Batman trades in his cape for college
For five years, David Mazouz played a young Bruce Wayne on the network television series Gotham. Now a Stanford frosh, he reflects on the show, filming fight scenes and explains why performing in this year’s Gaieties was unlike any acting experience he’s ever had.
Of all the Hollywood actors who have portrayed the Dark Knight, none did it quite like David Mazouz; he’s the only one to play the caped crusader as a youth.
From 2014 to 2019, Mazouz starred on the Fox series Gotham, which told the story of Bruce Wayne’s upbringing and evolution from a wealthy orphan to a nighttime vigilante. When the series ended last year, Mazouz decided to focus on school. Since joining Stanford last fall, the actor has been enjoying college life and – despite having an established acting career – is already learning new approaches to his craft.
Mazouz, who is from Los Angeles, started taking acting classes when he was 5. Two years later, while performing at a workshop, he was discovered by an agent who helped him land bit parts in commercials, TV shows and movies. His first major role came on the series Touch, which co-starred Kiefer Sutherland. When the show was canceled after two seasons, Mazouz spent a year taking on smaller parts before learning about the role of a lifetime.
“I got a call from my manager and he said, ‘There’s this really cool new show. We don’t know a lot about it, but it’s going to follow Batman growing up,’” Mazouz said.
Competition for the role was stiff and Mazouz had to audition multiple times. After landing the part, he dove into the Batman canon, reading old comic books and watching movies and TV shows to prepare for filming.
“I really wanted to know who this character was, especially because there was already 75 years of very, very rich history at that point,” he said.
Life on Gotham
Production on Gotham commenced in 2014 in New York, where Mazouz spent about nine months of the year working. Over the next five years, he shot 100 episodes over five seasons. The crime drama told the story of Commissioner Gordon’s early career with the Gotham City Police Department, the origins of numerous villains, including the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler, and how Bruce Wayne evolved from a child who witnesses his parents’ murder into a caped crime fighter.
“Throughout the course of the show, Bruce is trying to figure out who he is and who he wants to be in the world,” Mazouz said. “He goes through a lot of phases to figure that out.”
Mazouz studied Batman’s other on-screen incarnations, including those played by Christian Bale, Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer. Although he does not adhere to any particular acting method, Mazouz said that putting on his costumes and walking onto the sets helped him inhabit Bruce Wayne’s persona. After a while, it got easier to get into the character.
“When you inhabit the skin of another person for five years, it becomes like a light switch,” he said. “Bruce was a part of me so it was easy to go in and out of him.”
While he has many fond memories of the show, Mazouz said that episode 14 of season three is his favorite because it’s the first time Wayne’s heroism becomes evident. In the episode, Wayne is kidnapped by the proto-Joker. After escaping, he confronts the villain and an intricate fight scene ensues. To prepare for such scenes, Mazouz trained in jiu-jitsu and Krav Maga. Mazouz – a perfectionist at his craft – said that although he enjoyed the fight scenes, he was never quite satisfied with how they turned out in the final cuts.
“They’re the most fun scenes to film, but I always felt like I could have done them better,” he said.
During filming, Mazouz remained enrolled at a high school in Los Angeles and worked with an on-set tutor to stay up-to-date on the curriculum. While he acknowledges that working and attending school full time was hectic, he said it was necessary.
“I couldn’t have done it any other way because school meant a lot to me,” he said. “I was always a student first and being an actor was a close second.”
Gotham’s fifth and final season concluded in spring of 2019. Although the end of the series was bittersweet for Mazouz, he said he was ready for a change and eager to attend college. He considered other schools, but Stanford, he said, stuck out.
“Stanford has something really, really special about it,” he said. “I didn’t realize that until I visited.”
Since arriving on the Farm, Mazouz has been enjoying his classes and making new friends. He’s taken two classes in the Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) Department and also performed in this year’s Gaieties, in which he played Chad, a Cal student who sports an Oski costume. Gaieties was a nerve-racking experience for Mazouz, who had no prior experience singing, dancing or performing in live theater.
“I’m used to having a take-two, and you don’t get a take-two in theater!” he said. “So it was a really big challenge for me, but I learned a ton and it was the most fun experience I’ve ever had.”
Mazouz has a few professional acting projects in the works but said that his main focus right now is school. He is considering a major in economics and hopes to launch a film production company someday.
While his days playing Batman are over, Mazouz said that the character had a profound and lasting impact on him. The role taught him about the power of will, perseverance and how to face new challenges, like performing in Gaieties.
“Being Bruce Wayne definitely changed me,” he said. “The idea that [overcoming fears] is about mind over matter was instilled in me by playing Bruce and I thank him for that every day.”