SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until if you have not yet watched the season four finale of “Gotham” on Fox.
The final moments of the season four finale of Fox’s “Gotham” essentially rebooted the series, with some characters leaving town, multiple villains rising from the underground and one series regular signing off for good.
In the episode, Solomon Grundy (Drew Powell) was shot but then healed and seemingly returned to his normal Butch state, only to be murdered by Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor).
Powell tells Variety after first learning he was going to be shot again, he wasn’t that worried. “This is the fourth time I’ve been shot on the show,” he notes. “Clearly I can survive a bullet wound.” But what made this one different was the fact that he got shot in the heart.
“[That] would probably take another dip in the Slaughter Swamp to recover from,” he admits.
Here, Powell shares with Variety the emotional moments while filming his final scene, what he will miss about playing the character, and if he would ever join the DC Universe again.
How did you learn that Butch aka Grundy wouldn’t make it to the end of the season finale?
I kind of found out by accident, if I’m being honest. I was at work. The process of Grundy is always a couple hours of make-up coming on and a good 45 minutes to take it off. So, I’m usually there before people and there after people. I was in the makeup room, and I read an outline, which sometimes you do. I don’t know if we’re supposed to do that, but any actor that says they don’t is lying. I glanced at it and I kind of got to the end and it said, “Blah, blah, blah and then Penguin shoots Butch in the heart.” I’m like, “Ooh, that doesn’t sound good.” …I called up [executive producer] John Stephens and he said, “Ah, well. I was just about to get on a plane to come tell you tomorrow,” which he did — I saw him the next day.
How did it feel to know you wouldn’t survive the season?
It was a mix of a lot of emotions. Obviously I’m so close to this group. This show has really been an important show in my career. I moved my family from one coast to the other. I’m now kind of forever linked in this really cool world of DC and Batman lore. It’s really special for me. But the cool part was that the overwhelming feeling I had was not anger or resentment or sadness — although there was some of sadness — but it was gratitude. I just felt so grateful that I’ve had four great years of this. Look, who knows what’s to come, but I can feel like I’ve done good work and had a great experience.
How do you think you’ll feel after the episode airs?
It will be very interesting to feel the catharsis of this coming to life and how people will react. It’s been very interesting the last couple of weeks. “Gotham” did a poll of which character they liked better: Butch or Grundy. I didn’t see the final results but with a day left it was 50/50. It was absolutely down the middle. That warms my heart. It was risky on the same level to take this. I believe what people love about Butch was that he was kind of the every man in the scenario. You have crazy Penguin, nutty Riddler, and all this craziness going on. Then, you’ve got the cops that are stern and hard. Then you’ve got Butch who has managed to survive in this crazy town. He ducks and weaves and survives and does it with a little bit of humor and a wink and smile. I think that was really important to have in this show. I think when Bruno [Heller] wrote this character, he told me at the beginning, “People are going to underestimate Butch until it’s too late for them.” It was really true. Even the fans were like, “Oh, he’s just some henchmen for Fish.” Then by the end of season one, they were like, “Oh my gosh. No, he’s way more than that!” It’s going to be really interesting to see the fan reaction. It’s very shocking. I would love to have a camera on fans watching that scene. I do think the reaction will be physical for a lot of people.
How far in advance did you know before you shot the episode?
That was the other tricky part. I was in the middle of shooting 4.20 (episode “A Dark Knight: That Old Corpse”) so we still had two more episodes to go which equals about a month. So I had three, four weeks of dealing with [it]. I think a lot of actors will tell you when you end a long-term job that you really like –particularly, because people feel like we’re a tight group, especially as actors but also crew — you have to go through the five stages of grief. By the time we actually got to that scene, I had been living with it for almost a month. I have to be honest when I say it’s been really tricky. It’s been a long haul to have a month before we shot it. Then we shot it — that was the beginning or middle of March. So I’ve been sitting on it to most of the people outside of my close circle for the last few months, so it’s been a long haul. There’s a part of me that will be very relieved as this comes out.
When did the rest of the cast find out? Did you tell them?
That was kind of a weird thing. Some of them, yeah. There were a couple people I saw the next day that were working the next day so we talked and grieved together a little bit. I don’t mean for it to sound so dramatic. It was definitely a bond that formed so you have to deal with that. But I think people found out through word of mouth. I told some folks, but it was kind of awkward. There’s no real easy way to do that. It’s been true for the other characters that have passed on from our show. It’s all a little bit awkward. But that was the good thing about having time. By the time we got to the end, we had all talked about it. There was a sense of closure on that last day.
How was it filming the final scene and having Penguin be the one who offs your character?
I’ll never forget it. I don’t think any of us will. It’s a beautiful scene. The one thing I said to John Stephens when we talked was what was most important to me was that we need to give Butch a proper death. I think [the] words actually were a “noble death,” and he agreed. Not some cliffhanger. I think the fans, who’ve really grown to love Butch as I have — and Grundy — [would want] a proper send off for him. I think they did that. I was kind of dreading it. We finally got there. The director was Nathan Hope, who’s just a great guy and one of our favorites on “Gotham.” …I don’t think we ever did it without crying, even Jessica [Lucas], who is way tougher than Robin and me. It was just so emotional and so hard. Robin and I are very good friends and have been since the very beginning. So, it was hard for him. It was hard for me. Jessica, as well — those are the guys I’ve spent the most time with over the course of the show with the exception of Jada [Pinkett Smith]. It was really powerful. It was a moment where we had a culmination of this incredible life experience. As an actor, it’s hard to separate [from] that because it changed my life. That’s true. I think it’s true for any actor that has a job that like that moves you from one place to another and you have over a period of years. But also the relationships and the emotion of the scene. I think Robin and I have always had this chemistry that was really special and it really made the Butch and Oswald scenes work. I was really glad to have a few more of those toward the end of season four. By the time we got to that [scene], he was crying and snotting, as he will admit. Jessica had some tears. Then, I’m dead on the ground with tears streaming down my eyes. We got through it. I haven’t seen it, but I’m hoping it cut together OK. We felt like we got it in the end.
Penguin apologizes before he shoots Grundy. Do you think he was being sincere?
I think the wonderful paradox about Oswald, particularly as Robin has brought him to life in this iteration, is that he is at once an emotional character, a passionate character, but also calculating and smart. He’s always three steps ahead of the game. I think after losing so many people that have been close to him and then I think his experience with [Edward] Nygma, the one thing he won’t let happen anymore is to let his emotions get in the way of what’s important to him which is revenge and power. It’s funny. We’ve talked about this. The fact that Tabitha [killed] Ms. Cobblepot was never going to sit well with him. He wanted to get back at Tabby for killing his mother, the most important thing to him. I always assumed that she would be the one to get it and not me, but I guess I had to be the proxy in this one.
What was the hardest part about saying goodbye to Butch?
It’s funny because I’ve said goodbye to him once. That took me by surprise. There was a moment after we did the Grundy scene — in episode five of the season, they dump Butch in the swamp and Grundy rises out of the Slaughter Slump. The way we shot that out in a pool in the middle of nowhere in Staten Island, we did the rising out of the swamp scene and then hobo scene, and then the last scene we shot was Butch getting into the swamp and then they kind of pulled me out of the water. So that was like the very end of Butch, at least at that point. I was surprised. [For] three years I’ve really grown to appreciate this character. Not often do you get that opportunity as an actor. One of the things I love about TV is that you can live with the character for a while and kind of inhabit him or her. I really did that with Butch. We’ve had a lot of different paths on this particular show. I surprisingly felt a sadness of losing Butch. Then, Grundy presented his own challenges. The makeup alone was something that really took some getting used to. There’s part of me that thinks another season of Grundy with all of that makeup and that wig and the whole thing would’ve been pretty tough. But I loved him too! The death of both characters at once [in the season four finale] was really emotional. It was emotional for all of us.
What is one thing you’ve learned since the start of “Gotham” that has helped you grow as an actor?
I think the experience has taught me to prepare. Not that I didn’t before, but the importance of thinking about what you’re doing [and] understanding that there’s an arc here. That there will be an evolution throughout time. It took me a while to kind of get the knack of who Butch was. To spend time in thought and contemplation and study of who this character is so that you can really bring him to life. I learned how cool it is to be a part of the world of comic book characters — the DC world, the whole general genre. I hadn’t had that experience before and getting to do some of these comic-cons and meeting fans that are so passionate and being a part of something that’s 75 years old — this American mythology — is really cool. That’s one of the things I loved about being Grundy, too, was to be a part of the canon, which was a creation by the brilliant Bruno Heller. It was great to be able to create that role. I secretly hope someday, somewhere there’ll be a Butch Gilzean in a comic somewhere. Being able to be this iconic villain, or anti-hero as I like to think of him, who started in 1944, boy that’s a legacy that it’s so neat to be a part of. That was really special. Also, you get to practice with incredible people. You get to do it over and over with really talented crew members and directors and writers and cast. I think that last part is the thing I’ll miss the most — the camaraderie we had. We’re like a family. I think about our trips to comic-con in the last couple of years in this plane together flying out and the laughter and the stories that we’ll have forever. That doesn’t happen on every show. I’ve been on a lot of different shows and you have sometimes different personalities that just don’t click. But for whatever reason, this group of people really did, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.
Would you take on the role of Butch again or another character for a DC film?
In the blink of an eye. Absolutely. Having said that, the last three months, I did the pilot for “L.A. Confidential” which was amazing. I did a couple of movies — the movie I’m doing now is about Ted Kaczynski. So it’s been fun to kind of explore other things. That’s something I feel very lucky to have got to do right away to kind of help clear my head a little bit and know there is life after “Gotham.” But of course, I’d be a fool to say no to getting back into the DC Universe. Every time I see Geoff Johns I’m like, “I’m in, for my career! Whatever you need, I’m in!” Not the least of which is I’m the father of a 7-year-old boy, so I get to be the coolest dad in the world since I get to work with Batman.
The finale ends in a way that could reboot the series. What were your thoughts when you first heard about the decision to potentially switch-up the show?
It was never really made clear to us that that’s what was happening. Not having seen the episode yet, I’m still unclear, other than what I’ve read, about what that really means. A good friend of mine, John Rogers, a writer and producer who I’m very fond of, tweeted that we’re getting to a point where we’re going to have to accept the fact that series are basically going to be five years and that’s what you’re going to get. I think he’s right about that with a few exceptions. You get to a point in storytelling in our society today which expands looking for the next shiny object or light button. Even something serialized like a comic book show which you feel like could go on forever. It’s also hard to shoot that show. There’s a lot that goes into it. This isn’t your procedural point and shoot and talk about whatever cop lingo is it — there’s a lot going on there. So, I understand the need to kind of give it a little jolt and see what happens.
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