This year we’re celebrating Batman’s 80th anniversary, but who would the Dark Knight be without his father? For years, Thomas Wayne has been relegated to brief flashbacks and death scenes, and viewers have barely gotten to know the man who shaped Bruce in his formative years. However, that’s starting to change, thanks to the new EPIX drama Pennyworth. The Bat-prequel made its debut last week and features Thomas Wayne partnering with Alfred Pennyworth in ’60s-era London. With Bruce Wayne still years away from entering the picture, it’s Thomas’s time to shine, which he does care of charismatic actor Ben Aldridge, who shapes the elder Wayne into an influential figure with a sense of justice that fans of his son will likely find familiar.
We recently had a chance to chat with Aldridge, who gave us some insight on what it means to be Batman’s father, whether it’s love at first sight for Thomas and Martha and how it felt to induct his fictional son into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame.
Note: The below interview has been edited for clarity.
First, I must congratulate you for holding the record of most screen time as Thomas Wayne. Most versions of the character just step into an alley and get shot. Your version has spent the most time on screen, and so far, hasn’t been the victim to alleyway gunshots.
We are in an alley, but with no gunshots. That's been a really fun part actually, we know where he ends up, but we don't know where he begins at all. I think in the comic books we see that Alfred tells Bruce about him. We just see that he's very moral, a do-gooder and an upright citizen. So, we know that he ends up as this principled moral character, but what we're looking at in Pennyworth is his journey of how he gets there.
Something that Bruno has been really good at as a writer, and I think it's a very a big part of Pennyworth, is that you can't always tell the difference between our heroes and villains. There's a lot of gray space between them. They're not that black and white. It would have been boring to have just played Thomas as this super-intelligent do-gooder, but he's thrust into some kind of morally compromising situations throughout our series. I know in the comic books he works in medicine, but in Pennyworth he's caught up in this covert world of espionage and underground Intelligence. He's forced into a world of violence that he's not very comfortable being a part of. It's been fun to know where he ends up, but it's been even better to be part of creating where he starts.
Since Thomas Wayne has mostly appeared in flashbacks and death scenes before now, where did you pull your portrayal of the character from?
I think Bruno, the show creator, had a very clear idea of who he was. When you usually go for an audition, you get a two-line bio of who the character is. Bruno's descriptions were half a page each and they were very detailed. He wanted Thomas to feel like a 1950s film star. He wanted him to feel like Cary Grant, and very much a fish out of water because he's the only American in the show, which is set in 1960s London.
I think all of us really relied on Bruno's scripts as well as collaborating with him to find out who the characters were. We got these episodes script by script, so I didn't ever know what was going to happen in the next episode, which was a really interesting way to make a TV show. You're discovering the character as you go along, so I thought I had a very clear idea of him, but suddenly an episode would arrive and I'd be like, “Oh he's this person as well.” That was exciting to kind of be part of that.
How does the relationship between Thomas and Martha Wayne play out?
It's not instant attraction at all. They don't agree on much and they don't really like each other. They're forced to work together, and it's more about repulsion than anything else. But we start to see this box of chemistry between them. They're both very high-minded and intelligent, so they're like these sparring partners. Thomas is becoming a bit more cynical and she's very ideal, so he just gets frustrated by her being this kind of wide-eyed idealist and he's trying to educate her. She's a bit more maverick than he is. He wants to play by the rules where she's a bit wilder.
What about Thomas and Alfred? Can you describe their friendship?
It's not like Starsky and Hutch, it's not buddy buddy. They need something from each other. Well, definitely Thomas needs something from Alfred. He's this fish out of water in London, and he's working this slightly dangerous world. He needs protection and he needs Alfred's smarts and streetwise know-how to navigate his way through this dangerous landscape. Alfred isn't very interested in Thomas, but Thomas sees him as a great asset and wants to try to involve him in his work. So, it's kind of Thomas stalking Alfred and trying to get him to come and work for him and he does that in various different ways. But Alfred's quite reluctant. He's quite suspicious of Thomas and rightly so, really, because along with the audience, the other characters in the show don't quite know who Thomas is or who he's working for, or whether he's good or bad. So, they're quite wary of each other. They're kind of like two sharks circling each other.
I'm interested to see when the friendship begins because you get tiny elements of that throughout this first series, but it's mostly them trying to work each other out, sizing each other up and scoping each other out.
Does Thomas have any interactions with the villainous Bet Sykes?
They are in the same room once, but he very much knows about her. Paloma and I haven't gotten to act together yet. I can't wait for that, actually. I don't know how their two characters would interact, but I'd be very interested to see.
You kicked off San Diego Comic-Con by helping induct Batman to the Character Hall of Fame at the Comic-Con Museum. How did it feel to honor your fictitious son this way?
That was kind of crazy. That's when you arrive here and you realize how big a deal Batman is. It kind of feels like he's the king of Comic-Con.
It was quite an exciting first night for Jack and I. We were like, “Whoa!” Because this place is just overwhelming isn't it? And our show was made for this this audience. So, it's been exciting to be able to present it here and try and get some hype built around it.
When it’s all finished, what mark do you want to leave on Thomas Wayne?
What's been the most interesting and exciting has been that me and Emma Corrin, who plays Martha Wayne, we know that our DNA goes into making Batman. It’s been nice knowing that the moral side of Thomas ends up being the moral side of Bruce, and the unexpected violent side of Bruce, we actually get to see in Thomas as well. I think it's great be remembered as the DNA that then becomes Batman's dad...Bat-Daddy!