive man, but, all of a
sudden, love comes and he gets a little softer, kinder and sweeter. I
think he has a good heart. I’ve tried to not make it seem like his
destiny is to be a bad person. Fate just keeps making him respond by
doing terrible things.
In what ways could Isabella’s rejection, secrets or death finally push Edward into become the iconic villain Riddler?
There are countless ways this could go wrong, and I’m sure the
writers have considered most of them. Nothing stays rosy very long in
Gotham. It’s just not a color we linger on. This guy does feel a certain
security and happiness. If, and when, that is ripped away from him, I
don’t know how many times you can tolerate losing a love. I don’t think
I’m ruining anything by saying this isn’t going to end well. The path we
have laid down for how and why is probably heading to one of the most
destructive things that could happen to Edward and the city as it
What else can you tease about what’s in store for Edward leading up to the winter finale?
Monday’s episode was so fun to shoot. We go deeper into the
relationship between Edward and Isabella. What is inevitable is having
to confront the fact that she really does look so much like Kristen.
While Edward and Penguin are choosing houses, he comments, “She has a
passing resemblance to Kristen.” Edward actually has to confront that,
because it’s creepy and kind of freaky. That will be explored.
As the tide turns on Edward’s fortune and sanity, things go terribly
wrong. His world gets turned upside down and he’s in a frenzy. That’s
going to lead my storyline into the mid-season finale. There’s so much
that changes for him over the next few episodes. There are new
interactions. I have scenes with people I haven’t worked with a lot.
Edward loses it for a minute in trying to figure out what happened.
At this point, how close do you feel Edward is to fully committing to being the Riddler?
There’s an interesting thing that happened with Oswald when he
embraced the fact that people started calling him Penguin. Once he
embraced that, frankly, there’s something that happens when you take
control of the thing you hate. That’s what Penguin did. What is
important to Edward’s development is not necessarily that brand, but him
identifying with something he can wrap his identity around. I guess
that falls down to riddles and what riddles mean, which is wordplay and
games and tricking people and challenging people’s intellect and being
in control of the situation. Being the Riddler means many more things,
but claiming an identity is really important to his development. “This
is who I am. This is my life. This is now what I’m doing. This is how
you’ll know me. I am in charge. I ask the questions from now on.” I
think once he makes that decision – which as far as I know will be
happening this season – that will be a major turning point. The fallout
we’ll be experiencing from the next three episodes will be the last
straw for Edward. We’re going to start seeing someone who is far more
independent, manipulative and out for himself.
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