The Beat was on hand at San Diego Comic-Con to chat with Pennyworth stars Jack Bannon (Alfred Pennyworth), Ben Aldridge (Thomas Wayne), and Paloma Faith (Bet Sykes), as well showrunners Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, about what makes this iteration of a classic character stand out from those we’ve seen before.
With Alfred’s military background at the forefront and the unlikely partnership he forges with Thomas Wayne, it seems as if Alfred isn’t as squeaky clean as we have been led to believe he was in years past.
“I love that we can build from scratch and draw from history. There’s nowhere we can’t go now. You know if we want to go back to 1888, we can. If we want to go back to the first world war, we can. We can build any and all worlds which DC characters can inhabit. The sky’s the limit,” Cannon said.
Heller added, “I would say now is the right time to expand the DC mythology universe into new directions. The Alfred character is perfect because he’s an ordinary man. He hasn’t got superpowers. He was in a kind of a subsidiary position in the mythology. So, this is a chance to tell something that is much more of a character and family-driven drama. In our show, we make this DC universe a little more honest and edgy, as real life is.”
Bannon revealed that his favorite iteration of Alfred is the one played by Michael Cane. “He was my favorite Alfred and also, he’s the one who said he’d play a Butler if he was ex-SAS, and that is the backstory we examine here. Plus, our show is set in the ‘60s and it just felt right to draw inspiration from him,” he revealed.
How does Bannon honor those performances that came before him, while also adding his own unique touches to Alfred? He told The Beat, “The fun thing about origin stories is obviously you know, where we end up, but it’s about filling in the in the blanks. So, as I say, like the accent, and stuff, there are little nods to the other guys, but this outfit has swag. And that’s something we haven’t seen before. You know before, Alfred was a little too straight-laced, but the world that Bruno created and the script allowed me to lean into this sort of swinging 60s physicality and fashion.”
And don’t think Alfred is the only one harboring secrets. Thomas Wayne is not just the guilt-free moral compass we’ve been conditioned to seeing onscreen. Aldridge said, “We’ve stayed faithful to the comic books in that he seems to be very moral and upstanding. But he’s caught up in quite the covert world. He’s dabbling in some espionage, and that line of work is forcing him to compromise on his principles. So, he’s not squeaky clean, although he appears that way at first.”
He continued, “As various things unfold throughout the series, they make him have to start to do some questionable things that he’s not comfortable with, but I think you start to begin to see some of the heroics and characteristics that go into making Batman. The strong moral compass in the DNA that’s handed down to Batman.”
What will we see in this version of Martha Kane? Aldridge confirms she’s not a secondary character; she’s front and center and their relationship is not what you’d expect. He said, “Martha is a huge character on our show, and that allows you to really see both of Batman’s parents and their personalities. It’s not love at first sight at all, there’s a lot of tension and friction between them, and they disagree on everything. So, that’s an interesting dynamic to explore.”
Rounding out the new show is an original villain, Bet Sykes, whose ways are likely rooted in good. Paloma said, “It was really important to me to portray a female villain in 2019, to convey somebody who ignites fear and not just sexual desire. I feel like throughout history, female villains have always used their sexuality to be something that draws men in and repels men. I took it upon myself, with the help of Bruno, to show a female villain who is powerful because of her mind and her complexities.”
If you like mystery, spy antics, well developed, character-driven comic book adaptations, then check out Pennyworth, now streaming the premiere episode for free on Epix. You can also check out our full recap of the pilot episode.