Talking Film and Phobias With Gotham’s Newest Scarecrow
Cortlandt Manor native David W. Thompson donned the mask this season to portray the classic Batman villain on FOX’s hit series.
Eagle-eyed fans may have noticed something a bit different in the performance of Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. “Scarecrow” in the last few episodes of FOX’s hit series Gotham. The character’s reintroduction comes with a new actor behind the burlap mask, one David W. Thompson, a Cortlandt Manor native.
We got to chat with Thompson amidst his debut, and now that his arc is in full swing we can finally let slip on Westchester’s newest supervillain.
So you went to Walter Panas High School. (I went to Lakeland, but I won’t hold it against you.) Did you get involved with the Panas Players or any other on-stage productions back then?
I did not. They predominantly did musicals, and while I enjoyed singing in the shower, I don’t think anyone else really wanted to hear me sing.
How did you first get into acting professionally?
I started getting involved in middle school at Copper Beach. My first play there was A Midsummer Night’s Dream where I was Puck in sixth grade. I remember there was this one scene where I was supposed to walk in and I have this flower, and I remember stepping on stage, and Oberon says, “Do you have the flower, welcome traveler?” and I remember looking down and I did not have the flower. I was gonna say, “Yes” and then I looked down and said, “No!” and I ran back down out into the wings and I grabbed it and came back, and everyone was laughing. Afterwards they’re like, “Dave, you played that off so well!” and I said, “I don’t know about that.”
I did a couple plays in middle school, and some local theatre. There’s the Depot Theatre in Garrison; they have some one-act play festivals I was involved with for a couple years. Some of those local playwrights said, “You should go do some short films in the city and get in involved with student films.”
Which led to some small but recognizable parts in fairly big shows like Boardwalk Empire and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmitt, as well as films like Win Win and A Christmas Story 2. Now Gotham is shaping up to be potentially huge role for you. Can you tell us a little about what it was like going up for such a well-known character as Scarecrow/Jonathan Crane?
It was kind of terrifying at first. There was a recast. The prior actor, Charlie Trahan, wasn’t able to do this arc in this half of the season. So when I auditioned they sent me some clips of him earlier in the show, and they said, “So if you could do something like this, but also kind of make it your own … but really kind of stick to what he was doing … but feel free to play with it!” which was very ambiguous, very vague instruction.
I’ve also been a big Batman fan. I loved the Nolan films and I think Cillian Murphy was fantastic in his iteration of Scarecrow, but I think what Gotham is doing is just a different approach. It’s been fun to kind of take the roots of the character, as well as the work that Charlie put in, and then kind of shaping it into my own thing as well. I’ve been kind of terrified of ruining this thing, this beloved character, for people who really enjoy this show, and I hope to do it justice.
It’s been a lot of fun so far, and the arc that I’m involved with for the duration of the season is very exciting. I look forward to watching it — I haven’t really seen any of it yet. I’ll be watching it for the first time with everyone else.
You do look a little like a young Cillian Murphy. Do you think that helped your case?
I don’t think it hurt. I think we have similar body types: tall, scrawny, even scarecrow-looking guys.
[Pun entirely intended] We’re a little afraid of how a student of the Meisner method approaches the character of a fear-based supervillain. How do you get into that type of headspace?
I think I approached this character in a much more physical way. Really only my eyes are visible through the costume, and it’s kind of big and bulky, and I’m kind of a gangly guy, so a lot of it was me trying to express his intensity through the eyes, as well as finding a physicality that is unlike mine. In the Nolan iteration he’s a perfector and he’s a very angry person, but I think in this one he’s really kind of tortured, and then he was injected with all these kinds of chemicals by his father, and he was locked away and abused in this facility for years, so I think he kind of lost a lot of his humanity throughout that. I think it was kind of tapping into that sort of more bestial, primitive side of this tortured character.
Have you worked on your maniacal laugh yet? All good villains have a maniacal laugh.
There is one scene where I play with an evil laugh, and I remember trying it out with a friend beforehand, and I just kind of did it, and he said, “Hey, that sounded alright,” and I said, “Yeah, I think I was just doing Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.” We’ll see how that comes out.
You mentioned you were a big fan of Batman as a kid. Did you have any favorite version?
I was a huge fan of the animated series when I was younger — that was the best show! Mark Hamill as the Joker! Yeah, to me, that is always my definitive Batman. Also, I loved Batman and Robin, the one with Ivy, and Bane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was a huge fan of that as a kid.
What are you afraid of?
Oh, jeez. When I was younger I was really afraid of dolls, like little dead girls. The Grudge and The Ring, I’ve never seen either of those, but the trailers always terrified me when I was a child. I had this neighbor who lived across the street, literally I think maybe 30 feet door-to-door, and I was hanging out at his house, and I’d be walking home late at night, and I would ask him to walk me to the end of his property, and I remember I’d be maybe ten or fifteen feet away from my door, he’d say, “Watch out for a doll!” and I would cover my ears and run back into my house. Really good friend.
Last year you co-created and starred in the four-part web series Rhinebrook, about a young man who uses his brother’s ID to take his place teaching at a prestigious boarding school. We dare to hope, but was Rhinebeck the inspiration for Rhinebrook?
Maybe at least partially? The name, there’s a regal sound to it, and I remember my friend and co-creator of it, Austin Cauldwell, we were bouncing around some different names, and I remember one day he just emailed me “Rinebrook?” and I say, “Yeah, that sounds good.”
But we can be sure you are, in fact, the real David W. Thompson?
[Laughs] I, uh … I can neither confirm nor deny.
Lastly, for new things coming up moving forward, can any of your local fans- or, can you key us in on any new projects you might have coming up? Anything post-Gotham?
A few things are in the works. When I know, you’ll know.