Not since Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface has a skin-masked madman made our flesh crawl as much as Gotham's Professor Pyg.
Sporting a porcine head and a demented, as-yet-revealed master plan, the evildoer has so far slaughtered a slew of dirty cops and exposed Bullock (Donal Logue) as being on the take from Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). What his next gruesome move is remains to be seen, as does his real face. But for Michael Cerveris—the Tony Award-winning actor from Fun Home and Assassins, as well as Fringe's original Observer and The Tick's mobster Ramses IV—playing Pyg has been all that and a side of bacon.
Let's talk about this Professor Pyg...this character has such a disturbing image. I remember from the comic books being very disturbed by the pig mask, but they have you in the pig head!
[Laughs] Yeah, it was interesting. The first version of the mask was more like the comic—you know, a bit cartoonish and a bit of a big mask. Then [executive producer] Danny Cannon said '"You know, I really wanted it to look like he cut off a pig's head and assembled it into a mask." It still has the aspect of whimsy, I guess, just because you know pigs are kind of whimsical creatures, but, yeah, it also has this horrific aspect to it.
He's terrifying. He also seems to have a different motive than comic-book version, in that he seems almost like a puritan or a super conservative person.
Yes, there is something very meticulous and proprietorial about him. We will see, learn more about him and more about his past and things. He's sort of like an onion with layers within layers within layers. He actually has this kind of innocuous sort of exterior, which I think really fun because it's so disconcerting when its juxtaposed with his brutal kind of mentality.
When will we start to piece together Pyg's end game and connection to all these people?
It spools out really in a leisurely kind of way over a number of episodes. You know, we gets bits and pieces of information and it is one of those things where, several episodes down the line, you'll be able to look back and go, "Oh now I know why he does that." It doesn't all sort of come at once really. The Gotham writers have cleverly doled out the information in bits and pieces to keep [viewers] looking forward to getting the next bit of information.
It seems like he is very intent on making people pay for their sins...moreso than just their sins.
Yes, absolutely. You know, the degree of his investment in balancing the scale and getting retribution and undoing what he thinks is not as perfect as it ought to be...I think that's where the connection to the character from the comics proves content— with surgical experiments on people, his "dolls" and everything to make things more perfect. That aspect of him sort of becomes clearer and clearer as it goes along, but it comes from a very, very deep dark place.
Do they toy around with the idea of the Dollotrons?
I don't want to give away exactly what the plans are, but the Dollotrons, they are not the first aspect that we are going to encounter.
The mask itself, what is it made of? And how heavy is it?
The actual physical mask? I believe it's latex, but it's fairly heavy. Not horribly so, because its actually only the front part of my head and is sort of open in the back with these straps. I think it was a little hard to see in some of the darker parts of the episode and what it actually does is, it puts the bulk of the weight on the front of my face so that it pulls my neck down the whole time. At the end of the day, I have to do a lot of stretching to help my neck recover from being Pyggy all day! [Laughs]
Third Ivy's a charm?
Wow. Did you go straight from doing The Tick to this?
I had a little bit of time in between but not too terribly much. I finished The Tick and went to Comic-Con in San Diego and then I worked on Gotham almost straight away after that. It's been a really fun adventure into comics world.
And playing the bad guys!
And playing the bad guy, which seems to happen a lot. I don't know if its just something I bring to the table. [Laughs] I enjoy playing dark and villainous characters that are trying to fight for their humanity and their vision of themselves. Very few people actually think they are a villain, they have reasons that make sense to them for what they're doing. So I sort of try to come from that point of view.
And what is your next Broadway move?
I don't know! At the moment, I don't have anything on the table. I'm sure that I will, I will never leave the stage too far behind. I've really been having the most fun doing these jobs. Tick was great, great fun with a terrific cast, so we'll see what happens with the future of that. And Gotham has been probably the most fun job I've had on camera. This sort of character doesn't come along very often and everyone who is part of a show, that crew, everyone is so creative and fun. There are such wonderful people on every side of the camera.
Will we see Pyg interact with any of the other villains?
I do, as time goes on, get to interact with really just a small handful of them because the other villains are very much involved in stories that don't really intersect with mine so much. There is definitely some significant interactions with some of your favorites, though.
Gotham, Thursdays, 8/7, Fox