This year, BD Wong joined what has become something of a pantheon of actors to bring Batman’s rogues gallery to life. As Professor Hugo Strange, he’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes this season on Gotham. He’s already toyed with the Penguin’s (Robin Lord Taylor) state of mind, and on last night’s episode he released Detective Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) unstable ex Barbara (Erin Richards) into the city to presumably cause even more havoc. To paraphrase Strange’s assistant Ms. Peabody (Tonya Pinkins) if he keeps releasing dangerous psychos from Arkham Asylum we might be in for one hell of a season finale.
“The next arch that really goes to the end of this season is all about Strange and these bizarre experiments he’s doing,” says Wong. “They kind of catapult the season to the climax in the season finale.” Wong took a break from filming to talk to Queerty about Batman villains, mad scientists, and why he’s not worried about getting killed off this season.
Queerty: Batman villains tend to be either mobsters of psychopaths. Where does Hugo Strange fall along that spectrum?
Well, his history is that he’s a bit of a psychopath. The way I see it he’s this classic mad scientist. I don’t know if he’s anything more than a super intellect with this toxic, potentially world-changing technology at his fingertips. So then, what does a person do with that? Do they become greedy? Are they being pressured by someone to do things they might not normally do? Or are they just totally into it? He’s in a world where a lot of people are making either desperate decisions or selfish decisions, or decisions that are designed to promote them or help them survive. He’s in a world where that’s allowed. The stakes are higher and the rash behavior is more colorful.
Well, when you’re talking about playing a criminal, I think people do want to know what motivates them, why they’re doing these terrible things.
Yeah, and you also want to know, as you’re getting to know the people you work for — meaning the producers and the writers on the show — as you’re getting to know them you want to be able to trust them. You want to go, OK, have they thought of this? Do they care that this is gracefully motivated or do they just want to see drama? Whether or not it’s admirable or not — the question isn’t whether you end up looking like a good person. The question is whether or not it makes sense to the audience that this is happening. So once I felt comfortable that they do that on Gotham, then I was really game for all of the, for lack of a better word, insanity. The season finale is insane. It reaches a huge climax, there’s a huge event that happens and everyone involved in the last half of this season has their moment of crisis.
Did you have a favorite Batman villain as a kid?
I grew up with the old 1960s TV show, with characters like King Tut and Egghead. They always used these eccentric character actors—Egghead was Vincent Price. Really solid theatrical characters, interesting people. And, I don’t know I just liked those. I was more into Batman and Robin, frankly. I was totally into their kind of homoerotic relationship. It was a real seed-planter for me as a kid, I guess learning about myself. I remember being really into them and not understanding why—being fascinated by the idea that they would save each other. They’d get into these situations where before the commercial they thought they were going to die and they’d say goodbye to each other and they’d be really desperate.
Well, there’s so much going on there subtextually. An older guy and a younger guy—that’s kind of an archetype for some gay relationships.
Yeah, their kind of mentor relationship. It’s not necessarily parental.
What kind of material did the producers of Gotham give you to prep for the role of Hugo Strange?
They didn’t give me anything. I Googled and I did a lot of research on Hugo Strange myself, mostly because I wanted to see what he looked like. They described to me this classic Batman villain. They explained that he’s kind of a long-term super villain, and they were planning to do this big arch in the second half of the second season.
Can we talk about the bald cap?
Yeah, sure we can.
How long does it take to apply?
It takes two and a half hours. There are lots of variables in a TV show, but it takes a half an hour to take it off too! But it’s totally worth it. I love not being myself, and I don’t think I would like to go home and be bald. The impression is a very physically strong one, so it’s really great to be able to escape from it and be yourself [when you go home]. I love being able to use the make-up and hair to help create a person that didn’t exist before. They could have figured out a way to make him look more like me, and I actually wasn’t interested in that. I didn’t care about two and a half hours of make-up. I wanted to incorporate the original looks from the comic.
The suits you get to wear are really fun.
Oh it’s really great clothes, yeah! The designer is John Glazer. The maker of the suits is this tailor, Martin Greenfield. Martin Greenfield is the oldest tailor in New York and they’re super expensive and they’re custom made, and when you go there to try them on — we have fittings there in Brooklyn — there’s all these pictures of Colin Powell and all these famous people. When they come to New York they get suits made there. I’ve always wanted a Martin Greenfield suit and now I have like five and they’re really great. The fabrics are beautiful. It’s really very glamorous!
So, unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Entertainment is keeping its TV and movie worlds separate. Are you bummed you won’t be getting to mess with Margo Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Arkham?
[Laughs] Well, having worked with her before and having had a really good experience, that’s of course a great disappointment. But you know, my initial response to that question is that I realize that nowadays, I’m very satisfied in the moment. I find myself worrying much less about why this or that isn’t happening, and I’m perfectly content with what is happening. But I will say she’s great. She’s going to just explode and it’ll be great and I’ll be happy to say I worked with her, because I really like her.
You’re kind of on a mad scientist streak right now with Dr. Wu in Jurassic World and now Hugo Strange.
There are lots of similarities. They’re both blind to the consequences of what they’re doing in some ways, but they’re really different people. People ask me a lot, “Why do you always play a doctor?” And I can’t answer that, because I’m not the one who actually makes the [casting] choices. I’m responding to other people’s choices.
Both those role seem like they should make you a regular at Comic Con for the foreseeable future.
I would love to do Comic Con, actually. I don’t know how it really works. Robin [Lord Taylor] is really into Comic Con, so I’m going to ask him. Apparently there are Comic Cons all over the place all the time — unlike IML where there’s one. I’m really into interfacing with the fans. My friend Jack Kenny, who’s a writer in L.A., told me that there’s this list of people, this thing called a sci-fi queue, which is, for science fiction audiences, whether [actors] are recognizable or liked. So after Jurassic World, he said, “Oh, your sci-fi queue is gonna go way up!”
Do you want to talk about your character on Mr. Robot?
We can totally talk about it because I don’t know anything! They’re in the middle of shooting and my part hasn’t come up yet. But I haven’t even read the script. I’m intending to read all the scripts and get caught up, because the first time I did the show I was really in the dark and I didn’t like that feeling. All I know is how many episodes I’m going to be in.
Do you worry about Hugo Strange getting killed off at the end of this season of Gotham?
I’m over the fear of being killed. A lot of actors live in terror of being killed off on a show. And I don’t care as much. I mean, I want to have a steady job, so there’s always that. But if you get killed and it’s really exciting for the fans or it makes the show great, it can be fun. It’s fun to participate in it.
I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen you die on screen.
Oh, I died in this terrible movie that I don’t even want to tell you the name, because I don’t want people to look it up! I think I got stabbed by a screwdriver or something.