Q & A: Jada Pinkett Smith on the Acting Challenges of ‘Gotham’ and Finding Fish Mooney

Jada Pinkett Smith in Gotham

“Finding where you need to be emotionally, or how grounded you need to be in a scene or how far you can actually go with the color of the Fish Mooney sometimes tend to be a bit challenging” – Jada Pinkett Smith

To say that Jada Pinkett Smith‘s character, Fish Mooney, adds even more flavor to the craziness of Gotham is a bit of an understatement. “I have a lot of room on set,” she said in a recent conference call. “The writers know that we’re still trying to find the voice of this character, so I have a lot of room to improv at times when it comes to Fish.”

In the interview, Smith talks about finding the character as she goes along, Fish’s wardrobe, the acting challenges of the show and more!

Gotham airs on Mondays at 8pm on FOX

Fish Mooney has an awesome wardrobe. Do you have any input on that creative process at all?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I actually do. Our fantastic costume designer usually just comes to me and says, “What do you think about these fabrics? What do you think about this idea?” So, that’s pretty much it. I pretty much told Lisa to just do whatever, whatever she feels because she’s such a fantastic artist, and so we usually just talk about shape and color.

What’s your favorite outfit been so far this season?

Jada Pinkett Smith: What has my favorite outfit been? I think it would probably have to be the one that I wore when I went to see Maroni about returning Penguin to me. And it’s the first time I realized that Penguin was alive, and the first time I see him after seeing him in Maroni’s restaurant, and think it was like teal. It was this beautiful kind of antique fabric, but yet it had this kind of punk rock edge to it with the trim that she used, which was this kind of spiked teal leather and I just thought it was just a beautiful mixture of the old and the new and even with the shape of it, it was high waisted, but yet it had this kind of like warrior-esque, but quite feminine top that went to it.

It was pretty cool. It was really quite beautiful. Not that comfortable to wear, but beautiful.

What’s been your favorite scene so far to do?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I think one of my favorite scenes would have to be that Maroni scene when I go to Maroni and I hear that Penguin’s alive, but I have yet to see him and then he comes from the back, in the kitchen, and I see him for the first time. I think that’s probably one of my favorite scenes that I’ve done so far.

What was it like preparing for this role? There are so many actors that had some much reference material in terms of comic books or previous films for their characters. You character was created for this show. What was it like preparing for the role, not really having much to reference?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, I think that was one of the reasons why the role was so interesting to me was because it was something that Bruno really wanted a partner in creating this Fish Mooney character, and I love female gangsters. I just love them. I think that they’re really interesting characters and interesting people, and there’s one, Griselda Blanco, who I had studied, and I also love the character from Sunset Boulevard. I did kind of a mish-mosh of those two because Bruno had some suggestions, and it’s coming together, and I was like wow, I would really love to do a mixture of these two women, because the one thing I love about the super villains, and Gotham, is that they’re always so colorful. I really wanted her to be grounded, but also have quite a flair.

What was it that you added to Fish that maybe not have been originally scripted for you?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I would say, some of her fishes, kind of like a [indiscernible] and just a lot of her mannerisms, and just some of those little added attitude phrases that Fish has. I would say that would be pretty much what I would add. Thank goodness I have a lot of room on set just because Bruno and the writers know that we’re still trying to find the voice of this character, so I have a lot of room to improv at times when it comes to Fish. That’s been fun as well. Just adding those little flavors that I think make Fish Mooney Fish.

What sort of acting challenges have you found in making Fish a character that people love to hate, but at the same time, sort of root for?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I think some of the challenges, and that’s a really good question because it’s, as I was saying before, I love how colorful Fish can be, but at the same time, you still want her to be relatable. You know what I mean? You still want people to be able to look at this woman and might not necessarily know her story, but be able to relate to her.

I think that this world of Gotham sometimes in finding where you need to be emotionally, or how grounded you need to be in a scene or how far you can actually go with the color of the Fish Mooney sometimes tend to be a bit challenging. That’s always a see-saw. It’s always trying to find that balance. But, I would say that aspect is the most challenging of just keeping that flair, but at the same time, trying to keep her grounded and real. That can be really challenging.

A lot of comments early on in the season people were noticing a change in your accent. A change in delivery style. A lot of times, people were saying that you sounded like Eartha Kitt in some scenes and others where the accent was dropped. Is this a conscious decision for you to be playing Fish Mooney the thug pretending to be Fish Mooney the sophisticated gangster, or is that something you discussed with Bruno and the production team? How did that come about?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes. You know the thing about Fish Mooney, is that you will see, especially in the upcoming shows, you will see the many faces of Fish Mooney. I think Fish Mooney, this is a woman who, because of her background and because of who she really is, really has taken it upon herself to do a lot of cover-up. So, I think she has all of these different kinds of personalities that she picks and chooses to use during certain times.

You have this kind of sophisticated Fish of what she considers to be sophisticated. What a sophisticated woman sounds like. What a sophisticated woman looks like. But then, there are times when she loses her cool and you kind of see her original essence. Which can get a little gutter. Then sometimes, when she has to be influential with men you’ll see her put on her little sexy kitten voice, which is coming up.

This is a woman who has created all of these different masks to fit different times, just depending on what she’s trying to do at that particular point in time. It’s interesting, because when you watch people in real life, you’ll see that happen often. She just does it in a more extreme way.

I have read that when you decided to audition for Fish Mooney that you came in with a man on a leash and liar across his forehead. What gave you the instinct to show the people that’s what Fish Mooney embodied?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Well, and I know that’s a better story, but it wasn’t for an audition. We were actually doing a work session about Fish Mooney and trying to find the character, and that was one of the reasons why I decided to do something as extreme as that because I felt like instead of talking about it, just show it.

I just felt like, from the psychology that I had put together in regard to who I thought Fish was, that’s something better to show than to explain verbally. That was one of the reasons why I decided to, for that particular creative session that I’d had with Bruno and Danny at the time, which it had already been decided that I would play Fish. I decided to come in with the guy on the leash to just go this is who this woman is. This is what I see and they like, “Okay, got it.”

It was a very short session to say the least. They’re like, “Okay, [indiscernible]. She was in a gown, and I was done up, and I had this guy on the leash with no shirt on, with liar written across his forehead in red lipstick, and they were like, “We are clear” and I was like, “Cool.” Bruno, a nice foundation to work from for sure.

You are known for playing strong characters, which one would you say is your most favorite to play and is there a character that you would love to play in the future.

Jada Pinkett Smith: I would say, I love playing Fish Mooney. I think you’re going to see a lot more color from Fish in the next episodes to come. I think you’re going to see a lot more vulnerability. I think you’re going to see a lot more of a human side of Fish Mooney.

I see Fish Mooney as kind of an extreme version of a woman. A woman who wears many faces. A woman who is strong, but yet afraid. I would say that the Fish Mooney character has, especially in these coming episodes, has been really fun and I love how smart and perceptive that she is. She just decided to use her skills – you know, she’s a criminal. She decided to be a criminal instead of a doctor. But, I really love her and I love what’s she becoming too. I think in the next few episodes, and definitely towards the end, you’re going to see a whole different Fish, and a woman that definitely has some heart. You’ve seen the ruthless, now you’re going to see some heart.

What did you initially find—I know you said it when you first got cast, you really found the world of Gotham to be really interesting. What did you find so fascinating about it?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Well because Gotham is so mysterious. There’s this kind of undertone to Gotham, the idea that this city itself is kind of this underbelly and it’s just like, what is going in these alleys? What’s going on in these so called high rises? What is happening? Why is it that this place has some of the most incredible villains and then you have one of the most beloved super heroes, which is Batman and comes from this kind of dark, gritty atmosphere?

I’ve just felt that Gotham, itself, has been such a mystery, and I’ve always been drawn to it. Like, what is Gotham? What is the city about? Who’s there? Why is it this place? What is it about this place?

So, that has always fascinated me about the Batman story. It’s just his backdrop, which has been Gotham.

Was there a particular scene or episode where you felt like you really clicked with Fish and just like became her, or did you already kind of have her down before you stepped onto the scene?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I think, funny enough, it really felt like as soon as I put on that wig, Fish is there. Because I put on that wig and her gear, because it’s so specifically her. It is an immediate transformation. The first day, as soon as I put on that wig and that dress, I just felt like, “Oh, there she is,” and every time I do it she just arrives. It’s a really beautiful thing to have as an actress. Yes, you just don’t have to work hard for it and that I’m grateful for. That wig, and those heels, and the nails really conjure her.

1 Comment

  1. Bibix

    February 17, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Great interview. Personally, I like Fish because she is very interesting and smart character. Also she could help with development of Penguin, Falcone (what she has already done) and Gotham city.

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