Actor CORY MICHAEL SMITH adapts to his characters without giving away his tricks, whether they be in playbills or graphic novels. Stepping out of the script for more premieres while staying in tune to his own beat, he proves that he’s not far from being the next hot ticket.
Before becoming The Riddler in Fox’s Gotham, Cory was like any other creative child trying to make sense of himself through the noise. “My first foray into the arts started when I was seven or eight years old,” he recalls. “I remember playing the piano while my brother was going out to play with the neighbors. I remember choosing to sit inside and practice the piano because I loved it so much.” He then went on to court different arts, joining the choir, school band, and theater group. Eventually, he settled with theater in New York City with appearances on its various stages until he made his Broadway debut in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring as the lovable Fred to Emilia Clarke’s Holly Golightly.
From idyllic 5th Avenue, Cory soon learned of New York’s many faces as it turned into the treacherous city of Gotham. The highly- stylized iteration of the Batman mythology has transformed Cory from sweetheart to villain as he takes on the persona of Edward Nygma, a character that allows him to showcase his a range in acting that he’s never explored before. As season two of the TV hit goes into full swing and topples Cory’s character into the spotlight, he will warp back into reality with upcoming rom-drama, Carol. The movie is set in the early ‘50s and finds Cory as a traveling salesman on a chance meeting with lead characters Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. “It’s a love story where no one talks about their feelings. It about the fear of loving someone, which is something that a lot of people would understand, whether they’re gay or not,” describes Cory. Set to be released in the fall, Cory coyly tells us that the movie is just the beginning of what he will do to keep us guessing.
Who are your favorite villians?
Growing up, I was obsessed with Tim Burton’s Batman as it had Jack Nicholson as The Joker. His performance creeped me out. I was terrified and I thought Jack Nicholson was absolutely brilliant. In the same vein, I love Harley Quinn. It’s awesome to see this wild female character. Of course, now, I have this throne in my heart for The Riddler.
What has playing Edward Nygma taught you about how villains are made?
Playing Edward is really special because you’re spending time with a guy who isn’t being utilized the way he could be. He’s smarter than everyone and he loves work, but he’s essentially misunderstood, underappreciated, and goes through abuse. When someone is isolated in the workplace and in life like that, they give up eventually or look for a way to get attention. There is a certain way to gain power through attention. It will become addictive because of the excitement. For Edward, he gets to use his brilliance, and to challenge people, and he’s proving to himself that he’s more brilliant than others.
How has your background in music helped you as an actor?
Now as an actor, music is incredibly important to me. I read scripts musically, and it has helped me understand pacing for a TV show. I find that my musical background helped me come into to a scene with energy and understanding what that 30-second scene means to an entire performance. I see our job as telling a story in the most exciting way possible and what you can understand in music is what makes a song or scene exciting. If it is stagnant and you’re playing the same chords with no dynamism, people are going to turn off the radio or change the channel.
Who are your favorite actors you’ve worked with?
I’ve had the fortune of working with four incredible women: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kristen Stewart, and Frances McDormand. I learned a lot from them about focus, working in front of a camera, and understanding the minute details of a character from the way your eyes move to the very subtle ways that you can move your head. All of those women knew exactly how to work a camera and how to intensely focus and penetrate a scene. You learn by doing but also learn by observing incredibly talented people.
What’s next for you?
I’m so excited to see what comes up. I’m being very selective about what I want to do. I want it to be incredibly different from anything I do. I’m not someone who has to work all the time; I’d like my work to have meaning. I’m waiting to find something that feels like I have to pursue it. We’ll see what that is when it comes along. It has to be something I’m inspired by, so I’’m sure it will be soon.
By Olivia Estrada
Photographed by Sean Armenta
Styled by Stacy Ellen
Assistant Stylist Brandon Godoy
Grooming Sunny An
Special thanks to Serge PR