Nathan Darrow was never into DC Comics, so he didn’t know much about Mr. Freeze when he got a call from his agent.
The producers of “Gotham,” the Fox series based on the Batman/DC Comics universe of characters, wanted Darrow to read for a role previously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Batman and Robin,” 1997) and, on the 1960s TV series “Batman,” by Otto Preminger, George Sanders and Eli Wallach.
Now it has fallen to Darrow, a Kansas City native and veteran of the local theater scene, to play the mad cryogenics scientist who stalks the streets with a deadly “freeze gun.” The series is a sort of prequel set at a time before the emergence of Batman as a full-fledged super-hero.
“I don’t have such knowledge of comic books and stuff, but when I read it I thought the writing was quite good,” he said on a recent afternoon as he trudged through the streets of New York. “I don’t know all these characters that well. So I did some research on the Freeze character. There’s a lot of stuff out there. So many people have had a hand in so many different versions, it’s interesting to go through and take the parts I like.”
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If you watch closely, Darrow said with a chuckle, you might see a small tribute to the former Governator.
Mr. Freeze is the super-villain alter-ego of Dr. Victor Fries, a scientist whose failed experiment to freeze his terminally ill wife backfires, forcing him to forevermore to wear a cryogenics suit and join the rogues’ gallery of villains creating mayhem in Gotham. Darrow made his first appearance in the role at the tail end of the Nov. 30 episode, just before the series took a hiatus. The series — and Mr. Freeze — returns tonight.
There’s nothing unusual about actors playing super-villains wearing elaborate makeup and costumes, but Darrow said the early part of his working day on the “Gotham” set was consumed by just getting ready for the camera.
“Quite a long time,” he said. “I have to sit there and have the wig put on. That can take two hours. And then they put some makeup on me. And putting the suit on, I had a lot of help.”
So far the producers have asked Darrow to be in a total of four episodes.
“Everybody was terrific,” he said. “Very professional, very dedicated to what they’re doing and that extends beyond the actors to all the departments. You get to stretch on that show with crazy wigs and lighting and special effects. It’s not one of those shows where you just have to light candles at the table for people to have coffee.”
But Darrow kept going back to the quality of the scripts. That’s what got him interested.
“The writing, especially his relationship with his wife, was good,” he said. “It was really sensitive and human. It was exciting to know that from this the villain is going to emerge.”
Darrow was born in Kansas City, attended Shawnee Mission North High School and earned a bachelor of science degree in theater performance and literature from the University of Evansville in Indiana.
For his graduate degree he attended New York University. In Kansas City, he played Romeo in the Shakespeare Festival's production of “Romeo and Juliet” and played the title role in “Henry V” for the festival. Other appearances included Kansas City Actors Theatre productions of “Translations” and “Taking Sides” and “The Pillowman” at the Unicorn.
Darrow moved to New York in 2009 and before long found himself cast in an international touring production of “Richard III,” with Kevin Spacey in the title role.
The Spacey connection led to Darrow playing Meechum, an ominous, taciturn bodyguard, in “House of Cards,” the Netflix political thriller starring Spacey as the corrupt, homicidal Frank Underwood. The fourth season is set to begin in March.
“I think as the writing has done so far really well, Meechum is sparingly revealed,” Darrow said. “One of the interesting things about him is he’s so opaque. But I think you’re going to learn some more in this season.”
Also in the can is “The Wizard of Lies,” an HBO film in which Robert De Niro plays Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier and investment advisor whose “wealth management” business was revealed to be an enormous Ponzi scheme that bilked clients out of billions of dollars. Darrow plays one of Madoff’s two sons — Andrew, who died of lymphoma in 2014.
The film, based on Diana Henriques’ nonfiction book, also features Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristen Connolly and Alessandro Nivola. Barry Levinson directed. No air date has been announced. Darrow also appeared in the pilot and two subsequent episodes of “Billions” on Showtime.
And, harking back to his roots as a Shakespearean actor, Darrow plays Marcus Antonious in “Ambition’s Debt” — a Kickstarter-funded post-apocalyptic adaptation of “Julius Caesar” scheduled for release next year.
All things considered, Darrow said, his foundation as a stage actor in Kansas City has served him well during his on-camera career.
“I view it with a lot of gratitude and joy,” he said. “You get to act a fair amount in my hometown with some of the best anywhere. It was great.”
▪ “Gotham” resumes at 7 tonight on Fox with the episode, “Wrath of the Villains: Mr. Freeze.”