'Pennyworth' EP Bruno Heller & Star Jack Bannon on 'Filling in the Blanks' of Alfred's History
The 10-episode program, available on streaming starting Sunday, July 28, tells the story of how Alfred (Jack Bannon), a former SAS (Special Air Service) soldier in England, came to meet and work for Dr. Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).
In this series, we don’t see Alfred as a stately butler, but rather a security expert who puts up his dukes and fights his way out of more than a few jams. TV Insider talked to Bannon and series creator/executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (Gotham) to get the scoop on Alfred, the man who becomes the guardian of the greatest crimefighter of all time – Batman!
“Doing this show was one of the ideas that would occasionally come up, but then people would talk about over-saturation,” Heller tells TV Insider. “But I felt it would make a great TV show. Alfred’s a familiar character who has to have had an interesting past. I love origin stories and this ties into the courtship of the Waynes and the journey of an SSA soldier to being a butler.”
Viewers have to believe that the actor cast in the title role is someone who could age into becoming someone akin to other celluloid "Alfreds" including Alan Napier (Batman), Michael Gough (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin), and others. When British actor Bannon, who is 6-foot-2, walked in the door, producers soon knew they found their man.
“I’m very skinny,” says Bannon, who nonetheless convincingly beats up his share of bad guys on-screen. “Fortunately, we have the freedom and umbrella of the 1960s [when the series takes place] and nobody looked like Thor back then!”
“Napier set the tone,” Heller says of what Alfred would look like as an older man. “Jeremy Irons (Justice League) also played it the same way, very posh.”
But it’s Michael Caine (The Dark Night) who was the most influential. “Michael’s portrayal is actually the most what a butler would have talked like,” suggest Heller, hastening to add, “Jack’s not doing a Michael Caine impersonation, but he has the same strengths and qualities. He’s calm, collected, and proper in a good sense. There’s also a toughness there where he can play the part with grace and charm while also exuding a sense of ‘don’t mess with me.’”
When Bannon’s Alfred tells Dr. Wayne in the first episode that he doesn’t want any harm to come to him, the audience can’t help but lament that he won’t always be able to do that. Batman fans know that Alfred isn’t with the Waynes when they take that fateful walk down Crime Alley after seeing the film Zorro. However, that is years away from the setting of Pennyworth.
“There are a few ‘Easter Eggs’ like that in there,” Bannon previews. “Without giving away too many spoilers, Martha Kane (Emma Paetz) plays a huge part in the last two-thirds of the series. Alfred actually knows her before Thomas does. It’s very interesting to see the way Bruno layers it. Rather than rewrite history, he’s filling in the blanks.”
Previous to this series, Martha had been given the maiden name “Kane” as a tribute to Batman creator Bob Kane (FYI: Bill Finger is credited as Batman’s co-creator.) Heller says if he had his druthers, he would have used something else, but not because he disagreed with the name’s origins. "'Kane' and 'Wayne' are h
ard to put into dialogue,” he says, noting the handles rhyme. “Martha ‘Kane’ meet Bruce ‘Wayne.’”
In Gotham, Heller introduced numerous characters from the Batman mythos to the screen. In Pennyworth, he plans to do less of that. “My preference will be to keep it tight,” he says. “I learned from doing Gotham that it’s great to [bring in a lot of characters], but it can be pageant or a carnival [if you do too much].”
Napier and Gough have both passed away, but Heller and Bannon both want Caine to come onto the show in some kind of role or guest appearance. “[His Alfred] was the greatest inspiration for this series,” Heller says.
Bannon never got to meet Gough, but he says he has mutual friends with the late actor’s granddaughter. “I have her contact info and I’m going for a cup of tea with her when I get back [to England],” he says. “I’m going to talk to her about what it was like for her grandfather to play this great part.”
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Should Pennyworth continue for several seasons it’s inevitable that Thomas and Martha’s relationship will progress towards marriage, which could lead to future Easter Eggs popping up throughout the series.
“In five years, we could see the ‘egg’ that becomes Batman,” Heller says.
Pennyworth, Series Premiere, Sunday, July 28, 9/8c, EPIX