Forget the cigarette holder, top hat and quack, quack, quack. Solon area native Robin Lord Taylor will bring a more realistic, evil-in-the-making twist to his Penguin.
Taylor is one of the stars of the new series, "Gotham," premiering at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 on Fox. He portrays Oswald Cobblepot, an underling of Jada Pinkett Smith's character, gang boss Fish Mooney, in the show, an origin story of the DC Comics super-villains and vigilantes.
As Cobblepot's ambitions rise, a darkness descends that turns him into the Penguin.
His character is based on the DC Comics, but is a polar opposite of the Penguin on the campy zap-pow-bam '60s television series, "Batman."
"Burgess Meredith's performance is one of the greatest things ever," Taylor said by phone this week from New York, where he has lived since 2000 and where the show is shooting.
And unlike Danny DeVito's Penguin in the 1992 film, "Batman Returns," Taylor said his Penguin has an odd walk from an injury, not birth deformities.
"That was somewhat of a Tim Burton creation," Taylor said. "We're sticking a lot closer to the comic books, where Oswald is not necessarily greatly deformed. He's a guy of smaller stature, a little strange looking, but with huge ambitions.
"In the original comic books, he is a bullied kid. He is made fun of for the way he looks and his name, and I think that sort of starts him off on his journey toward not necessarily evilness, but his vow to never be a powerless person," Taylor said.
"We haven't exactly established how he found himself on the underbelly side of things, but that is definitely where he lands. He works with Fish Mooney and he is on his way to becoming a player in the crime syndicate in Gotham City."
The tone is a little more akin to the 2005 film "Batman Begins," which also explores the beginnings of the Batman saga.
"Our show is a little colorful," Taylor said. "It's a similar treatment in the sense that we're trying to show that these are real people going through real situations, even though it exists in a fantastic world."
The physical and psychological transformations are colorful for Taylor, as well, with a capital twist.
"There's a lot of makeup," he said. "I wear a prosthetic nose in the show. Also, I'm a blond person, but not anymore. My hair is very, very dark these days. Then in terms of the outfits, I get to wear these amazing suits made for me by this incredible tailor named Martin Greenfield, who also makes all the suits for the President of the United States. They're stylized, not exactly a suit I would wear in regular life, but they're beautiful three-piece suits.
"With the nose and the hair, too, it all comes together. It makes it so much easier to step into the skin of Oswald."
After shooting the pilot in March, the cast is now about halfway through filming the series' initial 16 episodes.
"I think Robin Lord Taylor's portrayal of Penguin is going to be a real revelation to people, because what he's doing is not just playing a villainous evil mastermind, but he's sort of sympathetic; he's sort of likable in his sad, pathetic, sort of henchman way," Ben McKenzie, who plays Det. James Gordon, said in a featured video on the fox.com/gotham website.
Taylor stepped into a blind audition for "Gotham" back in February.
"I just auditioned like I do every year, for all sorts of things," he said.
He got a tip right before walking into the audition, but didn't let it affect his efforts.
"It didn't change anything," he said. "I've auditioned for big things before. It comes and it goes and I just sort of take it as it is. But this time, it just went, and it's really exciting."
A graduate of Northwestern University near Chicago, Taylor got his dramatic start at Solon schools and has had roles in such high-profile shows as "Law and Order" and "The Good Wife" to "The Walking Dead." Cobblepot/Penguin, however, is his biggest role to date.
"It's a dream come true," he said. One that puts him in the company of A-listers like Pinkett Smith, an experience he said was "intimidating at first."
"But then you get in the room with her, and she is just incredibly nice and giving and down to earth, and these are things you would never expect. It's just really a dream come true to be able to work with someone of that caliber, and yet, just be able to talk to her and relate her just like a real person. She is a real person and she's unbelievably giving and nice. I can't say enough good things about her.
"I'm really luck on this show," he said. "Everyone on this show a lovely person - it feels very familial. Everyone is very down to earth, and the material itself is just so fantastic. Everyone is just bringing their A game, and no one is letting their ego get in the way."
With the series debut looming in a little more than a week, Taylor will be working that day. But, he'll be attending a premiere party Monday (9/15) at the New York Public Library.
He has no doubt his parents, Bob and Mary Taylor, will be watching from their home.
"I hope you hear some clapping coming from the Shueyville area," he said with a laugh, adding that his Iowa upbringing has served him well.
"I am who I am because of where I grew up," he said. "Eastern Iowa - and Iowa in general - the people there are unmatched in their sensibility and in their kindness. I feel very, very blessed that that's where I happened to grow up."
WHAT: "Gotham," featuring Solon native Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sept. 22
WHERE: Fox TV