Gotham star Ben McKenzie discusses the pressure of directing his first TV episode. While it’s a job many would do just about anything to attain, being a leading actor on a TV series is a hard job, even when that show features an ensemble cast. A series lead needs to be in a large percentage of the scenes filmed, and as such often has one of the most time-consuming schedules on the set. While he’s still a couple years shy of turning 40, Gotham star Ben McKenzie is already well-acquainted with those pressures, having first gained fame starring in FOX teen drama The OC, and then quickly moving on to the critically acclaimed cop show Southland after that.
Of course, as involved as being a lead on a TV show can be, there’s an old saying that what everyone in Hollywood really wants to do deep down is direct. This often extends to TV stars, who gladly use the opportunities afforded to them as a big name on set to shadow directors as much as they can during filming, and then eventually take a crack at directing an episode or two themselves. McKenzie is the latest to go this route, having directed this coming Monday’s episode of Gotham season 3, entitled “These Delicate and Dark Obsessions.”
In a recent chat with the 21st Century FOX blog, McKenzie discussed the various pressures and challenges of directing his first TV episode, which is actually his first directorial gig of any kind. This isn’t a spur of the moment decision for McKenzie though, who says he’s wanted to get a chance to assume the director’s chair since the Southland days, but just now finally got the opportunity. Still, he was surprised at how quickly he was able to pick some of his new duties up:
As a director, you’re given a lot of people coming up to you constantly asking for your opinion on everything from which location you should shoot at, how that location should be dressed, props, casting, dialogue. I was surprised at how much I didn’t know that I knew, and I was able to answer more questions than I thought I was going to be able to.
One interesting aspect of directing an episode of a show one stars in is trying to balance responsibilities both in front of and behind the camera. Elsewhere during the FOX interview, McKenzie reveals that in order to make sure he would be present for the majority of the pre-production process for his directorial debut, he had to be accommodated in other ways by the creative team. This involved limiting his involvement in the episode filmed immediately prior to a single location, enabling him to shoot all his scenes as an actor in one day, then leave to fully focus on the prep process for the episode he was set to direct.
As one might imagine, McKenzie also gives a lot of credit to the cast and crew surrounding his first directorial effort for making it the episode it became, saying that the other actors often came up with better ideas for scenes than the one he had going in. He also praises the cinematography crew for helping to maintain Gotham’s polished visual look, as well as episode writer Robert Hull for providing him with quality material to direct. When asked if he plans to direct again, McKenzie simply responded with a lighthearted, “Well, I haven’t been fired yet…” In that sense, he seems to have a lot better security in his job than Jim Gordon tends to with the GCPD.
Gotham season 3 airs Mondays at 8pm on FOX.