Pennyworth: Ben Aldridge and Emma Paetz on their characters’ feelings for each other

Pennyworth season 2 key art. Image courtesy EPIX
Pennyworth season 2 key art. Image courtesy EPIX /

Pennyworth’s Aldridge and Paetz have a lot to sort out as Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane before the Bat baby, Bruce Wayne, comes along.

We know a lot about Batman — Bruce Wayne — thanks to the comics, numerous movies, various actors (Robert Pattinson being the latest) who have taken on the Dark Night’s caped crusade, and television series that have chronicled the craftily-gadgeted superhero. We’re acquainted with his butler-guardian Alfred Pennyworth a bit, thanks to the Batman canon, and now his earlier spy days are being fleshed out through the EPIX show that bears his name. But the only characters to elude us have been his actual parents, Thomas and Martha.

Sure, we’ve seen them gunned down several times, inspiring Bruce Wayne to take on the vigilante spirit in the first place. Witnessing that titular scene has been played out repetitively throughout the Batman lexicon. One of the highlights of bringing a show like Pennyworth to the small screen is the opportunity to get to know Thomas and Martha.

And as Thomas, in full Cary Grant swagger and charm, and Martha, all Katherine Hepburn panache, Ben Aldridge and Emma Paetz are a lot of fun to watch. Both are worthy of elevating above Batman side pieces and have made Bruce Wayne’s parents vitalized roles within the Batman universe.

Last season on Pennyworth, things heated up between Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane, but season two opens up with the future Batman parents in an awkward place in their relationship. Thomas is now engaged and Martha is none too happy, but is also fully immersed in her cause to take down the fascist Raven Society.

In an exclusive interview with Culturess via Zoom, actor Ben Aldridge and Martha Kane talked about their captivating dynamic and how their relationship is evolving on Pennyworth as we dip into season two.

Culturess: How would either of you define your relationship as it stands now, in season two?

Ben Aldridge: When we last saw [them], they were getting it on. And obviously Thomas got shot at a sniper through the window. So, I think we meet them being quite uncertain with each other. And having had very little contact. They haven’t been in contact much between the first and second season.

So, it’s quite a mammoth catching up when you first see them, and obviously Thomas has some quite big news that he’s quite worried about sharing with Martha.

I don’t know, Em, what do you think Martha thinks?

Emma Paetz: Well yeah, at the very top, I think they’re not there. They’re physically apart: He’s in America; she’s in London. And I think they have left it with different expectations about what it might mean when they’re next in the same place.

Culturess: Now that we pretty much know where Martha’s loyalties lie, I find that she’s very heroic. But Thomas, on the other hand, we’re not really sure. So, how would you describe where your loyalties lie?

Aldridge: Yeah, I think there’s a part of him that is idealistic. And I think he truly believes in the good of America, the American dream, and is extremely patriotic in that way. And in that way, I think he thought he could do good work for the CIA, working for a great country.

And I think he’s slightly naïve, actually, in that way, and obviously we saw him kind of go from naiveté to becoming quite cynical, I think, in the first season. And then I think in the second season, he’s further embroiled, he’s promoted, he’s given huge responsibility. And I think he relinquishes to playing the game, actually playing the power game within the CIA, the structure of that. So, I think he’s letting go even more slightly of his idealistic principles and working within the parameters — the very limited parameters — of what you can do. Yeah, I think he’s become quite cynical, unfortunately. But still, I think, within his own world, he’s got a very strong moral compass.

Culturess: I think he’s made some questionable decisions though.

Aldridge: Yeah, he does, and I think he hasn’t got a lot of choice, a lot of wiggle room within those decisions. He kind of has to do them, but I think he’s seduced by power as well. So, I think he makes those decisions, partly because he has to, but he could always chuck in the job. But I think he’s also seduced that he’s been given the kind of the power within it.

Culturess: And Emma, how do you feel you know you’re going to deal with your feelings for Thomas and he’s got this new fiancé?

Paetz: Yeah, I think that Martha finds it off-putting, how she reacts to this situation, because I don’t think Martha considers herself a very sentimental person, and she considers herself sort of above that sort of thing. So, she’s quite thrown when something like that affects her, which it does.

Culturess: How much have you seen your predecessors in these roles? We’ve been given brief glimpses of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Thomas [in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice]. How much of the Batman universe did you immerse yourself into? Whatever was done in the past, how much did it influence you with your characters?

Paetz: I didn’t want to see other people playing that part, because I didn’t want to feel influenced by it.

Sometimes, I feel like for roles that other people have played, it’s okay, but in this case I didn’t want to. And then in terms of like looking through the Batman universe, the comics and stuff, I did, but then I quickly became confused because there’s so many different ulterior worlds and versions of events and sequences. And apart from anything else, Thomas and Martha aren’t in them that much. So, I didn’t find it.

I found it more confusing than helpful because I didn’t find there was a huge amount to dig into anyway, and the stuff that was there, there were conflicting versions, so I just thought that I needed to trust what Bruno [Heller, series creator] had put on the page, and just go with that.

Aldridge: I think Bruno was allowed invention in his role as a writer because we were seeing these characters way before we ever see them in the comic books. So, really looking at comic books, I looked a little bit for just visually how [Thomas] looked in the mustache and stuff. He was always depicted with a mustache and those kind of things, and I think [Heller’s] kind of taken the basis of the character, for Thomas, and then done a whole lot of invention.

But I did find a really helpful montage online of all of their death scenes, various death scenes, that I’ve seen, all cut together. It’s the famous scene in death alley, so it’s just all of them. Yeah, and it’s funny because the most recent one, [with] Jeffrey Dean Morgan, [also features] Martha, who was played by a friend of mine, Lauren Cohan [two Walking Dead cast members]. Yeah, we did a job together years ago so that was kind of weird.

Pennyworth season two premiered on EPIX December 13. Episodes air weekly on Sundays.

Next. Pennyworth: Jack Bannon talks the show's parallels. dark

What do you think of Pennyworth’s season 2 so far? What will it take to bring Thomas and Martha back together? Do you think we’ll see a baby Bruce by the season end? It doesn’t look remotely close so far. Let me know your thoughts! Sound off with your comments below.