The Big Issue: Alfred has been played by so many actors over the years but obviously in a different time. What have you taken from people like Michael Caine, Alan Napier, Michael Gough and so on?
Jack Bannon: It was Michael Caine [who played Alfred in the three Christian Bale-era Batman movies between 2005 and 2012]. Apparently he said, “If I have to be a butler then he has to be ex-SAS, there has to be a bit of something about him.” He gave us that back story and obviously our show explores that, so it would feel wrong really to not give him a nod. And it’s set in the Sixties and he was the film star of the Sixties, he exuded that style and cool with the Harry Palmer films that were points of research for us as well. So his Alfred, him as a person and also how he was in Alfie was an inspiration for us.
I dare say there is a bit of influence from Bond as well. What’s it like to be the person who gets to bring Bond and Batman together?
It’s really cool. I think if you give an English bloke slicked hair and a gun then that connotation is sort of made for you. It’s not something we spoke about going into it but I can see how it plays out. It’s fantastic – I think the Bond franchise is absolutely brilliant but it’s lacked the wry smile that Pennyworth has, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it knows what it is and I think Bond at its best is like that. I know they’ve got Phoebe Waller-Bridge in to write for the new one and that is what it needs. It’s a great connotation to be made and I’ll happily take it.
I suppose if this ended up as an audition for Bond it wouldn’t be a bad thing?
If you can make that happen mate, that would be brilliant!
You have said that you were drawn to the world of Pennyworth. What is it about the Sixties that you find so evocative?
I like that this version is almost like a Dickensian London. Jack the Ripper and his descendants are respected East End businessmen and stuff like that. We’re playing with history here – we’re mucking about with comic-book history and British history, mythology and literature too – and that really excited me. None of the villains here are from comic books – Bet Sykes is based on Myra Hindley, for example. Also the clothes were cool, the music, the cars I loved. I wasn’t very popular with the action-vehicle blokes because they were tearing me out of them. I was misbehaving with them and they didn’t like me very much!
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
I guess it’s got some parallels to our current times as well with a plot about overthrowing the British government too.
Yeah, Paloma [Faith], who plays Bet, actually texted Bruno [Heller, the show’s executive producer] saying, “Are you a fucking prophet?” because this stuff is actually happening. He wrote the pilot over a year ago now and he maintains the fact that it is entirely fictional but it is scary how close it is to playing out. Apparently his reply to the text was that there would be “tanks in Hyde Park by Christmas”, which is a concern because he might be right.
Pennyworth explores the human condition and what it is like to be human
Hopefully not! There are so many superhero films and shows now. Do you think this is the sort of thing we are going to be seeing now, where they have to work a little bit harder than being a straight adaptation of the source material?
I’m quite excited about the direction that DC seem to be taking. I don’t know much about Marvel’s plans but, while I haven’t seen it yet, the new Joker film – and I’m sure the Robert Pattinson film [The Batman, due to be released in 2021] will be the same – looks to be a lot more psychological in exploring their characters rather than capes, tights and kapow. I think Pennyworth does the same. It explores the human condition and what it is like to be human. Alfred has got what we would now call PTSD and we see how it impacts his life. DC are going down a really good path at the moment and I’m delighted to be a part of it.
What can a butler learn from an SAS action hero?
Organisation and discipline. I do a show called Endeavour and play someone in the army. We had a couple of SAS guys come in and train us for that. They said how proud you are of your kit – how clean it is and how ordered it is – is so important. That’s essentially a butler’s job. It’s
strange because you’d think they are very far removed but actually a lot of servicemen went into the services industry, and I think there are probably more parallels than you would think.
Pennyworth will be available on Starzplay from October 25