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Bruno Heller And John Stephens Talk Pennyworth Season 3 And Gotham Influences - Exclusive Interview

Bruno Heller and John Stephens are masters at bringing fans "Batman" prequel content. Back in 2014, the duo gave fans "Gotham," which ended the same year "Pennyworth" began, in 2019. Without missing a beat, the co-showrunners and executive producers went from telling Batman's origin story to telling that of Alfred Pennyworth — Batman's butler (Jack Bannon).

Of course, with young Alfred comes young Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), and fans get a glimpse at the life of the character, who typically dies in the first five minutes of every "Batman" movie. The show's first season was set in the '60s, while Season 3 kicks off in the '70s.

"Pennyworth" invited Looper to the show's New York Comic Con press room, where we had a chance to talk exclusively with Heller and Stephens. The duo discussed whether or not they faced red tape with trying to get "Batman" characters on the show, what "Gotham" taught them about the restrictions of superhero prequels, and how the two shows differ. They also went into the horror elements of Season 3, which "Gotham" actor they want on "Pennyworth," and if we might see a young Bruce Wayne by the show's end.

From Gotham to Pennyworth

Have there been any "Batman"-adjacent characters or storylines that you couldn't get the green light on or actors you wanted on the show but you couldn't make it work for whatever reason?

Bruno Heller: [Jokingly] Yeah, we tried to get Christian Bale and Angelina Jolie, but they wouldn't have it. No. No, we've both been doing it long enough. One knows how to cut your [coat] to fit [your cloth]. ... "No," I'm afraid, is the simple, not very interesting answer to that.

What about characters? Because I know that there are some restrictions for [characters slated to appear in] movies.

Heller: [The] same thing applies. ... The thing with [characters is] we know by now, because we had a whole big thing where John snuck Joker into "Gotham" without anybody ... We weren't supposed to do that.

John Stephens: We did it again and again. Every time, they're like, "Is this the last time?" "Absolutely. This is [the] last time."

Heller: Now they caught onto that stuff, so anytime he just said, "Can we have some in a cape?"

Stephens: Also, the nature of the show is built, as Bruno says, not to have those characters. It exists in its own world without them.

What have been some of the biggest differences between doing "Gotham" and "Pennyworth"? Would you like to grab anyone who was on that and bring them over to "Pennyworth"?

Stephens: It's much more violent. There's a lot of adult language.

Heller: I would bring ... Well, they're all lovely people. I'd bring them all over. I'd bring Jada [Pinkett Smith] over because when Jada's in the room, you can relax because she does all the hype that you need for a show. She will deliver. She was a laugh. [I] enjoyed working with Jada.

Stephens: She's the most committed person in the room. You're like, "I better take this more seriously."

Pennyworth meets horror

Season 3 feels like it has some horror elements. What made you decide on that direction, and were you influenced by any horror films?

Heller: Oh, yeah. You caught that. Hammer horror, that kind of English, not-very-horrific stuff. That's the funny thing about when you watch those old horror movies — [with] "Dracula" and stuff, it's like ...

Stephens: When's the horror happening?

Heller: He's just creeping up on ... 

But compared with actual horror, it's gothic horror. It's not visceral, body horror. I don't like that sort of stuff. It scares me too much. Yeah, there's a horror element. There's also an element in terms of the storytelling; it's about a good time gone bad. That's essentially what horror [is]. You['ve] got to start with the fun and then take it downhill. That's what happened in the '60s and '70s with that whole psychedelic drug culture. It turned into Charlie Manson and Altamont.

Stephens: Everyone overdosing.

The Batman of it all

What were some of the biggest ways that you wanted to set "Pennyworth" apart from the Batman content that's come before? Were you inspired by any "Batman" actors or other projects that have come down the line?

Heller: [We] didn't have to try to keep it separate from the larger "Batman" movies, because mostly, you're doing something different. [With those], you're making a big superhero movie, whereas this is a character drama, a comedic character drama. We don't want to go to spandex and leaping off roofs, because other people can do that much better.

Stephens: A lot of the inspiration was from those movies from the early '70s, the Michael Caine movies.

Heller: Yeah, absolutely. Michael Caine was the natural template — not [a] direct template, but he was the natural portrayal of Alfie to come through. Apart from anything else, he's the only one ... All the other ones were cast by Americans. Jeremy Irons is not a butler. Jeremy Irons is posh.

Stephens: He doesn't really sell "butler," does he? Great actor. Not a butler.

Heller: Great actor, not a butler. Michael Caine brought the right action and the right demeanor to it, and he also brought the SAS business.

If you get a chance to cast a young Bruce Wayne, do you have a name in mind?

Heller: No. Have you got any suggestions?

Stephens: Like, as a baby?

Or as an aged-up little guy, 10, 11?

Heller: No, 'cause we've already done that. I think we had the best Batman out there in David Mazouz. I'll bring him back.

Stephens: He's taller than you now.

Heller: Is he really?

Stephens: Yeah.

Heller: Very skinny, though.

Stephens: Oh, yeah. He's a bit Ichabod.

Heller: Ichabod, yeah.

New episodes of "Pennyworth" Season 3 stream Thursdays on HBO Max.

This interview has been edited for clarity.