Q & A: Gotham’s Nicholas D’Agosto on the Challenges of Playing Harvey Dent

D'Agosto chats about the challenges of his character, his audition and his first day on-set.

Nicholas D’Agosto Gotham Interview

Harvey Dent, in the form of actor Nicholas D’Agosto, made his first appearance on FOX’s Gotham several weeks ago and from what it looks like, he’ll be sticking around.

Dent, who eventually becomes one of Batman’s  arch-enemies Two-Face, won’t be transforming anytime soon, but as D’Agosto said in a recent conference call, “I think it’s going to be important for me to remember to be Harvey Dent right now… and to be Two-Face when it’s time to be Two-Face, if I get the chance to be Two-Face.”

In this interview, D’Agosto chats about the challenges of his character, his audition and his first day on-set.

Gotham airs on Mondays at 8/7c on FOX

For more Gotham, check out our interviews with Ben McKenzie and Robin Lord Taylor

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced taking on Harvey?

Nicholas D’Agosto: Wow. Well, I mean listen, I could sit here and wax for a long time about it. I mean, it’s been so exciting, mostly, but I would say that the biggest challenges probably were just catching up to the timeline of this thing. This may be jumping into some slightly different answers to other questions, but when I first found out about this audition, it was—I was auditioning for something else, and then the casting office wasn’t aware that I was available because I was working on another project, and they wanted me to come in for Harvey Dent later that night, and I hadn’t looked at any of the material, so we pushed it to the following morning.

So, Thursday I got the material, Friday morning I went out for the project. I was working on another project for a little bit, and then Tuesday I got the official word that I got the job. Wednesday the contract was finalized. Thursday I flew to New York. Friday I was getting fit for wardrobe and everything, and then Monday and Tuesday, I pretty much shot all of my scenes for this first episode within those two days. It was just a whirlwind process, and I had a lot to prepare. I had to do all of my research and get my full comprehensive view of my approach in a very short amount of time. So, it was a real thrill, but it was also—that was probably the biggest challenge.

The acting part is just fun, at that point it’s just a good time, but getting up to that point, I would say, was the biggest challenge. But truly, the set, everybody there, for being such a dark city, Gotham, it’s a really, really sweet group of people, very welcoming.

Was there anything then that you added to this role that wasn’t originally scripted for you?

Nicholas D’Agosto: I don’t know if I could say that. I would say that, what I hope is—I think what I bring to this version of Harvey Dent, which again, the actor can bring what they can from other iterations of the franchise, but at the end of the day they’ve just got to play what’s in front of them, play what’s on the page. What was on this page was, there’s this real ambition for this guy, this guy is really to the point of being almost a little reckless, and he puts himself in a position where he puts a lot on the line. Some of the things that come out of that foreshadow who he will eventually be, the potential that he has to become Two-Face later.

I would say that, for good or ill, I guess I’m a really ambitious, merciless, rage-filled guy. I would say that ultimately what I bring to this role and what this role was kind of requiring was someone that can be a kind and genuine and sincere person, a sympathetic character; and at the same time someone who’s ambition can kind of bring them into areas that maybe could potentially cross a line.

What’s the most important thing you feel you need to convey with your performance?

Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes, that’s great. I think probably the tendency that—I think a lot of actors fight this, I certainly fight it, is the tendency to want to show the capacity for being—In this case it would be the capacity for being Two-Face. I think the most important thing I had to do, and I did this with the help of the directors and producers and everybody around as we, at the 11th hour, sculpted the beginning of this guy. I think it was really important for me to just be smooth and easy and likeable and things roll off my back, you know?

He gets himself involved in some pretty intense, high-stakes situations. You know, he kind of walks right in with a lot—he kind of walks in with like a loaded gun, and—not literally, but he presents this to Gordon, and they go off on this attempt together. I like how vague I’m being. I would say that the most important thing for me to do in that is to show his confidence and his ease in these situations. I think it’s tempting to want to show the—to play the kind of bolder emotions, and those are definitely there, but they’re more fun if they’re a surprise.

You talked about how you did a lot of research. I’m assuming you probably mean with comic books or movies. Was there anything particular you did to differentiate from the other versions?

Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes. I would say that I didn’t go watch a lot of the movies because I don’t find—in my past experience, I haven’t found watching other actors do the role has been really valuable, because part of the problem with that is is that you start to think that that version of the character is in the version that’s in front of you, and it’s not. They’ve written a new character, and he has new stakes and ambitions and things driving him, so I try not to go just watch other people. But what I did do was just, kind of, do as many Google searching of different comic sites and history sites and go through the arc of, the condensed, essentially Cliffs Notes versions of all the things that Harvey Dent has done and all the different iterations of Batman.

One of the things that really kept standing out to me is that his father—they talk about him being abused as a child and that he was—he had these, maybe, psychotic episodes as a child that kind of foreshadow his capacity to become someone like Two-Face later. What I think was really good about that was that drives him to want to eradicate this type of behavior, and also why he has the potential to have such a visceral response to when he’s threatened or when he sees someone that he thinks is also abusive, because it’s this—you know, it’s because that relationship that we have to our parents is so irrational, and I think it’s important that this character has this capability, this capacity to be really rational. And although he’s mostly Harvey Dent right now, he has under the surface these things. That’s the thing that I was able to pull, that was really valuable for me.

Was there pressure coming onto the show?

Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes. I think that—you know, you can’t get too wrapped into it. Thankfully I’ve had enough experience with bad reviews in the past that I feel like that I can place that kind of stuff in the right compartment, but I think, yes, I’m a fan of Batman, and I’m a fan of these franchises, and I read comics, and so I definitely am sympathetic to people that want this show to live up to their expectations. Obviously the difficult thing about expectations is that everybody has different ones, and it’s difficult to assuage everyone.

I can tell you one thing, actually, that I really debated, but I made it because I felt like it was a real fan choice was, in every version of every picture I saw of Harvey Dent, he was holding up Two-Face, he’s holding the gun in his right hand, he’s flipping the coin in his left, but I’m right handed. It’s difficult to flip a coin and do—sort of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head a little bit, you know, when you’re in the middle of a scene, and I was a little bit intimidated by the idea of using my less dominant hand because if I ever dropped the coin the take is ruined, but I did it. So, I wanted to make sure that if every picture was Two-Face, with the coin in his left hand, well darn it, I was going to put that coin in my left hand. So, I practiced all weekend, talking and flipping the coin, and I did all right, thankfully. So, I feel pretty good about it.

Harvey Dent and particularly Two-Face, they tend to live their lives by chance, that’s a big thing with them, so I’m wondering if that’s a philosophy you share in any way.

Nicholas D’Agosto: That’s a great question. Well, there’s a paradox with that. I think on one hand, as actors, there are—freelance in general, but certainly as an actor, I don’t know with anything I could be doing that would be more filled with the element of chance than doing this job, for my life. It has created the most astoundingly surprising scenarios for my life. I cannot tell you—I’m not unique is the thing, I have these just—I find them to be really extraordinarily strange situations, and people—that’s really normal in my business, and I think because of that I’m pretty methodical in a lot of other parts of my life.

I really try to put down anchors in a lot of other areas, and that’s with my relationship, that’s with my friends, that’s with my family. I really try to be—keep those things as really constants in my life, and I think, you know, I plan a lot. Like, I make lists all the time, I’m one of those guys. So I think I try to limit as much of the chaos in my life, because there’s just so much with my work.

We have a lot of knowledge about where Harvey ends up in becoming Two-Face, so I’m just curious, does knowing that, knowing where a character ends up, influence your portrayal at all of them?

Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes, I think actually—I guess a part of me wants to speak a little bit to this before, because actually, in some ways it makes me want to remember to not play that, you know? I think it’s tempting to want to play up the areas where we are going to be—sometimes I think the challenge is to be patient. I don’t have to tell everybody in one episode who this guy’s going to be. In some ways they do that for me. Their writing is very good, and they’ve shown a lot of the different elements of who my character is, but hopefully—I think it’s going to be important for me to remember to be Harvey Dent right now, to be Harvey Dent now, and to be Two-Face when it’s time to be Two-Face, if I get the chance to be Two-Face. Hopefully I will.

Can you talk about filming your first episode of Gotham, and maybe anything that sticks out for you from a production, filming standpoint, memorable scene, anything you could speak about in that regard.

Nicholas D’Agosto: Yes. Well, that first day was really exciting because, I think I mentioned earlier, it was just a full day. I would say that, I mean, honestly, this may sound a little cliché, but walking into the GCPD headquarters is a really extraordinary experience. I mean that structure is huge. They built a three-story open-aired structure, where you can shoot on multiple—it’s actually four stories, I’m sorry, it’s four stories and you can shoot on three different levels all across the stage. And it’s like—and, like, detail, you know? I think what’s exciting of getting onto shows like this is you—just the production value is so high, you know?

So in addition to just the sets being gorgeous and the costumes being gorgeous, that just makes you as an actor feel so—it makes you feel important. It makes you feel powerful wearing really amazing suits and walking in this great office that was probably just built the day before. What else was I going to say? I’m starting to get myself off track there for a second. I think what I was going to say was that it’s exciting to be a part of a show that you know the network and the studio are really behind. I guess that’s ultimately at the end of it, that’s what I really remember from that first day is like, “Wow, there is just a lot of commitment to the show, can you just see it in all the detail.”

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