Like many almost-4-year-olds, Morena Baccarin’s son adores superheroes. So when he overheard someone mentioning Gotham to his mother — as in the city where Batman operates — he had some questions.
Naeem Khan dress, $14,995 at Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave. Sheryl Nields
“You work in Gotham city?” the child asked, eyes wide.
“I guess I do,” she replied.
Gears turned, thoughts processed, pieces clicked into place. His mother, the person who had brought him into the world and cared for him his entire life, suddenly became so much cooler.
For Baccarin, 38, the fictional world is bleeding into the real one more and more these days. A stroll through the streets near her Battery Park home draws double takes from pedestrians — not only do they recognize the actress from her role as Dr. Leslie Thompkins on the Fox show “Gotham,” they also notice the man she’s with: Ben McKenzie, who plays Jim Gordon, her on-again, off-again love interest on the series.
“When they see us together, usually they recognize one of us first, then they look at the other and go, ‘Oh, my God!’” Baccarin says over an omelet at Tribeca’s Odeon Restaurant.
Their characters are currently in a rocky place on “Gotham.” Not so for the real-life couple, who were married this past summer in a ceremony at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
“We’d looked at a few places, but this was just so beautiful,” Baccarin says. “They have this art deco, glass Palm House that overlooks a lily pond.” It also happened to be where McKenzie proposed to Baccarin — on the show, that is.
The newlyweds got to know each other on the set of “Gotham” in 2015. But, as she playfully likes to point out, they actually first bumped into each other in 2006, when Baccarin did a three-episode guest spot on the Fox teen drama “The O.C.,” with McKenzie starring as troubled transplant Ryan Atwood. He, however, has no memory of that initial encounter.
“It just goes to show you, when you’re in your 20s, you’re not primed to meet the girl of your dreams,” the actress says with a laugh.
Baccarin, who’s also snagged splashy roles in “Deadpool” and on “Homeland,” says the couple’s professional relationship has since evolved. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s nice when we work together, it’s just the two of us being able to do what we love and being able to be together.”
But the plot on “Gotham” this season (its fourth) has conspired to keep them apart. Gordon and the police force are still battling villains in the city, while Thompkins has gone underground after injecting herself with a potentially deadly virus. Baccarin says her character is now working with the homeless and will ultimately help lead an underclass rebellion (and potentially reunite with her estranged love).
Baccarin (Dr. Leslie Thompkins) with her on-screen love interest and real life husband, Ben McKenzie (Detective James Gordon) on “Gotham”. Jessica Miglio/FOX
In the meantime, the stars’ differing shooting schedules allow them to split up their parenting duties. The couple also has a 1-year-old daughter, along with Baccarin’s superhero-obsessed son (whom she had with her ex-husband, producer Austin Chick).
She says the real Gotham is an ideal place to raise young children: “There’s something so easy. You just stick them in a stroller, you walk outside your door. There’s a fire truck and a construction site. The public library on the corner has story time. There are massive parks all over the city, and we love the Children’s Museum of the Arts.”
As for her own childhood, Baccarin was born in Brazil and spent her early life in Rio de Janeiro. She moved to NYC at the age of 7 after her father, a TV news editor, was transferred to the States. The family settled into an apartment in the West Village — where her mother still lives. (Her parents are no longer together, and her father has since returned to Brazil.)
Baccarin liked science and writing as a young girl, but ultimately applied to Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, auditioning with a darkly comic Portuguese monologue and a selection from “Macbeth.”
“I was a really shy kid,” she says. “I thought it would be good for me to come out of my shell.”
She credits her mom, an actress, with sparking her interest in the craft. “I kind of grew up around that,” she recalls.
“Going to the theater with her and hanging out backstage and playing with the props. I gravitated towards that gypsy life of creating families everywhere you go. That’s why I like a series so much, because you really do make a family.”
Baccarin decided to continue the family tradition, winning a spot in Juilliard’s acting program. She says her previous decade in NYC helped her focus on her studies rather than the city’s temptations.
“I got to Juilliard at 17, and I was probably the youngest in my class,” she says. “I remember the younger crowd was really excited about being in New York and going to the convenience store and buying 40s and sitting in the park. I was like, ‘That’s so boring. Let’s go to Smalls Jazz Club or a performance at Lincoln Center.’”
It’s not often you get to play a badass chick or somebody with an opinion or a vulnerability.
She booked two small movie jobs just before graduating. And after moving to LA in 2001, she was almost immediately cast on the cult 2002 sci-fi series, “Firefly.” The show was extinguished midseason, but Baccarin quickly landed other roles, including an Emmy-nominated turn as Jessica Brody on “Homeland.”
Then came the hit 2016 supehero comedy “Deadpool,” in which she played Vanessa, the title character’s girlfriend.
“I wasn’t searching for comic-book or sci-fi things, but it feels like there’s a huge influx of them now and the characters are so interesting, especially for women,” she says.
“It’s not often you get to play a badass chick or somebody with an opinion or a vulnerability.”
In addition to “Gotham,” Baccarin is currently shooting “Deadpool 2” in Vancouver, but is tight-lipped about the plot and whether her character will follow the path of the source comic and turn into shape-shifting superhero Copycat. She can, however, confirm that the sequel’s production has a flexible vibe.
“As they shoot things that don’t work, they do more. It’s really cool. I’ve shot one particular scene numerous ways and we’re going to see what works,” she says, before joking that it’s “really annoying because I’ve spent a lot of time learning to do a particular underwater stunt and it may not end up in the movie.”
Baccarin would probably prefer to dress for dry land anyway, as our cover shoot attests. “I do love fashion,” she says. “I always flip-flop between really romantic and kind of edgy and I like designers that know how to marry the two very well. Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney do these really beautiful feminine shapes, but then they trim them down and make them more modern and interesting. I love that.”