From 'Gotham' to Tel Aviv – David Mazouz in Israel

Having played the role of would-be superhero Bruce Wayne on Fox’s Gotham since he was 12 years old, Mazouz keeps an open mind about the future.

Actor David Mazouz, who plays the role of Bruce Wayne in the television show 'Gotham', standing next to a full-size statue of Batman shown at the Link Hotel in Tel Aviv.   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Actor David Mazouz, who plays the role of Bruce Wayne in the television show 'Gotham', standing next to a full-size statue of Batman shown at the Link Hotel in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As a young man poses next to a muscular, larger-than-life figure of Batman for the cameramen, a tourist staying at the Link Hotel in Tel Aviv stopped to observe what’s going on.
The manager of the hotel, Galit Dohan, sensed her puzzlement and pointed to young Jewish-American actor David Mazouz and said, “He’s Batman.” The woman, obviously a Marvel comics fan, nodded in appreciation.
 Actor David Mazouz, who plays the role of Bruce Wayne in the television show 'Gotham', holding a Hebrew version of the comic book first released 80 years ago. / MARC ISRAEL SALEM
Actor David Mazouz, who plays the role of Bruce Wayne in the television show 'Gotham', holding a Hebrew version of the comic book first released 80 years ago. / MARC ISRAEL SALEM
Mazouz was cast as the orphan Bruce Wayne for the series Gotham when he was 12 years old. The series was a marked departure from the majority of Batman media, which usually focuses on Bruce Wayne as an adult, a fully mature Batman protecting Gotham City. As such, in Gotham, Mazouz shouldered the task of portraying the character arc of a young boy who would eventually become the Dark Knight. 
Visiting in the country over winter break from his studies at Stanford University – his sister had already made aliyah several years ago – the now 18-year-old Mazouz visited the Link Hotel to see the street art exhibition focusing on the Caped Crusader.
As Dohan took him on a tour of the hotel’s gallery of hundreds of art pieces, Mazouz was able to examine art depicting Batman as a James Bond-esque character alongside Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the role of Wonder Woman, Batman as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and even a painting inviting Israelis to use the upcoming March elections as a chance to vote for the world’s greatest detective. 
Art director of the Link Hotel Daniel Siboni took Mazouz to where the art is made and showed him the sketches that eventually became the street-art on display. 
Actor David Mazouz [R] next to Art Director of the Link Hotel Daniel Siboni [L], the art depicts Batman as a Haredi man./ Hagay Hacohen
Actor David Mazouz [R] next to Art Director of the Link Hotel Daniel Siboni [L], the art depicts Batman as a Haredi man./ Hagay Hacohen
Siboni explained that the exhibition was inspired by when he taught art to autistic children, one of whom claimed to be Batman. Coincidentally, Mazouz’s first television role in the series Touch was as a number-obsessed autistic child that was one of the 36 Righteous people (Lamedvuvniks) of Kabbalistic lore.
While the Jewish influence in Touch was very apparent, the connections in Batman are less obvious – but they are undoubtedly present.
Like many other famous superheroes from the golden and silver ages of comics, Batman was created by Jews – Bill Finger and Bob Kane – and the character himself is halachicly Jewish, due to his mother Martha Wayne having been Jewish.
But the Jewish themes are also present in Batman’s approach to problems.
“The thing that allows a mere mortal [like Bruce Wayne, who does not have super-powers] to take on someone like Superman is his intelligence,” Mazouz told The Jerusalem Post. He further explained that Batman’s logical and analytical approach to problem-solving and insistence on covering multiple angles of a scenario seemed almost Talmudic.
This also reflects something else that makes Mazouz stand out from many of his contemporaries. While there are many Jewish actors and even some that play comic book superheroes – Gal Gadot, as well as Jon Bernthal who stars in the titular role of Marvel’s The Punisher series on Netflix – Mazouz is an observant Modern Orthodox Jew. This isn’t unheard of – the late Steven Hill of Law and Order fame being another example – but it’s far from common.
Judaism is very close to Mazouz, who comes from a Sephardi family and grew up going to Modern Orthodox Jewish schools, and he balanced his career with an observance of Shabbat and kashrut on set. While this was a challenge, the producers of Gotham were very accommodating, always ensuring that any food he would eat himself or for a scene was kosher. “Whenever Bruce is eating something on the set, like a chicken for example, that chicken is kosher,” he told the Post.
He also wound up as being an unofficial halachic authority on the set, answering questions about Jewish laws and culture. However, because the crew never filmed scenes during Passover, Mazouz never needed to explain why a Sephardi Jew was eating rice and hummus while Ashkenazi Jews were not.
Gotham, produced by Bruno Heller, promised to be a unique take on the Batman myth, focusing on the character of Commissioner Jim Gordon [Ben McKenzie] as he begins his career at Gotham’s Police department. We are invited to spend five seasons learning just how deep the bond between Gordon and Bruce Wayne is, and how Gotham became a city under the sign of the Bat. 
Superbly casted, Gotham delighted established fans and attracted many new ones, gaining heaps of praise, and awards, along the way. From the 2014 Critic’s Choice Television Award to Most Exciting New Series to the 2019 teen choice award won by Cameron Monaghan for his mesmerizing performance as TV villain Jerome.
A powerful and strangely captivating prefiguration of the Joker, Monaghan did not only play one bad guy, he played two, as the fate of Jerome was to be replaced by his twin-brother, also played by Monaghan. 
True to its comic-book origin, the show is packed full of characters who die and come back to life, often with a changed look, daring action scenes and sly humor. 
In an emotionally moving scene, Mazouz as Bruce confides to McKenzie as Gordon what his favorite animal is. The audience, who knows Bruce is destined to become Batman, expects to hear “bats.” But Bruce, at this point, is not Batman, he’s just a kid, and his favorite animal happens to be owls. It’s a funny scene because it breaks our own expectations from a Batman story. 
“I never felt like a kid on set, in a weird way,” Mazouz told the Post, “I was always treated with a lot of respect.” 
Because British actor Sean Pertwee took on the role of Alfred on Gotham, he and Mazouz spent a lot of time together due to the bond Bruce Wayne has with his butler, who essentially fills the role of his absent parents. 
“He [Pertwee] has so much experience," Mazouz told the Post, “he trained professionally in British theater, that’s one of the most thorough trainings as an actor you can possibly get. They learn how to be a clown, they learn how to fence, they learn all these skills because it might come up.” 
In Gotham, Alfred teaches Bruce how to fight, as Alfred is presented as a former Special Air Force [SAS] soldier, this is true not just to the spirit of the comic but also to the relationship between the two actors.
Mazouz is quick to add that while he was an actual kid on the set the positive atmosphere meant that all those involved in the show learned from one another and inspired one another. One small indication of that is that on the set of the Gotham Police Station the photographs of fallen cops are of actors who used to play police-officer roles on the show.              
Paul Dini, in his 2016 Dark Night: A True Batman Story, describes Batman as “a boy’s ultimate power fantasy.” Meaning that he is a tough fighter, a smart detective, an escape artist, an actor who can fool the world into thinking him a mere playboy – not to mention a wealthy millionaire with fast cars – so no one can really be like him in the real world.
In the context of the graphic novel, which tells how Dini was beaten by crooks and as a result questions the validity of telling stories about a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime, the question is meant to present the emotional state of Dini himself. The Batman he speaks with gives him an honest answer, you don’t have to be me to not be a victim. 
Speaking with the Post, Mazouz said that, for him, “Batman is about strength and achieving what you set your mind to” and suggests that everyone, in his or her own life, has to confront dangers and risks as Bruce does. “Also what’s going to be important to me, what are my priorities, is one of the biggest questions that Bruce juggles with during these five years,” he told the Post. Such questions are always important. 
One of the things that makes Gotham so unique is that Bruce makes mistakes. He gets into fights with Alfred and even fires him, for example. This applies to the rest of Gotham as well – almost all characters in it seek power, and almost all of them make mistakes when they have it until they lose it.
When asked about Gotham’s philosophy of power, Mazouz said that “power corrupts. I think that every character follows this sign curve trajectory throughout the show where they are constantly getting power and losing it in an endless cycle.”
“Power is not meant to be kept or maintained and it’s easy to do wrong with it. Even the good characters like Gordon, he’ll win some police award and it will all come crashing down,” he said. 
Most of the characters on Gotham, Mazouz said, want power due to a painful experience they endured. “For Bruce, he had something terrible happen to him. His parents dying is a huge source of pain for him. He takes that pain and says I don’t want anyone else to ever experience this. He wants to be the hero that he never had.” 
The villains on the show, such as Penguin [Robin Lord Taylor] and Riddler [Cory Michael Smith] were alienated and abused, Mazouz argued, explaining that, “they try to attain power so they can make others feel what they felt. They want to be the villain that they did have.”
Mazouz had nothing but praise for Batman and enjoyed playing the role of a Jewish hero, but he mentioned that the Caped Crusader isn’t the hero that Jews need right now.
Mentioning the recent stabbing attack in Monsey, New York, over Hanukkah, Mazouz recognized that “antisemitism is on the rise.” However, “from what I’ve seen as a Jew living in America… the consensus is that we’re generally safe.”
“When Jews feel safe, unfortunately, we tend to disassociate from our Jewish identity and I think that’s the biggest Jewish problem facing American Jewry today,” Mazouz explained to the Post. This, he said, is more dangerous and threatening to Judaism than outside antisemitic attacks.
And when the threat is internal, the solution needs to be internal as well. This is another key difference, Mazouz explained, between Superman and Batman. While Superman protects Metropolis, he isn’t part of it – he’s an alien that landed in Kansas. Bruce Wayne, however, is “connected to Gotham,” he told the Post. “It’s very similar to Israel, actually. The land is in his blood. So when he puts on a suit to protect the city, it doesn’t come out of nowhere… [Gotham] has been in his family for generations and generation, and it’s his responsibility, it’s his duty.”
American Jews need something similar. While the character of Batman is halachicly Jewish, this has never been an important part of his character – indeed, Batman himself is agnostic and was raised Protestant like his father.
According to Mazouz, the hero American Jews need would be “someone who reminds Jews why it’s important to be Jewish.”     
Gotham concluded its last season in 2019, and Mazouz is now focusing on university. However, he doesn’t plan on stopping his career, and is keeping his options open to what appeals to him. “I would love to do theater, I would love to do a really dark indie movie,” he told the Post. “At the same time, I would like to do more things in the comic book world.”