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Back in Gotham’s first season, no one could have possibly predicted all the ways Cameron Monaghan would be used to flesh out the show's bizarrely unique Joker origin story. As both Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, Monaghan quickly and undisputedly entered the “greatest Joker of all time” conversation. Speaking with the actor at this year’s TCA winter press tour, I asked how he felt about becoming a key addition to the Joker pantheon and earning comparisons to past Joker portrayers. In his words:
It's absolutely wild. There's no bigger shoes to step in than with a character like this. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest villains of all time, period, bar none, in any medium. To be able to touch that mythos at all is incredible, and to have a character that has been portrayed by actors who I very deeply respect, I think, is incredible. To be able to be part of that conversation, I mean there's no way that I can show my appreciation for it.
In person, Cameron Monaghan doesn't exactly look like a person who could flip a switch and become one of the most gleefully sadistic characters to ever hit the small screen. He doesn’t necessarily look like he’d even watch Gotham. But put some makeup and purple pinstripes on him, and suddenly he’s the most dangerous man in any room.
Such masterful performances mean Cameron Monaghan will likely go the rest of his career fielding Joker-related questions and hearing fans compare his role on Gotham to Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight or Jack Nicholson’s killer clown in Tim Burton’s Batman, among others. Thankfully, those kinds of comparisons are fully appreciated by Monaghan, who has also shown off his acting chops on Showtime’s Shameless.
It’s already been reported that Gotham is taking a leap into the future with its series finale airing in April, and Cameron Monaghan said filming that episode took him right back to pretending to be The Joker when he was young.
It’s one of those things that is amazing, and I will say that in the final scenes with this character, I accomplished some life goals doing it. Kind of like, 'Man, this is surreal. I'm getting to stand here looking like this, acting with these characters, doing this stuff.' It's mythical. You're getting the step into something that, as a kid, you would pretend to do with your friends, and then you actualize that and get to do it for real officially. It's that dream goal of being an actor and getting to play for a living. That's what I get to do.
It’s almost impossible not to be jealous hearing Cameron Monaghan talk about how much fun he had playing his porto-Joker characters. I probably wouldn’t land a Joker role in a small town’s stage production, much less a network TV show, but I was certainly inspired to set up an audition.
Everyone’s tastes will vary when it comes to Monaghan’s performances compared to Joker actors of years past. But I’d certainly place him above, say, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad and Cesar Romero in the ‘60s Batman TV show. I’d also put Jeremiah and Jerome a notch higher than Jack Nicholson’s villainous turn. I’m not sure I could safely rank him higher than Heath Ledger or Batman: The Animated Series’ Mark Hamill, but maybe by the end of Season 5…
During our chat, I asked if Cameron Monaghan if he would be interested in taking another villainous role in something after having played this part in each of Gotham’s five seasons.
Maybe a little bit. It's one of those things where it depends on the job, you know? I love playing villains. A lot of my favorite actors play villains. I mean, Robert De Niro kind of developed a career playing very morally ambiguous and oftentimes just flat-out villainous people. I love guys like Gary Oldman or Ben Kingsley or some of the people I grew up watching – Christopher Walken. A lot of these guys play villains, but they also developed their careers by being sympathetic at strange points and doing characters outside of that. That's something I definitely want to explore as well.
At that point, I immediately started thinking about Cameron Monaghan playing a completely different kind of Travis Bickle in a Taxi Driver update, or Cape Fear’s Max Cady. And now I’m picturing him in each of Gary Oldman’s wicked roles in Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Christopher Walken’s beastliness in King of New York. Or, you know, a role that hasn’t already been played before.
Indeed, Cameron Monaghan doesn’t just want to settle into easy roles that lead to typecasting. He’s got different ideas in mind.
I want to be surprising, and I don't want to be pigeonholed. I want to make sure that it's a career that's diverse and has longevity, and I think the best way to do that is to show range. So that's the goal through all this.
Anyone who has watched any of Cameron Monaghan’s Gotham episodes would almost definitely agree that the actor has shown off tremendous range as both Jerome and Jeremiah, despite the fact that the two brothers have quite a bit of madness in common. He can go from quiet and deviously contemplative to loud and boisterous in a single moment, and can be both scary and disturbingly fragile at the same time.
The next episode, “13 Stitches,” will see characters working together to keep Gotham City free from the not-so-virtuous Eduardo “Not Quite Bane Yet” Dorrance and the other Delta Force soldiers. Jim Gordon’s life will get more hectic, with Lee making a surprise return and Barbara dropping some kind of shocking news. Elsewhere, Penguin will be working with Selina to take down Sarah Schenkkan’s villain Magpie. No sign of Jeremiah or Ecco in that synopsis, but he’s bound to be lurking somewhere.