‘Pennyworth’: Jack Bannon on Exploring the Mysterious Backstory of ‘Batman’s Alfred
Bruce Wayne and a pre-Commissioner Gordon have starred in their own origin stories, thanks to the late, great Gotham. Now it’s time for the butler to do it!
In Pennyworth, EPIX’s stylish-as-hell new period piece (fittingly, from Gotham gurus Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon), we finally get a background check on Batman servant-to-be Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon). And since the Bat-canon isn’t exactly teeming with facts about Alfred’s past, producers embraced his badass beginning as a former member of Britain’s Special Air Service.
“There is an essential mystery there, which is why did this gung-ho, adventurous SAS soldier become a butler,” says Heller. “It’s not a natural progression.”
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Armed with such a blank slate — “Nobody knows much about him, apart from the fact that he is English” — the writers have cooked up a character akin to Jason Bourne or James Bond and set the series in London during the swinging ’60s. But this is the London of an alternate universe, where everything is about 13 degrees different.
“When we meet Alfred, he’s out of the army, but through a series of flashbacks, we learn about some of the horrors he went through and how they’ve shaped the man he is today,” explains Bannon, whose Alfred feels somewhat like a twentysomething version of Michael Caine’s big-screen Pennyworth from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.
“For 10 years he’s been serving queen and country and doing some fairly horrible things but making sense of it in his head that it was for the good of England,” says Bannon. “But now he’s out and thinks, ‘I’m not going to serve someone else anymore. I’m going to serve myself; I’m going to be my own man.'”
By the end of the first episode, the suavely bemusing East Ender has put together a private security company (employing a colorful collection of ex-military pals), begun a romance with an upper-class actress (Emma Corrin) and aligned himself with wealthy American expat Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).
In addition, he’s got to deal with Bet Sykes (Paloma Faith), a sadistic henchwoman for one of two very shady groups behind a brewing civil war, each with a keen interest in recruiting the young chap who has sworn off guns and ammo.
“He’s seen quite enough of violence and war, and the essential meaninglessness of the politics behind it,” Heller says. “Before the age of 20, he’s found himself being a villain and a hero for essentially the same thing, and he wants nothing to do with it [anymore]. As we know, and as the audience knows, fate has other purposes for him.”
Pennyworth, Series Premiere, Sunday, July 28, 9/8c, EPIX
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