Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy featured a number of iconic takes on long-established characters. Many questioned whether Ben Affleck would live up to the high standard Christian Bale set as the Dark Knight, and even more have questioned Jared Leto's tattooed take on The Joker after Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight, a performance many have considered the definitive cinematic take on the character.
While perhaps less high-profile than Batman or The Joker, Gary Oldman's performance as Commissioner James Gordon was also part of the glue that held Nolan's trilogy together. Oldman's Commissioner Gordon was the moral center of the trilogy, often held in contrast to the moral gray area of Batman's vigilantism. Like Bale and Ledger, it's a tough act to follow, and to do so Warner Bros. has chosen Spider-Man veteran J.K. Simmons to play the role for the upcoming Justice League movies.
So how does Simmons, known for playing tough characters like Spider-Man's J. Jonah Jameson and Whiplash's Terence Fletcher, prepare for the role of the typically softer-hearted James Gordon? He offered some insight on the process in an interview with Collider:
"Well, to read the comics, yes, absolutely. I’m still a couple of months out from doing that and I have two other films before then, so I haven’t gotten started on that. Obviously, a lot of really wonderful actors have played that character previously, and most of them I saw at the time the movies came out, never imagining that I would be doing the same thing. So, I can’t say that I don’t have some impression of that character in my head that’s based on what I saw, but I’m not planning on going back and watching any of the other films. I’m just planning on learning as much as I can about him through the comics and getting my feet wet in the first movie, and then hopefully continuing on from there."
Despite doing his homework as far as reading the comics and seeing how Commissioner Gordon has been portrayed elsewhere, Simmons plans on bringing his own take to the character rather than trying to merely duplicate other actors' performances:
"I take this from my days doing theater. If I was doing a musical, I would never listen to the cast album because I wanted to do my version of something. I’m sure there will be differences and similarities with what Gary Oldman or Pat Hingle have done before, but I’m just going to try to do my take on it and be as informed as I can about the rich history of the Batman universe, going into it."
Simmons has proven himself an outstanding actor in many of his previous performances and will no doubt bring a great deal of energy and charisma to the role of James Gordon in the upcoming Justice League movies (and likely the Batman solo movie as well). Can he live up to the high bar set by Gary Oldman? Only time will tell.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on June 19, 2020.