During its "Wrath of the Villians" mid-season return, Gotham has become the playground for some of the worst, most conflicted criminals in the Batman universe--including the ever-mysterious Professor Hugo Strange, chief of psychiatry at notorious Arkham Asylum. Played by Law & Order SVU and Jurassic Park veteran actor BD Wong, Strange is the mad scientist role every actors awaits eagerly to play.
We chatted with Wong about getting inside the mind of Strange, handling comic book fans, and how Gotham pushes the boundaries of storytelling.
Out: What do you love most about playing Professor Hugo Strange?
BD Wong: At this stage of this game I'm always looking for something I've not been able to do yet. I enjoyed being such an active part of the storytelling of this season. In television shows, I've often felt my roles were in service to other people who were doing the heavy lifting. Gotham is its own animal. Because it's an origin story, it's predating anybody's preconception of who these people actually are.
How did you prepare for the role?
Strange goes back farther than any other Batman villain--back to the '40s in the comics. I did my research, but the producers told me not to worry too much about fitting some notion of who the character was. We reinvent them, we twist them--that's what we do. Gotham is certainly a more racially diverse setting than any of the comic books ever were. It's an amazing modernization that makes the story relevant to more people. I mean, for seven decades it's been this bald white guy with glasses. I would ask, "Why are you giving me this part?" But then I began to own the part and respect his physical elements while not betraying my own race. Gotham opens the door to not be married to these traditional stories, but to stray from them a little.
Are you happy with keeping the look from the comics?
Absolutely. Strange has manifested in different ways throughout the decades, but he's always had a similar physical look. None of them look like me, so the first thing we did was figure out how I would look. I was strongly advocating for looking like he used to look. I was very happy with what we came up with because I think he looks very much like the comic version of him.
Fans of the comics can be pretty demanding. How have they responded to your turn as Professor Strange?
This is the first live-action portrayal that I know of. Now with social media, you can get a strong idea of what the fans think. You get a wide range of responses. You have people who can't stand it because it's not exactly what they're remembering. Ironically, my version of Hugo Strange does not betray how they see Hugo Strange, which surprises me. Because I've wanted the character to feel right on me. Anyone who dares to do a show like this has to know what they are getting themselves into. The affection people have for these characters runs so deep. For me, it's fun to see how it plays out.
What's it like inside Strange's head?
Even though he's got a really creepy vibe, his main thing is he's wildly entertained by the way humans respond to one another. He's not really setting out to hurt anyone. He's not someone who is sadistic. As a scientist, he's fascinated by the outcome of all experiments--no matter what they are. You can't really hold onto absolute moral principles to be a scientist because you have to be open to all possibilities, bad or good. You just have to let them happen. Gotham is his ant farm, and he's looking at the ants. He wants to succeed, and I'm not even sure if he's the kind of man who wants credit for doing so. He's deeply focused, he's deeply single-minded, and in that, I can relate. I jump into things 100--1,000--percent.
As the season comes to a close, what can you tell us about Strange's end game?
There's this big event at the end of the season that throws everything into chaos. Going into Season 3, it's anybody's game what will happen. It's oaky to say there are more questions than answers at the end of the season. And Hugo Strange plays a principal role in these events happening. You feel like all the characters are getting their own season finale. And in large part, it has a lot to do with what Hugo Strange is doing. It's fun to be an instigator, a catalyst. I've enjoyed that.
In the past two seasons, the show certainly hasn't been shy about including LGBT couples--nor have a lot of other comic book adaptations today. Do you think television shows and movies go far enough?
Because I'm a minority and a gay person, I always think there's not enough. Our everyday lives of being gay men are seen through the lens of being gay. One same-sex couple in a whole season and that's it [season one's bisexual Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards, and detective Renee Montoya, played by Victoria Cartagena]? But then you put your other hat on and think, "Oh my goodness, in 1985 this would never have happened." Certainly the fantasy world of Gotham is not in the business of changing the world politically. Yet I think all shows could use a dose of reality and this is the time to do it. Everyone's talking about it all the time. On a show like Gotham, they don't go there and they don't feel the need to. But there could be so much more.
Gotham airs Mondays, 8 p.m./7p.m. on Fox. Watch a preview of BD Wong as Professor Strange below.