Milo Ventimiglia has played a conflicted hero on “Heroes,” a gangster on “Mob City” and a man who is forced to become an assassin on “Chosen,” so he’s used to taking on dark roles.
He goes absolutely pitch black as Jason Lennon, a.k.a. The Ogre, on Fox’s “Gotham.” His three-episode arc begins at 7 p.m. April 13.
“I think some fans of my work have seen me go pretty dark and be pretty bad,” he said during a phone chat with reporters last week, “but I think they’ll hopefully enjoy this [character], which is a little smoother, a lot more charming, but then flips on a dime and is evil, evil, evil.”
Lennon is one of Gotham’s wealthiest, most sophisticated bachelors and is searching for love, making him a real catch for a single career woman. One problem with this Mr. Right: He’s all wrong in the head.
No potential partner could live up to Lennon’s exacting standards—the kiss of death for a gal who is dating this sociopath. Lennon turns into The Ogre, torturing and killing his disappointing dates and disposing of their bodies.
“I think there is something that is true in his search [for love], but his means of doing it are completely wrong,” Ventimiglia said in his character’s defense. “What he’s asking for, to the degree that he’s asking for, is just, it’s skewed, it’s off, it’s not right, it’s not kind, it’s not good.”
You think? The Ogre, of course, runs afoul of Jim Gordon. Ventimiglia talked more about the role. Read an edited transcript of the group interview below.
Related interview: Ben McKenzie on Jim Gordon, The Ogre, Season 1 of “Gotham”
The version of the Ogre that you’re playing is quite different from the comic book. What did you take as inspiration and what did you add?
He is different than what’s in the DC universe. I took what was on the page, written by Bruno Heller’s team, and I pretty much went off of that. And my understanding of what they were looking for [was] a serial killer that was kind of a guy who was just looking for love—as simple as it sounds, but as complex as it may be … It was actually exciting and fun and simple, because they wrote a really, really complex, dark character that was a lot of fun to play.
How did you come to this part?
I got a phone call from my agent saying that they wanted me, and I said great. I’m a huge fan of Bruno Heller, his work, and I’m longtime friends of Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, and I’ve been watching the show. And it was just one of those things where I had those connections, and then I went, “I’m free at the moment. So this sounds like a lot of fun.”
How will your character shake up the world for some of the main characters?
Jason Lennon, a.k.a. The Ogre, is a serial killer. He is, like I said, a guy who’s looking for love, but the love that he’s looking for is unconditional. And I think, as nice as that sounds and romantic as that sounds, his expectations are probably a lot more fierce and a lot past the line of what usual love is. … So he targets women for love and he also targets loved ones of cops that will investigate him. So it’s only natural that he’s going to run into a guy like Jim Gordon, who is the hero cop of Gotham. So yes, it’s two strong forces—one for good, one for dark—going up against each other.
We’ve seen you play mostly good guys, heroes, and do you think—was there any particular challenge for you playing a villain for these episodes?
That is the nice thing about just being an actor. You get thrown into a lot of different roles, so you get to embrace the good guy when you’re playing the good guy, and you get to embrace the bad guy when you’re playing the bad guy. This guy is pretty horrible.
It’s hopefully one of those things that my mother won’t ask me questions about my upbringing, when she and my father weren’t around, when they watch it. But it’s always fun to play the villain. It’s always fun to play the foil to the good guy, the dark to the light, and the Ogre was probably about as much fun as you could have with playing a villain.
This version of the Ogre is suave seducer-serial killer. How do you prepare for this type of character in trying to get into the mind of a killer?
Is it wrong that I said I was just being myself? Honestly, … he’s relaxed, he’s sincere, he is much darker than me as a man, but I was just trying to be myself, because he is a man. He’s affected by things that happened to him when he was younger, and he’s approaching his life the way he knows how, and he’s operating off of wants that he has, which may not be very good to the majority of people, but to him, it’s what his life is. So for me, I think I was just trying to be a human being onscreen and understand what this guy went through to make him who he was.
So you were trying to give background to the character and play off of that as opposed to making it more in-depth as far as being a serial killer?
I’ll tell you what I didn’t want to be was a villain twisting his mustache while there’s a dame tied up on a train track. That’s what I didn’t want to be. What I basically wanted to do—I was lucky because I had this amazing material, these great words and these good scripts. I was able to just follow that, and follow my instincts, and follow my want to just be an honest person. Honest with what he wants, like I said, even though what he wants is horrible and kind of odd, and how he gets it, what measures he goes to. He’s a sociopath.
Is Ogre likable at all? Is there any trace that you actually like about playing the character?
I think there’s a lot to be liked about the guy. He’s looking for love, I think, which is something we can all connect with in one way or another. We’re looking to be accepted. And he’s a guy who is looking for that. He’s charming without being arrogant, but there is arrogance in his way of being, because he can’t see outside of himself, and what he imposes on women that ultimately lead to him killing them.
His kind of way of being and talking to a girl—I didn’t think, as I was reading the scripts, and as I was playing it—it wasn’t an act to get the girl so he can just kill the girl. He doesn’t want to kill the girl. But he eventually will, because, well, they’re not quite who he thinks they are. He’s already pushed them past the point where he’d probably be in trouble. So, why not just discard this woman and find another one? So, I think that there are small redeeming qualities about him, but the majority of who he is shadows any other good that’s possibly in there.
You’re being very careful in describing this guy. He’s just a guy looking for love, you say, he’s just slaughtering people on the way. Does that come into your thought process when you get someone who tells you this guy is just looking for love, and his way of doing that is killing women?
Well, I think killing women is the byproduct of things not working out, where a normal human being could just break up with the girl and say, “Listen, this isn’t working out. I think you’re lovely; you’re going to find the right guy, you’re going to be great for him. It’s me, it’s not you.”
Jason Lennon just can’t handle the idea that this woman [with] whom things didn’t work out exists. And I think he also knows in his demented mind that he goes too far with these women, and what he’s asking of them, even though in—I guess it’s semantics in saying that he’s just a guy looking for love. He’s really looking for the most heinous of partners possible.
He’s just off, but I didn’t want to paint the guy as not having any kind of sense of humanity inside of him just because that’s, I guess, me as an actor. I had to humanize the guy in some way. But he’s just mentally off in how he views the world, and I think, so selfish. So, so selfish that he believes that he can do whatever he wants to whoever he wants because of his charm or his nice Gucci suits or money. But ultimately, it’s power. It’s wielding a power.
When I was thinking about this role and I was kind of researching and looking at other serial killers, like Ted Bundy was someone who kind of stuck with me, and how he approached people in life, and women, and what other people who had crossed his path that he didn’t kill said about him; that he was charming. You could talk to him, and he was engaging, and that was the way to pull you in. But Ted Bundy, he was all about possession, having possessions.
And in this unconditional love that Jason Lennon is looking for, I think he wants to possess. … He wants to actually own every thought and part of a person, of a woman, that he can. So that they are completely entrusted and enslaved.
How do you think Ogre is going to be able to stand out among Joker, Scarecrow and Penguin?
Joker and Scarecrow and Penguin and Riddler, I mean, they’re all staples. The Ogre, I think, you kind of have to just look at what the show is, and it’s a different version, a pre-story of a story that we already know, of characters that we already know. So if you’re adding somebody new, hopefully—I think the writers have accomplished this, but hopefully the character is interesting enough, and seeing my silly mug up on the screen is going to be fun for audiences to say, “Oh wow, this guy is bad. He’s not the usual that we know.”
But, at the same time, what the writers had created, and what I was able to do with the creative team on set, hopefully fans will enjoy it and say, “Wow, the Ogre is just as bad as the Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Riddler. Or anybody.”
What characters would you love to team up with if you could?
For selfish reasons of liking the actors, I think it’d be fun to team up with Robin [Lord Taylor], who plays Cobblepot, or Cory [Michael Smith], who’s playing the Riddler, who’s beginning to go dark. Just because they’re a lot of fun and good guys.
Is there something about darker roles that continues to draw them to you?
I don’t even know if they’re drawn to me or if I’m drawn to them, or vice versa. I pretty much get the phone call and show up. I don’t know, or maybe it’s the dark hair, dark eyes, I really don’t know. … I might have said at one point that I was dark and moody. Who knows? Luckily, though, good opportunities like this keep coming my way.
Read: Ventimiglia talks about his Chicago connections.
Do you prefer playing the villain as opposed to the good guy?
Good roles are good roles. It doesn’t matter if they’re the bad guy, if they’re the good guy, if they’re the sideline guy … It’s just, good roles are good roles, and I think, right when I—probably, after I come out of playing the bad guy, sometimes you’re like, “Oh, maybe I want to be a bit of a golden heart on the next one,” and then you play the good guy and you’re like, “Oh, maybe I want to go dark for the next one,” but, you just kind of have to, or I have to, just take the roles that come at me, and embrace what it is, and put my heart into it and paint my heart with a lot of gold or a lot of shadow. … I play them as they come. And I enjoy the hell out of all of them. I really, really do.
How big are you into the DC universe as a fan yourself?
I was raised on comic books. Every Wednesday my father would take me to a comic book shop in Orange County, Calif., Freedonia Funnies, and so I was raised on it.
Batman, funny enough, was always my favorite. I loved the fact that he wasn’t an alien from another planet or injected with some kind of super-serum. I loved the fact that he was a man like anyone else, and he used his resources and his intellect and his body beyond what those other people would stop at. And he did it for a bit of … vigilantism, but also, he did it for the people he saw were caught up in a horrible society, a crime-filled society.
So, I’d always been a Batman fan. I’d always been a DC fan. I grew up with Superman. I grew up on comic books, so there was everything in there. There was DC, there was Marvel, there was everything, man. And even the offshoot books of other, smaller presses.
You’re a part of social media. Are you looking forward to the instant fan feedback you’ll receive when the episodes premiere?
It’s funny, when I’m on set I do it for the crew. I do it for the cast that I’m with, and then you just kind of hand it off to the fans. And some people are going to love what you do, some people are going to pick apart what you do.
But at the end of the day, I feel really good about the work, and I had a lot of fun. I mean, this cast and crew of “Gotham” is just, they’re the best. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of fun had. And I think, looking on Twitter or something like that, and seeing the fans’ immediate reaction … it’s all pretty positive so far. I think people are going to enjoy seeing what we put together.