FOX announced last week that it would be developing a new TV series entitled Gotham set in a pre-Batman Gotham City and focusing on the origins of the Dark Knight’s future ally Commissioner James Gordon. Although Batman himself is not scheduled to appear in the show, his villains will (yes, I find that a little odd too). And because I’m all about helping out, I’m here to offer the producers some casting decisions that may not be the obvious choices.
Hollywood has occasionally changed the race of supporting comic book characters to reflect a more diverse world—usually turning white characters into African Americans i.e. Perry White in Man of Steel, The Martian Manhunter in Smallville and Harvey Dent himself in Tim Burton’s Batman—so in that spirit, here are my humble suggestions for fifteen Asian American actors who could play some of Gotham’s most notorious baddies and bring some more much-needed “color” to the Dark Knight’s world.
SUNG KANG as HARVEY DENT/TWO-FACE
In Gotham, we’ll most likely see Harvey Dent as the city’s District Attorney before he turns into Two-Face. That means you’ll need an actor who can not only play the schizophrenic baddie, but also the handsome and committed White Knight of Gotham before he gets corrupted by a face full of acid. And when I think of a handsome, committed and a potential schizophrenic bad guy, my fellow Offender and Fast & Furious star Sung Kang is the first person to come to mind.
DANNY PUDI as THE SCARECROW
The talented Community and Book Club star already has the thin and stealthy physicality of the Master of Fear. And as funny and lovable as Pudi’s Community character Abed is, there’s also an unsettling quality to him that makes him someone you don’t necessarily want to run into alone in a dark alley–the exact quality you want in a villain who lives to instill fear in the hearts of the good men and women of Gotham.
GRACE PARK as CATWOMAN
Yes, Park will look good in the black leather catsuit. Yes, she has proven in Hawaii 5-0 that she can kickass. But what makes Catwoman one of comicdom’s most iconic rogues is that she is just as capable of being a hero as she is a villain. And as Park’s conflicted performance in Battlestar Galactica demonstrates, she can add depth and resonance to a character’s tug of war between the good/bad inside her.
C.S. LEE as PROFESSOR HUGO STRANGE
Hugo Strange has yet to make a live-action appearance in any of the Batman-related projects, which is a shame because he may be the Dark Knight’s most intelligent foe. A psychologist obsessed with destroying the Batman—he is also one of the few rogues who has deducted his adversary’s secret identity of Bruce Wayne. As Vince Masuka on Dexter, Lee has shown he can play a brilliant scientist—combine that with his natural talent and the addition of that badass goatee and Hugo Strange is born.
BAI LING as POISON IVY
The beautiful Poison Ivy is a former botanist and current eco-terrorist who uses plants (and plant-based toxins) to get her way and, like many of the Dark Knight’s foes, she’s also batshit crazy. Yes, playing batshit crazy is probably not too much of a stretch for Bai Ling, but like Poison Ivy, Ling possesses a singular, results-oriented focus that makes her as deadly as she is alluring.
CLYDE KUSATSU as THE PENGUIN
On first look, the Penguin may not seem like the most dangerous of Batman’s rogues, but don’t let his relative “normalcy” fool you. He may not be as psychotic as his peers in the Gotham underworld, but he makes up for it with his intelligence and ruthlessness as one of the city’s reigning crime bosses. And who better than veteran actor Kusatsu to don the tuxedo, top hat and the deadly signature umbrellas?
MASI OKA as THE MAD HATTER
This is another villain that could easily be dismissed as an over-the-top, gimmicky creation, but a sociopathic genius obsessed with the Alice in Wonderland character who use mind-control chips implanted in hats to make innocent people do very bad things is not someone to be taken lightly. And like the Hatter who outwardly seems harmless and child-like, Oka’s natural innocence is the perfect mask for what truly lies beneath.
JOHN CHO as MAN-BAT
Like in the Jekyll and Hyde story, Dr, Kirk Langstorm is a mild-mannered, good man who is transformed into the monstrous Man Bat after creating a formula based on his work with bat sonar to cure his deafness. And like with Harvey Dent/Two-Face, the key is to find an actor who can fully inhabit the man and not just the monster. You have to care about Langstorm and feel for his tragic circumstances and an actor like Cho will bring a level of sympathy for the man that will make the monster more interesting.
JAMES HONG as RA’S AL GHUL
Yes, we all thought the great Ken Watanabe was Ra’s Al Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins until the director pulled the rug out from under us to reveal that the true leader of the League of Assassins is actually white guy Liam Neeson. So to right a past wrong, the character should be 100% Asian this time around and since Watanabe will most likely not be available for a TV series and to avoid any confusion with Nolan’s Bat universe, why not cast the man who played one of the most iconic Ra’s Al Ghul-esque baddies already in Big Trouble in Little China?
MAGGIE Q as TALIA AL GHUL
If Ra’s Al Ghul is Asian, then it would make sense that his daughter would also be Asian. And if she’s going to be the equal of her father as she is in the comics—someone who can kickass with the best of them—then Maggie Q who’s just completed several seasons of kicking ass on TV’s Nikita is your
Previous live-action iterations of Batman’s coldest adversary have tended to be one-dimensional (remember Schwartzenegger’s awful “freeze” puns in Batman and Robin? No. That’s for the best), but Mr. Freeze may be one of the most tragic comic villains. Originally a cryogenicist who places his dying wife in suspended animation while he searches for a cure, he is transformed into Mr. Freeze when the plug is pulled on his project and an accident ensues; killing his wife and making him unable to survive outside of sub-zero temperatures. As Kim showed in Lost, he can bring the necessary pathos to a man driven to extremes by love.
ROGER FAN as THE RIDDLER
As with Mr. Freeze, previous live-action versions of the Riddler haven’t been as three-dimensional as this character has the potential to be. Someone who’s obsessed with riddles and puzzles and knows he’s the smartest person in the room should be the Batman’s most formidable foe. In Better Luck Tomorrow, my fellow Offender Roger Fan created a character who was smart, calculating and treated life as his own personal chessboard—the very traits you want in a villain who can outsmart the world’s greatest detective.
PARVESH CHEENA as THE VENTRILOQUIST/SCARFACE
Outsourced and Book Club star Cheena looks like he couldn’t hurt a fly, which is what makes him the ideal choice for the meek ventriloquist/criminal who lets his more ruthless and murderous impulses out through his wooden gangster dummy Scarface. Who doesn’t want to see the cherub-faced Cheena mowing down a room full of gangsters with his machine gun-wielding dummy?
MINDY KALING as HARLEY QUINN
Recent incarnations of the Joker’s better half have tended to “sex her up” like many other female comic characters. But what makes her interesting is her background—a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, home to many of her peers on this list, she falls in love with the Joker and decides to become his female counterpart. With Kaling’s intelligence and wit, she could make us believe in a pre-Harley Quinn psychiatrist who has the balls to go toe-to-toe with the inmates in a place like Arkham and, with her comedic skills, she can also make us believe she can become the partner of the Clown Prince of Crime himself. Which brings us to my final selection–
KEN JEONG as THE JOKER
There have already been three iconic live-action versions of the Joker (Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) so I think it would be a mistake to introduce the Clown Prince of Crime to the world of FOX’s Gotham. But if the Joker is going to make an appearance you need a new take on him. In previous incarnations, he was played by actors who were primarily dramatic actors so why not go with a comedic actor, but one who is in touch with his dark side? And if you’ve seen the Hangover films and Community, you know that Jeong can be funny but also very, very dark.
But whatever villains appear in Gotham and whoever they cast, just remember these tips to help you survive.
And if any of our readers have alternate suggestions of their own, feel free to list in the comments.