Have you been able to have a conversation without talking about The Batman?
Neither have we. The Robert Pattinson-starring film is garnering praise from fans and critics alike, which is to no surprise given that next to Pattinson is an all-star cast of Paul Dano, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell and Barry Keough (not to mention writer-director mastermind Matt Reeves).
Perhaps Batman’s most important comrade this time around is Lieutenant (not yet commissioner) Gordon. Just ahead of the movie’s theatrical debut, LA Confidential caught up with Jeffrey Wright, who plays Gordon, to talk more about the newest Batman saga.
Even ahead of The Batman's wide release tomorrow, it's getting good reviews. How does that feel given how long this has all taken?
Well, it's better than the alternatives. I think I've learned over time that—I've done this for a bit— that believe the good reviews and regard the bad reviews as idiotic. That’s the way I look at it. So, in this case, it's wonderful. It's been a long journey getting this film to the screen, longer for Matt Reeves, our director, than for any of us. It's been five years of realizing this vision that he had, so it's really gratifying to finally give our film over to its rightful owners, which are these fans who are so passionately and personally connected to these stories and these characters.
Before taking on the role of Lt. Gordon, what was your personal relationship with Batman?
I've been a fan of Batman since I discovered television, which was a few years ago. As a kid, Batman the TV series with Adam West was routine post-school afternoon fare for me. I was locked in every day.
I read a bit of the comics, but it was really through that series that I was hooked in. The performances were astounding. Adam West was wonderful, detached. An irony about it, but still dynamic. Cesar Romero, Julie Newmar. Frank Gorshin, they were all wonderful performers, so I was really enthralled by that stuff. I never expected that I would be in a Batman.
And as far as the comics, I probably read more of the comments in preparation for the role than I did prior. There's just one wonderful, wonderful stuff there that spans 80 years now. And I think that's part of why these characters are so beloved and why there’s so much intensity and such a personal connection to them by fans because there's so much cultural momentum behind it and it's also, for a variety of reasons, super captivating. We've just had an opportunity to try to further the evolution of the series through this film and bring it into the present moment. I think that the realization of Matt’s vision is exactly that: it's Batman and Gotham for today. It's a comprehensive, dense, full Gotham that’s filled with so many things that seem somewhat familiar to us outside the cinema.
Speaking of fans, you've previously talked about how the level of expectation and passion around Batman is new for you. How is that different given you've worked on beloved franchises, like the MCU, Hunger Games and James Bond?
Batman is 80 years old, so there's just so much more material out there. The world is just so much more vast even than those worlds because of that. I remember once I started working on The Batman, just walking randomly, you notice so many bat signals on t-shirts and on backpacks and things like that. I don’t know if there’s a figure in pop culture that has the place equal to this character. There's a mystique about it that just separates him from the rest. And I think what's wonderful about about the character, because, you know, the comic book films are breathing a lot of oxygen inside the room, but Batman is the one human, not superhuman, extraterrestrial character who exists in a real city, based on New York City, that feels familiar and a city. And because of that, a city that can be imbued with a lot of cultural-social relevance in its creation. And for that reason, there are additional levels within it and dynamics within it that I think Matt explored extensively and used in a super smart way to make this as a comic book film, but also a film that reflects this intense and evermore comic book reality that we all seem to be experiencing now.
Let’s talk more about Jim Gordon. What do you find interesting about him, and particularly your version that we see in The Batman?
Matt wanted to go back to the origins of the series and celebrate Batman as the world's greatest detective. He wanted to do that because that's the essence of these stories going back to DC No. 27 May 1939. That's the beginning. Also because it provided a wonderful canvas for him to make a film. He spoke of being inspired to become a filmmaker by the golden age of ‘70s films like All The President's Men and The French Connection detect and things like that, which I was very drawn to as well. But this orientation of our film on the murder mystery side of things and placing the detective work at the center allowed him to create a dense and plot-driven film. And because Gordon is still a lieutenant, still a cop in the street, it really activates him in a way that perhaps we haven't seen previously.
Yes, it's a Batman film. Yes, you have the expected spectacle there and all that comes with these stories. What I was taken away with is that it's a soulful film. It's emotional and psychological and Gotham envelops the audience. It's so beautifully rendered by James Chinlund, our production designer, and so beautifully photographed by Greig Fraser, our cinematographer, that it really draws the audience in a way that is intimate. The relationships and the characters inhabit these spaces, in very human ways, and so the audience has just this range of experiences as a result. Yes, there's an intimacy of the core for Batman and Gordon working together so closely.
There's a utilitarian purpose to their relationship. They both need one another for a variety of reasons.
It's been 10 years now since The Dark Knight Rises came out. Why do you think now is the right time for another Batman film?
Batman doesn't die. It’s continual evolution over these many decades and he provides a cultural touchstone for us. And I don't know why, but I know that what we were trying to do was to make a Batman for this present moment, to create a Gotham for this present moment— a Gotham populated by people of this present moment and issues at play that reflect the present moment and use that city as a reflection of America in a way that is exciting, I think, for both of us who worked on it and for audiences.
I think some of these films can become so indulgent, but in the wrong way. This is indulgent, but indulgent in the essence of the history of the comics and the films. I just think it's a Batman for right now. It's a film for right now. I think some of those scarier, more thrilling elements in the film are so because they seem like things that are happening outside the cinema.
One question for you unrelated to Batman. Can you tell us about your favorite whiskey?
So full disclosure, I'm also an investor. Uncle Nearest is delicious, suddenly complex and direct whiskey. It’s the most awarded Tennessee whiskey of the last few years. And it also is the most incredible story. It's a bottle that represents the most incredible story in the spirits game. It’s made in honor of a man named Nathan Nearest Green, also known as Uncle Nearest, who was the man— an enslaved man— who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey and was the first African American master distiller on record. Jack Daniel was a young boy who came to work on a farm in Lynchburg, Tennessee at the age of eight. His mother died when he was four years old. His father died when he was 13. He worked as a chore boy on this farm and ultimately was curious about the whiskey operation that was situated on the farm. The farm was owned by a preacher named Dan Call. And the story had been that Dan Called took young Jack Daniels under his arm and taught him to make whiskey and the rest is history. Well, no.
What was too long discarded was that Call rented the services, rented the man who was a master distiller. It was Nathan Green who took Jack Daniel at 13, essentially an orphan, and taught him to make whiskey. And not only did they work together around the still, but they became family in a wonderfully unexpected way.
When we go back and read our history, particularly the antebellum history, we get fearful of delving into the horrors and the brutality, but there's also incredible beauty there. And there's also just unexpected intimacy there between Black and white that I think it just needs to be celebrated. And this bottle does that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Sandro Baebler