Pennyworth is the latest Batman drama (without Batman) on television which explores the younger days of Batman's titular butler Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), as well as his burgeoning friendship with the future parents of Batman, Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz). Set in the 1950s and 1960s (definitely post-war though) in London, it sees Alfred, who has just left the British Special Air Service (SAS), starting a new life in London — but unexpectedly being drawn into a dark conspiracy between feuding secret societies.
For period dramas, costumes and sets are an important aspect of production, since the show's visuals must reflect the time period that it's set in. But actors are human, after all, and sometimes amusing incidents can occur when they forget that they're in costume, as Paetz and Aldridge share.
"One time when Ben and I were fully in costume, we were walking to set, last season during pre-COVID times. We were just chatting and chatting, lost in conversation. We walked down the street, into a cafe but entirely in costume. And everyone looked at us and we looked at everyone, and we walked out. What if those people thought we were ghosts?" shared Paetz about their period drama experiences.
The 60s London setting is very foreign to Paetz, however. "Bruno [the showrunner] has said that this idea of the swinging 60s in London only applied to a couple of hundred people at the time. A lot of it was a homogenous society, kind of bleak. Certainly in Season 2, for us, it's incredibly bleak because it's full out civil war," teased the actress about Season 2 of Pennyworth. "So I like that in some ways, it's a celebration of it and what sort of feelings stem from that time. But it's not just a completely romanticised version of it, which would be easy to do, but that's not what's been done."
For her onscreen partner Aldridge, it was very exciting to play a role in this era. "I think it's a very iconic period in my head. And I am often pinching myself on our sets because I'm getting to live out my Don Draper, Mad Men fantasies. When Mad Men first came out I was obsessed with it," he admitted. "I think Thomas is providing [that opportunity to play a role in this era], and I love all our mid-century sets, I love the furniture, and I love the clothes. Emma's given such an intelligent answer and I'm just being basic and saying I love to put on costumes, but it's kinda the truth."
One of Pennyworth's more subtle undertones has been foreshadowing Bruce Wayne's character traits that will lead him to become Batman, through showing how his parents Thomas and Martha have passed down those same qualities to him. Aldridge and Paetz shared their take on how their portrayals of the future vigilante's parents echo such characteristics.
"Definitely for Thomas, it was his detective, sleuth, forensics vibe. The intelligence, spy kind of vibe that he was passing on to him. But also, both of them possess a strong moral compass for justice, even though we see them wavering in that," said Aldridge, who spoke of Thomas Wayne's journey and how he could not always adhere to his principles in Season 1 and Season 2.
"Something I've been thinking about recently with Martha that is similar to the vigilante mentality is the solace she finds in warfare when it really kicks off in Season 2. How much she enjoys her place in that, she says that it gives her purpose, it kind of simplifies her life, it sort of gives her peace," Paetz said as she compared the Martha with the future Bruce Wayne.
So before they became part of the Batman universe, what were the most memorable characters for them in the Batman franchise?
"I was seven years old and I was desperate for a mural on my bedroom. [So I asked my mother] 'could you paint a mural on my bedroom with Two-Face and Sugar and Spice and all the villains from [Batman Forever]," said Paetz, whose mother refused that request because it would give her nightmares. But as a teenager, she felt The Dark Knight was one of the coolest action movies, and she felt that Christian Bale's version of Batman in that was unbeatable.
Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) was one of the two primary antagonists of Batman Forever (1995), and his two cronies were Sugar (Drew Barrymore) and Spice (Debi Mazar).
Aldridge, on the other hand, discovered Batman with Batman Returns. "I was very taken by the idea of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) but I thought there should be a Catman. I was probably 10, and genuinely after watching it, I went to the fridge and drank a pint of milk, like how [Catwoman] does it in the film. And then I went upstairs and I put on all black and I took to the streets in my home town and wandered around, jumping off walls, et cetera, because I wanted to be Catman," he revealed.
Interestingly, there is a relatively unknown Batman villain called Catman, who wears a very similar costume to Batman, but in bright yellow and orange colours. Given that Pennyworth doesn't feature young versions of Batman's A-lister villains, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see a Catman in the series one day.
Season 2 of Pennyworth debuts on 14 December on Warner TV (Starhub Ch 515; Singtel Ch 306), with new episodes every Monday at 9pm.