Future LGBTQ History Month: Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin Power
Fuse is celebrating Pride Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future LGBTQ History before our eyes. Today we admire Robin Lord Taylor, whose Penguin on Fox's Gotham has been making waves since his 2014 introduction.
Taylor, 39, told Fuse in the clip above that the odd little villain's outsider status was personal for him. "That was sort of my human link to the character, the fact the Oswald was bullied and treated like he was different, and less than his peers," he said. "Growing up overweight and gay in small-town Iowa, when I was a kid in the '80s and '90s, it was much different than it is now, and I know exactly what that feels like."
Oswald Cobblepot debuted in Detective Comics #58 in 1941. The damaged, diabolical chap has been played onscreen by both Burgess Meredith on the three-season '60s TV show and, most famously (for now), Danny DeVito in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, which premiered 25 years ago this month. In Gotham's most recent season, its third overall, the Penguin revealed his love for Edward Nygma, the Riddler.
As with any case where an august fictional character gets a new identity, be it a new race, gender or sexuality, Gotham's choice was met with some pushback. Taylor spoke of fans "who had the typical fragile male heterosexual response" abandoning the series, ones who may not have batted an eyelash at the show's same-sex relationships. He told Observer:
"But it’s important that people have these reactions. Frankly, if people don’t like it maybe that illuminates something about them, that they would get so upset about this storyline. It’s the beautiful thing that comic books do, in a sort of fantasy way, illuminating people’s true thoughts and prejudices. In that way, I’m proud of what we’re doing.”
With Newsarama he was plainer: "Honestly, you know, it's about fucking time there's more queer representation in Batman." Comic Book Resources agrees, just days ago calling Penguin & Riddler "DC's best gay relationship."
Taylor and his husband, Richard DiBella, were married in 2011 and are going on 15 years together. In a rare moment shedding light on that relationship, the actor told Andy Cohen last ear:
“We initially didn’t even think about getting married, and then it was legalized in Iowa. It was a judicial decision, so they were talking about taking it away. So we were like, well, you know, if we do it, we have all the means to do it, we know that we’ll be together forever, so let’s do it.
It was kind of like a political decision. It was not the most romantic thing, you know? But then it became that. And a week to the day after we were married, it was legalized in New York City. That was the day we came back to New York. It was legalized that day and it was also Gay Pride, and I was like, ‘Where’s my float?'”
DiBella has worked on Billy on the Street as a producer and in the costume and art departments. Host Billy Eichner became college friends with Taylor studying together at Northwestern University. Together they started Creation Nation: A Live Talk Show, described as "an oddball, Off-Off-Broadway sketch comedy series in the form of a late-night talk show" with, Eichner added, "the 'sexual tension of Regis and Kelly.'" Of his and Taylor's simultaneous successes, Eichner said, “The odds that it would happen for anyone much less the two of us within the same couple of years is really, I would imagine, like a billion to one."
Prior to appearing on weekly TV in front of millions with Gotham, Taylor did three Law & Order episodes as three different characters, plus a couple Walking Dead episodes and stints in films like Assassination of a School President, Accepted and The Melancholy Fantastic. Next up he'll appear in the James Franco–directed Southern period piece The Long Home with Ashton Kutcher, Courtney Love, Josh Hutcherson and more familiar faces.
As for the future, being an openly gay actor with a big trademark role doesn't have Taylor worrying about typecasting. “I feel like the landscape has totally changed," he told Slate. "Regardless of sexual preference, it’s more that as a character actor, the less I reveal about myself, the better. My favorite actors are the ones I know least about.”
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Next, watch how Robin Lord Taylor and TV mom Carol Kane got Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens to play the Penguin's father: