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Q&A: Baltimore native Jada Pinkett Smith revels in villainy on 'Gotham'

For The Baltimore Sun

Riddle me this, riddle me that: Who's afraid of Fish Mooney's big bad bat?

Baseball bat, that is.

Answer: All of the classic Batman thugs. In Fox's new show "Gotham" (8 p.m. Mondays), Jada Pinkett Smith plays the bat-wielding, newcomer mob boss who's just as fierce as she is dazzling. We chatted with the Baltimore native about being a comic book geek and what her character is really hiding under that sassy red-tipped wig.

Fish Mooney is ruthless, which isn't like most characters you play. What's it like to take on the bad-guy persona?

It's a lot of fun playing a villain, and it is unlike anything I've done before. It's been a real treat to be in partnership with Bruno Heller, who's our head writer, in creating this character.

Since Fish is a new character, there aren't any expectations for her. Does that make it easier or harder to play her?

That makes it much easier, I think, to play her and in introducing a new character into this world, especially in an aspect of the Batman story that really hasn't been explored. So I think it's really exciting, and it's been a fantastic opportunity to really be creative and help bring a new character into the origin story.

How have the Batman fans been responding to Gotham's newest villain?

It seems like they've been responding pretty well. I mean, I don't really look at anything online or anything. But from what I've heard from people that I come across in the street or the responses that come through, like when I'm tweeting live, which I tend to do on Mondays [during the show] if I'm not working, it seems like Batman fans are taking to it pretty well. And non-Batman fans, [too]! [Laughs.] Which is even more exciting.

Growing up, were you a Batman or comic book fan?

I am, I've always been a Batman fan, and even a Gotham fan. The city of Gotham has always been a character. I've always wanted to know a lot more about Gotham. What is it about Gotham, you know? Some of the most infamous villains that we know of came from that particular city and Batman himself. It's so fun for me being the comic book geek that I am because each episode the more I learn about Bruce Wayne and how he's been affected by his parents' death, it just validates what I already created about the psychology of Batman of what he's showing us already as an adult. It's pretty cool. [Laughs.]

What were your favorite Batman characters or movies?

I would have to say of course one of my favorite characters is Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. I just thought she was really genius. I think that the young Catwoman that we have on the show now, little Camren Bicondova, she looks like she could be Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter. She's so awesome. I thought that Christopher Nolan took an interesting take with the "Dark Knight." I would have to say that I know a lot of people might not agree, but I wasn't mad at Michael Keaton being Batman. [Laughs.] I just wasn't mad at it, I have to be honest, I just wasn't mad at it.

That's fine [laughs]. But I am glad they found someone who's a Batman fan. What about your kids and husband Will Smith?

Jaden's definitely been a Batman fan since he was a tiny, tiny little boy — and he still is. So he's a comic book fan, [like] his mom. I would probably say we're the two most diehard comic book fans in the family.

Most Batman villains are usually male. What's it like playing a female mob boss?

It's pretty awesome. I mean, it's pretty unique, you're right. It's just fun. Just the idea of being a female and having to play a male game in that way [means being] so much more strategic. And that's one of the aspects that I love about Fish Mooney is that she is such a fierce strategist. It's like playing chess, which is why she's kind of a chess master in her own right. She's a supreme strategist.

But it seems like she's losing allies fast: First Penguin, who's working with Sal Maroni now, and very soon Carmine Falcone. So what power moves will Fish pull to stay on top?

Oh, you'll have to wait and see that! [Laughs.] You'll have to keep watching to see how that goes. There are definitely some episodes that come up where that particular question will be answered, especially if you watch this Monday.

So, every Batman villain has a back story. What's Fish hiding behind that red-tipped wig?

I know, she does have a back story. That's another one that I don't want to kind of tip off or give away yet, because there will be an [episode] that will come out and reveal that. But she's definitely a woman who's had some trauma. I think that once people do get her back story, people will have a lot more understanding of who she is. The one thing I will say is Fish's theatrics are [part of] this grandiose facade that she created to cover her ugly history and aspects of herself that she might not be very proud of. [It's] also a defense mechanism, because no matter what room she's in, it's always her show. I think once people see what her back story is, people will understand why Fish Mooney carries such a fierce facade.

Fish's baseball bat versus Penguin's umbrella: Which one would you rather have in a fight?

The baseball bat, for sure. I mean, you saw us in a fight. He didn't have his umbrella when we were in that fight, but I can almost — you can rest assured it would have been the same outcome. [Laughs.]

So, we can bet that Fish Mooney's going to triumph over Penguin?

Well, she has thus far, but we'll see how it goes. We don't know yet. You just gotta see what happens.

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