“Gotham” exclusive: Victoria Cartagena talks playing a lesbian detective with mad swagger

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Today is the day everything changes. Today is the day the most anticipated new TV show of 2014 finally lands on our screens. Today is the day Batman’s cinematic universe finally gives us a gay character. But not just any gay character: Today is the day that Fox’s Batman “prequel” Gotham introduces us to the live-action version of kickass lesbian Latina detective Renee Montoya. Introduced in the early ’90s in Batman: The Animated Series and then incorporated into DC’s print universe, Renee Montoya is everything right about the world of comics. She is a fierce, complicated, powerful woman who dated Kate Kane (Batwoman!) and ultimately became the superhero The Question.

On Gotham, Montoya will be played by Victoria Cartagena, and I’ll tell you the truth: My excitement for Gotham was hovering around a six, but after chatting with Cartagena, I am vibrating at eleven. Cartagena is smart and funny and gorgeous and she knows exactly what it means that Renee Montoya has finally come to television.

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AfterEllen: I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am for Gotham. Renee Montoya is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, so when I heard she was in the pilot as a guest star, I was psyched, and when I read you’d been promoted to series regular, I was ecstatic. Can you walk me through the process?
Victoria Cartagena: When I got the call about being a series regular, I was ecstatic too! I knew when I started auditioning that it was for a recurring role, but I didn’t really know what I was auditioning for. I knew it was Batman’s Gotham, so I was excited about that, but they gave us dummy sides because they were being pretty secretive. I thought I was reading for someone named “Kit,” so I couldn’t do any research on her. When they had me in for the callback, they told me to wear makeup and I was like, “OK, I love makeup!” After we shot the pilot, they called me in May, and I was like, “Oh god, they’re calling to fire me.” But I got the part! It has been an amazing ride; I am enjoying it, thoroughly.

AE: I’m familiar with the many incarnations of Renee Montoya in DC’s comic books and cartoons, but will you tell me a little bit about Gotham’s version?
VC: I think what you’ll see with her personality and her life are actually really consistent with what’s in the comic book universe. She is a detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department and she is a lesbian character. She definitely has a history with James Gordon’s fiance. It’s not even a big deal that she’s gay; she just is. So she won’t be going through that “Half a Life” arc from Gotham Central.

(Comic nerd note: The “Half a Life” arc of Gotham Central deals with the personal and professional fallout Renee suffers when she’s revealed as a closeted lesbian and framed for the murder of the guy who supposedly outed her. It was written by Greg Rucka—you know him from Batwoman: Elegy—and you should definitely read it because it is sexy and intense and perfect.)

AE: That was actually my next question. I was going to ask if Renee is already out and if being a lesbian is going to be a hinderance to her career, but you’re telling me, awesomely, that it just is what it is.
VC: It absolutely is what it is. GCPD has a lot of problems, but that’s not one of them. They’re pretty accepting.

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AE: Man, TV has come a long way since I started writing about lesbian pop culture six years ago—but, you know, you’re breaking some real barriers here. You’re the first woman of color to play a potential superhero on a TV show. Renee will be the first openly gay person in Batman’s cinematic universe. That must feel pretty great.
VC: It’s an honor, truly. It’s a privilege. A lot of credit goes to DC for introducing this diversity into its comics, this ethnic diversity and this gender and sexual diversity, and for including it on the show, for not shying away from these social issues. My character was introduced in the ’90s, so that was well ahead of the curve. And kudos to [series creator] Bruno Heller and the guys at Warner Brothers, as well, because there are plenty of detectives they could have chosen from Gotham Central, and they wanted Rene. Even if I wasn’t on the show, I’d be watching it, because I think it is very forward-thinking.

AE: Obviously Rene Montoya goes on to become The Question. Since Gotham is kind of a prequel to what we already know about Gotham City’s heroes and villains, will we see the beginning of Rene’s superhero ways?
VC: I never even know what’s going to happen in the next episode—in this universe, anything is possible! But yes, so many of these stories are about what leads Bruce Wayne to become Batman, what leads these other characters to become villains, so I’m sure we’re going to see some of the layers that lead Montoya into becoming The Question. I do think it would be cool to wear a fedora.

AE: Are they going to give you a fedora? Because Renee Montoya, with the fedora and the swagger—
VC: [Laughs] It’s so funny you mention the swagger. The shoes Renee wears have heals, so every time I walk in, I feel like I have a swagger, but I’ve had a stress fracture in my foot for the last six weeks so I’ve been wearing flats. I’m like, “I can’t wait to get my heels so I can bring my swagger back!”

AE: Is it easier to swagger in heels than in, like, sneakers?
VC: It is. It really is. The heels just change everything.

AE: I’ve always thought it was insane that female superheros wear heels, but maybe it’s the swaggy intimidation factor. I’m learning so much talking to you. So, are you ass-kicking in heels? Or is it mostly talky-drama for you so far?
VC: I’m getting to do a little bit of everything! You really get to see Renee’s toughness, especially at work. You get to see that swagger. You also get to see that vulnerability, which is always important to me when you’re playing such a tough character, because no one is tough all the time, so you’ll get to see that side of her when she’s maybe talking to someone who is not at work. The last episode, I finally got to do some action stuff. Well, I say “I did” but my stunt double came in.

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AE: Did you have to do any special training for your action scenes?
VC: [Laughs] It’s actually a lot of me just getting out of the way.

AE: How many episodes have you filmed so far?
VC: We just finished filming number eight.

AE: Cool! So you have plenty in the hopper. Are you excited to finally get to start sharing the show with your fans?
VC: Oh, I’m like a kid. The first red carpet? Yay! People tweet at me and they’re like, “Yay, you tweeted me back!” And I’m like, “Yay, you favorited the tweet I tweeted back!” It’s all really fun. I’m excited for the comic book fans to watch it, and for the new people to watch it. I’ll be watching too, at the same time.

AE: Will you be live-tweeting?
VC: I will definitely try. I have a huge family and any time I do anything, even if it’s just two seconds of something, they’re texting me the whole time.

AE: That’s wonderful. If you’re looking for your lesbians, you’ll find us on Twitter using the hashtag #Gaytham.
VC: Gaytham! [Laughs] Awesome, that’s awesome.

AE: OK, I think I’ve asked you everything I’m allowed to ask you until the episodes start raining down from heaven. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more questions really soon, so expect to hear from me!
VC: I’d love to talk any time! I’m excited for everyone to see a show with so much diversity. It’s a lot more fun to watch something when you feel included.

Gotham premieres tonight on on Fox at 8pm EST. Live tweet with AfterEllen using the hashtag #Gaytham. And follow the fabulous Victoria Cartagena (@VickiCartagena) on Twitter, too!

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