8 Ways ‘Gotham’ Creators Reinvented Batman’s Butler in ‘Pennyworth’
Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon had success in the world of Batman prequels creating the Fox drama Gotham. The show told the story of how Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) dealt with all the rising villains of Gotham City without a superhero’s assistance. Gotham ended when Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) became Batman. Now, Heller and Cannon are going back even further. Pennyworth takes place long before Bruce Wayne was even born, and before Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) became the Wayne family butler.
Set in 1960s London, Alfred meets Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), Bruce’s father, and they face off against the evil Raven Society. Alfred has returned home from his tour in the SAS, a backstory detail only added in the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Dark Knight films.
Cannon and Heller spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet after their Pennyworth panel for the Television Critics Association. Here is your cheat sheet for the Alfred origin story, which premieres July 28 on EPIX.
‘Pennyworth’ is not connected to ‘Gotham’
Gotham’s Alfred (Sean Pertwee) was a mentor to young Bruce Wayne. Bruce lost his parents to Gotham City’s criminals, and Alfred tried to steer him away from the path of violence, though he also taught Bruce how to fight. But that’s not the Alfred of Pennyworth.
“It’s not a companion piece to Gotham,” Heller said. “One of the things both me and Danny would agree we’re really keen not to do is to do a prequel to Gotham except in the sense that it’s about the same characters.”
Jack Bannon is an Alfred Pennyworth we’ve never seen before
As many Batmans as there have been on film and television, there have been that many Alfreds. Alfred was Batman’s loyal companion from the Adam West TV series to the Ben Affleck movies. In his first solo series, Alfred will get to be his own man.
“It just seems to me that this show is of a different era and of a different time,” Cannon said. “I don’t think we’re trying to be connected to any other version, somebody else’s version of something. I’m a big fan of all this world. That’s why I was happy to explore something because I’ve loved these movies and I’ve loved these comic books for a long time, but I think you honor them best when you do a version that stands alone.”
Heller’s Alfred took on new life as soon as he cast Bannon, too.
“As much as you can prethink these things, the joy of TV work, as opposed to movies, is that it’s very much what the actors create and carry on creating and developing,” Heller said. “This is the Jack Bannon Alfred which is different.”
The Batman universe returns to the 60s
Adam West’s TV series popularized Batman in the 60s. His was a very campy version with colorful costumes and sound effects spelled out on screen. Pennyworth returns to the 60s in 2019, but with a much more grounded, historical take on the era.
“I think the thing that we were excited about was to create a brand new world that DC hasn’t been in before,” Cannon said. “It hasn’t been in London and it hasn’t been in the 60s. What does DC 60s London look like and feel like? It just got really interesting once we had the freedom to just do that.”
That’s not to say Pennyworth’s 60s is the same as the history books. In the DC world, Alfred is returning home from war in the. In which 1960s war did England send troops? Cannon suggests there might have been a different war in this alternate history, or maybe World War II didn’t end in 1945.
“I think this is a world that, rather than trying to be the swinging 60s and cool and hip and bring attention to itself, this is a country that is still getting over the war,” Cannon continued. “We’re yet to know in this was it the same war? That’s a question we’re allowed to ask but it’s a world in conflict with itself. It’s trying to grow up and it’s trying to move into the modern age but it resists it in the same way that so many people resist change.”
Alfred has a girlfriend
You’ve never seen Alfred the lover before. The assumption is he gave up his personal life to take care of Bruce Wayne full time. By the time of most Batman movies or shows, Alfred is an elderly single man. Not so in Pennyworth.
“Yes, this is the first time you’re going to see Alfred the lover,” Heller said. “He’s going to scandalize some people and shock people and challenge people’s conception, especially people who are deeply into the DC canon mythology. We’re going to challenge their perceptions of that character, who he could be and who he was.”
For the first season of Pennyworth, Esme (Emma Corrin) is Alfred’s love interest. That’s not to say Esme is the love of Alfred’s life.
“She is when we begin,” Heller said. “When we get into his personal story, we are going to do things that will surprise and thrill.”
Alfred is no Bruce Wayne though
As Batman’s secret identity, Bruce Wayne is a playboy. He’s had a different love interest in each movie, and in the comics enjoys a rotating bevy of companions on his arm. Alfred may be a lover but he’s no Bruce Wayne style playboy.
“No, you can only play that level when you’ve got a billion dollars,” Heller said. “One of the nice things about the show is that not dealing with a billion dollars is that people live in little houses and drive around in little cars and don’t have cupboards full of 2000 weapons and gadgets.”
Alfred is a loner who will find allies
Batman is the ultimate loner. He wages a one-man war against crime and in his Bruce Wayne life keeps people at a distance. When Pennyworth begins, Alfred is a loner in the same mold. The difference is, Alfred doesn’t want to be alone.
“He doesn’t want to be a loner,” Heller said. “I don’t think anyone wants to be a loner. I think someone with that sort of history, soldiers like that, have a tough time finding people who understand them and finding a place in the civilian world. They’re essentially misfits in any world. In a world of peace, it’s difficult to be a violent man.”
Look for comic book Easter eggs
While Pennyworth is a brand new incarnation of Alfred, and distinct as the only young Alfred in the franchise, Heller hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Heller promises Batfans he drew inspiration from some of the classic comic book incarnations of Alfred.
“There’ve been so many brilliant graphic novel comic book versions, it’s hard not to take something from all of those,” Heller said. “If you just take from one of them, you’re kind of doing yourself a disservice.”