When Fox first announced production of Gotham, a series set in the famous DC Comics' city roughly a decade prior to the emergence of Batman, fans wondered how the premise could sustain itself with so many iconic characters traditionally not appearing until later in Bruce Wayne's story. Gotham's answer, largely, has been to just use them anyway - resulting in a show about normal cops holding together a city that will seemingly already be crawling with retirement-aged super-criminals when Mr. Wayne is finally old enough for his cowl.
Speaking to Zap2it, Samuel explains that this new interpretation of the character has come to Gotham City on a kind of rescue mission - seeking his missing sister, Alice - though he's not above using darker means to achieve his goals:
His purpose is to find his sister and I think he’ll move hell and high earth to find her. ... A helpful thing for me has always been — this is from a great acting teacher Declan Donnellan — is this beautiful way of expressing how and why people do things that other people may not do. It’s a simple sentence that says, ‘I understand you, you don’t understand me.’ I feel the Mad Hatter certainly operates in that way.
Referred to as only "The Hatter" in Lewis Carroll's original Alice in Wonderland, Carroll's Mad Hatter was a figure of parody inspired by the real-life phenomenon of unusually high rates of mental illness afflicting textile workers and hatters in Victorian England. This was subsequently attributed to neurological damage caused by the use of mercury in the manufacture of felt goods at the time. A number of psychological ailments have been ascribed the DC Comics' Mad Hatter, though it is unknown what (if any) specific explanation will be given for Samuel's take.
While Gotham's version will share a civilian name, Jervis Tetch, with the most famous comic book iteration of the villain, Samuel's Mat Hatter looks to be only the latest significant reimagining of a character that has undergone many extensive changes. Originally depicted as a diminutive criminal with the dress style of the character from Alice in Wonderland, he was eventually reworked in the 1980s (and by Batman: The Animated Series) into a master of mind-control technology. Later interpretations have also featured him having a disturbing fixation on children and headwear. An "impostor" Mad Hatter existed for a time in the 1960s, and was adapted into a villain on the Adam West Batman TV series.
Gotham season 3 premieres Monday, September 19 on FOX.
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