SDCC 2019: Interviews with the Cast and EPs of ‘Pennyworth’

The world’s most famous butler gets his time in the spotlight on Epix’s new series Pennyworth. This prequel introduces audiences to a young Alfred Pennyworth and explores the life and adventures of the man who would go on to raise Batman. This past SDCC, we talked with Executive Produers Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller as well as stars Jack Bannon (Alfred Pennyworth), Ben Aldridge (Thomas Wayne), and Paloma Faith (Bet Sykes). You can check out the interviews below to learn what to expect this season.

Of all the characters they could have done a tv series about, Executive Producer Danny Cannon credits their choice of Pennyworth to Michael Caine for Alfred’s SAS background. “That made sense to me because this was a guy who was going to eventually mentor Bruce Wayne…This is a guy with a lot of experience. So, we wanted to go back to, ‘where did that maturity and that experience come from?'” A lot of the story derives from Alfred’s initial decision never to become a butler. “What’s going to happen to this guy? What journey will he go on to fulfill that destiny and why?”Regarding the tone of the show set in 1960s London, Cannon notes that “we took that brewing civil war as a stepping stone…It’s about espionage.”

Having worked on Gotham previously, Cannon notes that it worked because “we treated it as a show that stood by itself…The DC cannon is [a church] to go pray in, but it doesn’t want to be completely simulated every time.” However, while the writers enjoy their creative freedom, Pennyworth is not completely without comic canon inspiration. “There’s a comic book image you’ve set up one day, and you’re like ‘Oh my god! Now I remember that frame’…It’s nice when that happens.”

“How does someone who was a brave ‘man of action’ become a butler?” This was the question on Executive Producer Bruno Heller’s mind when he and Cannon came up with the concept for Pennyworth. Heller goes on to praise Bannon’s portrayal of the character because “he’s both cool and vulnerable, but he’s not macho. You can see he can take care of himself.” Heller also praises the rest of the main cast and the creative energy they bring to the series, noting that “it’s much more fun to write to the people that you get, than to impose the character on them.” The Big Bad of the season, Bet Sykes, Heller describes as a “strong, no-nonsense Northern woman.” As the season progresses, Bet’s sister is also introduced, and the two “make a wonderful, bad female duo […] with attitude that people haven’t seen before.”

Finally, on how Pennyworth can appeal beyond the Batman audience, Heller comments that “the DC universe is infinitely expandable…The Batman fans are grown up…and they have to have some kind of different shtick, you know? ”

“This Alfred’s got swag!” Bannon proclaims when asked what it’s like to build and bring to life the backstory of a character like Pennyworth. There’s not much of a canon road map to follow with this character, which has allowed the cast and EP’s freedom to create. “The great thing about, when it’s a first season like this, you’re creating a whole world. So, it’s 1960s London, yes, but it’s a DC’s 60’s London. It’s 13 degrees weirder and darker,” Bannon continues. Bannon also gives credit to Michael Caine, whose signature accent and influence in prioritizing Alfred’s SAS background, inspired the series. When asked about what mark he wants to leave on the legacy compared to other actors who have portrayed the character before him, Bannon notes that “technically, you’re before them. So, they’re following me, not I’m following them.”

Interestingly, when asked to describe the relationship between Alfred and Thomas Wayne, Bannon comments that “they’re not mates, really. There’s a mutual intrigue. They’re sorting each other out.” Finally, when asked how it feels to play such an iconic character from a different perspective, Bannon muses that “it has the existing idea of Batman…but you could definitely watch this show, even if you know nothing about Batman.”

Immediately at Ben Aldridge’s interview, we recognize his accomplishment of exceeding the screen time of his predecessors. The most well-known fact about Thomas Wayne is his death. So what is it like to portray his life? “That’s been a really fun part, actually. We know where he ends up, but we don’t know where he begins at all.” Continuing, Aldridge also teases that it’s not always clear in the show who the good guys and bad guys are. “There’s a lot of gray space in between them. They’re not that black and white.” That duplicity applies to Thomas as well. “He’s thrust in some quite morally compromising situations throughout our series.” Aldridge credits Heller in helping to flesh out the personality and backstory of his character. “He wanted Thomas to feel like a 1950s film star…like Cary Grant, and very much a fish out of water.”

Asked on what he wanted his character to be defined by, Aldridge notes “what’s been the most interesting is that…me and Martha Kane, we know that our DNA goes in to make Batman…The moral side of Thomas ends up being the moral side of Bruce. And the unexpected violent side of Bruce, we actually get to see in Thomas as well.”

Lastly, Aldridge shares Martha and Thomas initially don’t get along. “That’s not an instant attraction at all…They don’t really like each other.” Aldridge describes their dynamic as “sparring partners” and Martha as “a bit more Maverick than he is.” Enemies to Lovers ship it is!

Finally, but certainly not least, Paloma Faith shares her experience in playing a villain. “I think, to be a good actress, you have to have a lot of empathy. And, I don’t really like villains when they’re just straight up nasty…because that’s just a bit one dimensional. I don’t think that’s very realistic.” Particularly, on playing a female villain, Faith didn’t want her character to be defined by other’s desire. “I think that women have a lot more going for them than sex.” Faith stresses character motivations over gender. Although they’re on different sides, Faith notes “there’s often parallels between her motivation and Alfred Pennyworth’s motivation…” Faith likes playing in that moral gray zone in which characters wonder, “how did we end up fighting for the same thing?”

Regarding Bet’s background, Faith shares that “She’s a little bit of a liability…She feels frustrated by the norm and the everyday…She’s addicted to [chaos], and she doesn’t really know very well how to get the human connections that she wants.”

Pennyworth premiered on July 28, and you can catch new episodes Sundays on Epix.