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‘Gotham’s’ Cory Michael Smith Talks Nygma’s ‘Gradual Evolution’ into The Riddler (SPOILERS)

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen episode 207 of Fox’s “Gotham,” titled “Mommy’s Little Monster.”

There are plenty of monsters lurking in the shadows of Gotham City, but tonight’s episode focused on two in particular — the embattled Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), who saw his beloved mother callously murdered by Theo (James Frain) and Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas) before he was driven into hiding, and the slowly unraveling Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who accidentally killed his girlfriend Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack) at the end of last week’s episode, sending him spiraling down a dark path towards his DC Comics future as another one of Batman’s most iconic nemeses, The Riddler.

While Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) was slowly starting to wise up to Theo’s darker agenda, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) was falling deeper under the spell of Theo’s niece, Silver St. Cloud (Natalie Alyn Lind), much to the disgust of Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who immediately saw the manipulative socialite for what she was. And as Penguin was plotting his revenge against newly elected Mayor Galavan by assembling a veritable waddle of Penguin doppelgangers, Nygma was being led through a sadistic series of riddles designed by his twisted alter-ego, all in the hope of finding Kristen’s hidden body before another member of the GCPD did.

Variety spoke to Smith about Ed’s dramatic evolution, his tortured relationship with Riddles and his upcoming encounter with Penguin.

Can you talk me through the process of finding Ed’s confident alter-ego?

It’s very much just parts of Ed that he possesses that he’s either afraid of or has never accessed. And so, just physically for me with him, it’s about using all the parts of my body or all of the feelings in a capacity that he doesn’t access. So the body is dropped, everything is a bit more from the torso rather than the extremities – the way that he gets a point across, the way that he works in a space, all of the sexual energy, [they’re] just all the things that Ed doesn’t use.

That was super fun for me, because I think every human being has this capacity and Ed’s just been ignoring it for so long, so showing that this character is actually afraid of all these things that most of us have acknowledged and accessed on occasion… he’s tormented by this part of him. So what we saw tonight is the embracing of all these parts of him, which is very exciting, and now this person has become far more whole than he ever has been, which is really exciting for down the road.

It doesn’t mean that he always accesses these things – this is still a gradual evolution. I don’t see it as a flick of a switch, because now that he has felt all of these things, even though it feels outside of himself, he’s felt all of these things now, so he can go back to them. So what we get to see now is that the way that he communicates with people can be very different, especially at work with Lee and Harvey and Jim, so some of that stuff is really fun.

Now that he’s embraced the beauty in what he’s done and the two sides have become one, will we see a little more of that confidence slip out, or is he still playing things meek and shy at work to try and stay under their radar?

I think for a while he’ll keep under the radar while he’s trying to figure things out. We’re gonna have a run-in with Penguin too, soon, so there seems to be work life and home life, but those things get cloudy very quickly. He and Jim will cross paths outside the office in a way that’s probably alarming to both of them. All of a sudden he’s a different player in Gotham, and he doesn’t have to be afraid of Harvey and Jim the way he once was.

Ed killed Kristen unintentionally, and he spends much of the episode panicked and wracked with guilt over it, but going forward after this episode, does that distinction – that it was an accident – matter, or is he too far gone to rationalize it?

I think it’s important that it was an accident, because it separates what he will do from what happened to him. At least for me, at a certain point, when these things are happening to you or it’s just fate, almost, or an inevitability that this is the person you are and this is what happens to you, [that’s] kind of what propels him to forfeit a civility in life – you can’t turn back from that. If this happens to you, in his mind, he has to respond accordingly.

It’s so tragic that he got a taste of normalcy and a chance to enjoy what he worked so hard for with Kristen and then accidentally ruined it all. Do you think that’s part of why he spirals so hard?

Oh god, for sure. The complete joy of being with Kristen and that feeling of wanting to share everything all at once –“she’ll understand why I did this,” everything was coming out of love and love for her and wanting to be loved and feeling very addicted to that feeling… it’s very unfortunate, but it’s all from love, and I think he was definitely feeling normalized. This is someone who’s so much younger than you realize. Whereas some of us might have experienced these things early on and you prepare for them as you’re growing up and you and your friends can be like “oh man, I’ve been through it, I understand,” he doesn’t have anyone telling him that.

Did he truly expect that ill-fated conversation with Kristen to go differently than it did?

Yeah, absolutely. I think she suspected it a while back and he survived that threat, but I think he feels like she knows and it’s more about confirming that for her and making it clear that he did it for her and he would do it again. And a lot of it came from her saying, “oh you’re very sweet, but you couldn’t handle this,” and being emasculated by that. At this point it’s like, “I am your man, I can be your man, I’m strong enough to take care of you – don’t underestimate me. I am here for you, I’m committed to being your man.”

How do the scripts describe that alter ego – do the writers have a specific name for him or is there something you personally use to identify him?

Early on it was just Nygma 1 and Nygma 2, and then some writers did Good Nygma, Bad Nygma. In terms of portrayal, I’ve just always thought of different parts of the body, different parts of the same person. It’s been very fun and now I feel like there’s a more whole character to work with from here on out.

He’s embraced that other self, but on a scale of one to ten, how close to his eventual Riddler self would you say he is – since he’s still fairly early in his journey?

At this point, he’s embraced it but we’re talking like… in terms of ability, prowess, actual skill as a career criminal, I think we’re talking like, maybe second string of a division three school… [Laughs.] I think we still have a long way to go – he’s a bit haphazard in some of his things coming up in the future. Let’s say working on being the starter of a division two sports team.

You mentioned an impending encounter with Penguin – what can you preview about their dynamic when they see each other?

I essentially find him and he’s very hurt and ill, so it’s Nurse Ed to the rescue. It’s a very cool episode where their friendship begins. There’s a lot of time spent together.

It was awesome to see an actual Riddle make an appearance this week – how did it feel to get to follow along with those clues and experience the kind of trauma he’ll someday inflict on so many other people?

It’s great – I bow down to the writers for letting the birth of a demented relationship with riddles be self-inflicted. I think there’s a certain kind of scar tissue from using riddles to hurt oneself… He teaches himself that this very skillset that he has can be terrorizing. And once he realizes what he’s done to himself … in the same way that he was completely distraught and horrified for an entire day trying to figure out what was going on, then he can do the same thing to other people to hurt them. I think the way they chose to birth this relationship is really exciting – it’s certainly one of my favorite things that they’ve decided to do with the show in general. I think it’s a really strong choice for the mythology of this character.

Breaking into the GCPD with a body must’ve taken a particular kind of skill – will we ever see how Ed’s darker side manages to do what he does, now that his two sides have merged, or will it still be a mystery how he accomplishes some of these things when his other self is in the driver’s seat?

That’s such a great question, I’m gonna pose that to the writers – that would be some fun stuff to flash back to, for sure – I love a little physical comedy. It’s a mystery!

“Gotham” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.


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