The first collaboration between DC Comics and EPIX, Pennyworth premieres this summer on the premium cable channel, and it follows Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth before he was a butler, decades before we’ve seen him in Batman. It’s unexplored territory for a familiar character that has been portrayed in the past and present by Michael Caine, Sean Pertwee, Michael Gough and others.
“This is really the origin story of that Pennyworth character,” Executive Producer Bruno Heller said today at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. “We owe a debt to Michael Caine for making him an SAS soldier in the first place. It’s really the chance to make him the center of a story and explain that journey. How did he get from being a young SAS soldier to being a butler in America?” he posited.
“It also gives us a chance to create a real world around him, a world in England that fits the whole DC universe. What we’ve found is–and it’s hard to answer in a way, because what’s happened is Jack [Bannon] and these guys here have created a world as we’re going. So, it’s surprising to all of us the depth and range that you can go to with this character,” Heller continued.
Was there pressure on Jack Bannon to play a character that is so well known?
“There is a huge amount of pressure and, obviously, some incredible people have played him later on in life, but what takes the pressure off is that we’ve never seen him this age,” Bannon said, “and the world that Bruno’s created is a great playground for us to muck about in. We’re sort of rewriting little bits and changing little bits and having fun with it. So that alleviates the pressure.”
Ben Aldridge plays a younger Thomas Wayne, father of Bruce, who has a different background than we have seen in the comics and previous live-action adaptations.
“I guess we only ever see him in the Joe Chill murder scene, don’t we, which is when he dies,” Aldridge said. “But in that way, we’ve got a lot of scope to create a whole backstory for him. Within the comics, he’s kind of contained just to Alfred’s and to Bruce’s flashbacks, as well.”
Aldridge praised the show’s “huge scope” and describes Wayne as “a very moral heroic-without-the-heroism character” who is also philanthropic.
“In the comics, he’s tied to kind of medicine and surgery. In our world, he’s involved in a slightly kind of more covert, darker, more secretive world which I think is quite exciting,” Aldridge said.
Moving back to Jack Bannon’s character of Alfred, there’s a lot of pressure on him to fulfill a certain destiny.
“He’s a young man, whose father was a butler, and his father wanted him to be a butler, and it’s the last thing that Alfred wants to be. And essentially, this is a journey of someone discovering that everyone has to serve someone somehow,” Heller promised.
Why Pennyworth? Director and Executive Producer Danny Cannon acknowledges that people had similar questions about Gotham when it was first announced.
“When we did Gotham, everybody had the same question,” Cannon said. “What’s the point of making a show without Batman? So much of the world that Gotham was is what we’ve done here. It’s as much a story about how the world is different back then, and how the world will change in order to create what comes after it.”
But there are several questions that Pennyworth will answer, “Why does he go to America? Why does he end up in Gotham? Why does he serve Thomas Wayne the way he does? Why will he be a good mentor to the greatest hero of all time? I think we’ve just gone further back in time to answer those questions,” Cannon said, with Heller promising some very unique elements.
“It’s really the story about a country on the brink of civil war and the Raven Society is one side of what is going to become a much more intense conflict. Which I should add, is this is very much an alternative universe. It’s not England in the 1960s as we remember it,” Heller promised, assuring that EPIX is a great place for people to see Pennyworth.
“The platform that EPIX has given us allows us to give you that whiz-bang entertainment plus a sort of edge that is not possible to do in really any other format,” he said.
Pennyworth premieres this summer on EPIX.