SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve seen “The Last Laugh,” Monday’s episode of Gotham.
So … we guess Jerome’s not the Joker?
In a shocking twist, Gotham killed off Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome Valeska only three episodes into its second season. We hopped on the phone with Monaghan to talk about the character, how long he knew he wasn’t the Joker, and how exactly he crafted that laugh:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know you weren’t the Joker all along?
CAMERON MONAGHAN: I had known from before we started shooting this season what the plans were going to be. So I had gotten to plan accordingly and figure out the arc and where I wanted it to go to build up to that moment in a way that was a suckerpunch.
I’m curious how you then approached the character if you knew you were Joker-like but not the Joker?
I had to approach the character as Jerome — he’s Jerome Valeska. I had to work within the context of what the show had given me and do stuff that made natural sense to those circumstances. At the same time, I was still drawing inspiration from the comics and from that character because I wanted him to be so much of a personality and so distinctive that he could inspire someone like that. It was its own set of challenges.
So how was Jerome described to you?
The first season, they approached me and just said, “This is a character that is involved in the Joker mythos. He might be the Joker, he might not. We know what we’re doing but we’re not going to be able to tell you.” I said, “Okay, well, I’m going to study the Joker a lot and just do with that what I can.” So I did. And then before we started the second season, they gave me the rundown and then asked for my opinion of what I would like to see and what they were thinking and what they were planning and so I was able to then run with that and plan accordingly from that.
Were you intimidated to take on a role that had inspired so many amazing performances in the past?
Yeah, are you kidding? I had admired them so much as a kid, these really were some of the most influential performances of my life and so it took me a while before I felt comfortable in taking it. I was under a deadline and I had to give them an answer. My first instinct immediately when I was asked was yes, but then I took a step back and was like wait, let me think about this and to be honest, until I had stepped into the interrogation room set, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to pull it out of me. And then we did the rehearsal and the scene and I went full out and I felt the air in the room go out in a way that felt right and so it felt like it clicked and so I’m glad that it did.
Let’s talk about that laugh. How long did it take you to craft it?
I found out about the role before we started shooting for the first season right before the Christmas break, which I was really appreciative of because over that holiday break I got to lock myself in my apartment and laugh like a crazy person and do that over and over and over until my ribs hurt. So I did that, but then between the first and second season, I got to develop that even further. I wanted to not only have the laugh be strong but have it be dynamic and for it to change and have it be affected by the character’s mood and where he was and what he was doing and how he was feeling, so that became the new challenge on top of the initial just trying to establish it.
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Did you look to any previous performances — or even animal sounds — to help come up with the sound?
[Laughs] I had been watching a lot of nature documentaries at the time and something about reptiles and serpents, the strange deadness in the eyes I found really fascinating — and sharks have that as well. There’s something serpent-like, snake-like, about Jerome in the case that he could be looking away one second and then the next he’s striking you and he’s at your throat. I actually tried to find a few lines that I wanted to kind of hiss out and sound like it’s slithering out of him.
Do you have a favorite Jerome scene?
Filming is such a nerve-wracking and stressful process for me. I love it so much and it’s so fun but I never have a time to fully appreciate it until after I’m done and I get to step back and look back at it. I think the first time that I felt like it was working was when I got to take the bus in the second episode. That whole sequence. It was the first thing we shot for the episode and it was Jerome’s moment of stepping up and embracing the villainy and taking the grand stage. I didn’t know how that was going to go down and then when I did it, it actually was feeling okay. That was very exciting for me to feel that way. It gave me more confidence while I was doing it, which was great.
Were you at all disappointed when they told you Jerome wasn’t the Joker?
No. Every bit of this has been a fantastic surprise in the case that when they first asked me about it and then I thought I was going to only be doing that one scene and the fact that I could even touch anything within the Batman mythos and within this character that I admire so much was incredible. And then when they asked for me to come back to play more within that character, I mean, that was incredible. So no, there was no part of me that was disappointed. Not one bit.
How do you interpret the ending of this episode?
In many ways the episode is, at least it was for me, a love letter to the character and to 75 years of the character in that it’s an acknowledgment that there’s something about this personality that is infectious and seductive. It sticks in your brain in a way that it just lodges in there and it can burrow its way into a popular consciousness — obviously the character of the Joker has. So we see a reflection of that in that this man, this personality, it ripples across the city in some meaningful way. That’s what it was for me, at least.
How long was your face frozen like that?
[Laughs] I can honestly say, being dead is really hard. You would not think that being dead is difficult. I’ve been dead in a few different things and each time, your eyes are watering because you’re trying not to blink and you’re holding your breath so your body doesn’t move and you’re just so worried about trying to appear dead that your brain is racing, which is the last thing that should be happening when you’re a dead person. The camera was moving and I was trying not to make my pupils dilate. Like how do you purposefully not do that? I don’t know.
Do you have any words of advice for anyone else who might take on a similar role?
God I don’t think I could give advice when such other incredible actors have done it before me and done such amazing things. I think it would be unfair of me. All I can say is that I really do think there’s something about this character that, if it’s fully embraced, it just brings out the best in every person that it touches within their performances. There’s something about it that draws something out of you. That can be both difficult but also really amazing. That’s all I can say.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.