When Batman’s loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth has been portrayed in Hollywood, he’s mostly a secondary character looking after his superhero charge. But in the new Epix drama Pennyworth, comic book fans will learn a lot more about the DC Comics character during the 10-episode, one-hour series debuting in June and starring Jack Bannon in the title role.
The show appeared during Epix’s session Sunday at TCA.
The story unfolds during the 1960s, when Pennyworth meets a young billionaire named Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) during a chance encounter at a London nightclub where the young protagonist works as a bouncer. The former British SAS soldier is in his 20s at the start of the series, which also co-stars singer Paloma Faith.
The story takes place “twentysomething years before Gotham,” according to series executive producer Danny Cannon, who teased the series while promoting the Fox series’ final season on Wednesday’s Television Critics Association presentation. Cannon and co-executive producer Bruno Heller expanded on what viewers can expect during today’s panel.
“This is the origin story of the Pennyworth character, and we owe it to Michael Kane for making him an SAS soldier in the first place,” said Heller. “How did he go from being an SAS soldier to being a butler in America? This gave us a chance to create a world around him, a world in England that fits the whole DC universe. It’s been so surprising to all of us the depth and range we can go into with this character.”
When comic book artist Bob Kane created the butler as part of the Batman comics, he existed in the 1930s. Both Cannon and Heller decided to go a different route, opting for the 1960s instead.
“We’re both British, we’re both from London, and I don’t think there’s a better period in England than the early ‘60s,” explained Cannon. “It’s after the war, when things changed for good. You could see the change in the air, things were happening culturally and artistically. It was an inspiring time in England.
That was the foundation that we started with, then making it 13 degrees more DC, 13 degrees darker. Then it really came alive for us.”
There have been many actors who have famously portrayed the butler in the past including Caine, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gough, Alan Napier and Sean Pertwee. Bannon admits the long talent list made him feel pressured to bring to life this version of Alfred.
“There’s been a huge amount of pressure because some incredible people have played him later on in life,” Bannon said.
Faith interjects, “He’s much better looking!”
Bannon continued, “What takes the pressure off is that we’ve never seen him at this age. What Bruno has created is this great playground to muck around in. Rewriting little bits and changing little bits and having fun with it. That definitely alleviates the pressure.”