We’re so used to seeing Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s trusted British butler/mentor/confidant, as an old man on screen, have we ever wondered what was he like as a young man?
This is where the action-drama series Pennyworth — now showing on Warner TV— enters the picture — to fill in the blanks of this iconic steward’s back story. “Kids who get behind Batman as the cool one can now look at a younger Alfred as somebody they might want to role-play at the playground,” says Jack Bannon, the 29-year-old British actor playing the DC Comics character who’s been around since 1943.
Michael Gough (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies, Michael Caine (The Dark Knight trilogy), Jeremy Irons (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Sean Pertwee (Gotham) are the other actors who’ve stepped into Alfred shoes over the years. And there’s Andy Serkis’s portrayal in the Robert Pattinson-led The Batman to look forward in 2021.
“I’d like to think I’ve made him a bit sexier,” says Bannon of his contribution to Alfred’s legacy at a virtual press con from his London home. Production on Season 2 of Pennyworth started in January but was later shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Batman story without Batman, Pennyworth follows Alfred Pennyworth, a twenty-something ex-SAS soldier who starts a security company in alternate dystopian 1960s London. One of his clients is young tycoon Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), the future father of one Bruce Wayne. It’s a business arrangement that would evolve into the beginning of a beautiful relationship. You know the rest.
Is Bannon a comic book aficionado? Far from it, but his lack of encyclopedic info on the intricate workings of the DC universe worked out to his advantage. Showrunner Bruno Heller — who was also behind Gotham, another Batman-adjacent series — encouraged the cast to approach it as “a standalone” story, which Bannon saw as a gritty character-driven crime saga that happens to unfold in a superhero world.
“So I think we were spared from the glare of expectations of things done previously,” says Bannon, a relative newcomer who first got noticed in the 2014 Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game. “But as the show goes on, there are a few Easter eggs to remind viewers what and who this guy is and who he becomes. Essentially, our job is to tell the truth of the drama.”
What makes the show fun is that not only does Alfred cross path with familiar figures from the Batman canon but also characters from English history and literature, like the descendants of Jack the Ripper who turn up as gangsters. “I’m still waiting for an episode where Alfred meets the Beatles,” says Bannon, with a laugh.
Everything Bannon needed to know about Pennyworth milieu was in Heller’s script. “It has a wealth of knowledge in there,” he adds. He also credits production designer Mark Scruton’s “absolutely fantastic” sets for helping him get into character.
“I think [Mark] is nothing short of a genius,” Bannon says. “He really got what Bruno is going for and implemented into the set design. When we walked onto those set, we [quickly] get the look, the feel, and everything of this piece.”
Besides the script and sets, Bannon draws inspiration from another source: Michael Caine: “If there were one version of Alfred I looked to, it was the Michael Caine one. Because he was the person who told Nolan, ‘I will play a butler as long as he’s an ex-SAS’. So we owe the back story to him.”
He continues, “I am a huge fan of his anyway. So it was quite easy to reference [that version of Alfred]. It’s also a nice coincidence that the show is set in 1960s and Michael Caine was the biggest film star from that era. So there was a lot of films he did — like The Ipcress File and Alfie — which we can go back to and come up with a unique portrayal of Alfred.”
Pennyworth airs Mon, Warner TV (Singtel TV Ch 306 & StarHub Ch 515), 9pm.
Jack Bannon Photo: Warner TV
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