penny dread­ful – the tv show

Dare you gaze upon the ghastly await­ing you in Penny Dread­ful's sec­ond sea­son?! Joseph McCabe will be your guide

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The se­ries that’s noth­ing to do with our colum­nist!

he shared uni­verse is as much a tra­di­tion in hor­ror as the su­per­hero genre, stretch­ing back to that fate­ful day in 1943 when Franken­stein first met the Wolf Man on the big screen. But few mon­ster mashes have pre­served their lit­er­ary roots like Penny

Dread­ful. The brain­child of screen­writer John Lo­gan, who penned all eight of its first sea­son’s episodes and has writ­ten the en­tirety of its ten- episode sec­ond out­ing, Dread­ful unites such dis­parate fig­ures as Do­rian Gray, the Franken­stein mon­ster and Abra­ham Van Hels­ing in a TV drama that’s of­fered more sex and scares than fans dared hope.

But as in­tense as its de­but sea­son was, Lo­gan tells us the ante is upped in ev­ery way in the sec­ond year of his “hor­ror show that’ll break your heart”.

“I was im­mensely proud of the first sea­son,” the screen­writer turned showrun­ner tells SFX in Los An­ge­les. “This sea­son I think is much bet­ter, and tonally very dif­fer­ent. There’s more pres­sure, there’s more ten­sion this sea­son. Last sea­son our he­roes were hun­ters, and this sea­son they are the prey. There’s so much pres­sure on them ex­ter­nally, from Eve­lyn Poole, and also in­ter­nally be­cause they’re brought closer and there­fore the stakes are higher emo­tion­ally. We sort of un­leash hell in this sea­son. We go for broke. So it is our make- or- break sea­son, and we’re go­ing for it… We have ten hours. So there’s more time to tell the story.”

Lo­gan ex­plains the threat posed by Poole, aka Madame Kali, to Dread­ful’s cursed clair­voy­ant Vanessa Ives ( Eva Green), Amer­i­can sharp­shooter Ethan Chan­dler ( Josh Hart­nett), and African ex­plorer Sir Mal­colm Mur­ray ( Ti­mothy Dal­ton).

“When I was plan­ning this sea­son ten years ago, think­ing about th­ese char­ac­ters and this world, I be­came fas­ci­nated by par­tic­u­lar parts of Vanessa Ives’ past, which is where she learned to read the tarot. It’s not some­thing a Vic­to­rian girl, even one as unique as Vanessa Ives, knows how to do. Think­ing about that led me into the world of the oc­cult and the su­per­nat­u­ral… This sea­son we em­brace witch­craft. I cre­ated the char­ac­ter that He­len McCrory plays, Eve­lyn Poole, last sea­son. This sea­son she be­comes an an­tag­o­nist, for not only Vanessa, but all of the char­ac­ters. Last sea­son we set the play­ers on the board, now we get to play with them in in­ter­est­ing ways… Last sea­son we had

“oh, by the way, you play a were­wolf”

crea­tures. Now we have a proper vil­lain. And we en­joy her im­mensely.”

Lo­gan tells us his big­gest chal­lenge in in­tro­duc­ing witch­craft to his show has been “mak­ing it or­ganic” to the char­ac­ter of Poole.

“Be­cause no two witches are the same, no two vam­pires are the same. No two de­mon­i­cally pos­sessed women are the same. She’s a very par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter. She’s a char­ac­ter of el­e­gance and grace and beauty, and a char­ac­ter of ab­so­lute bar­barism.”

Re­gard­ing McCrory’s work as the enig­matic Eve­lyn, Lo­gan re­marks, “I’d worked with He­len both on Hugo and on Sky­fall, and I’d seen her on stage. She’s an amaz­ing ac­tor. So I went to her two and a half years ago and said, ‘ I’m gonna beg you to take a [ TV] part. You have two scenes in the first sea­son. Then the sec­ond sea­son is all you.’ Be­cause of our friend­ship, be­cause of her faith in me as a writer, she took the chance. She’s an amazingly ag­ile per­former, a very soul­ful per­former, and, like Eva Green, fear­less.”

As for what makes the witchy Madame Kali such an ef­fec­tive an­tag­o­nist… “I don’t be­lieve in vil­lains and he­roes,” says Lo­gan. “You think Eve­lyn is a vil­lain, but she’s more of an an­tag­o­nist. She has a noble call­ing even though it runs counter to Sir Mal­colm’s. She might think she’s on the side of the an­gels, even though she’s on the side of the devils.”

Mov­ing on up

Penny Dread­ful’s first year ir­repara­bly al­tered its char­ac­ters — re­veal­ing Chan­dler to be a were­wolf, rob­bing Mur­ray of his long- lost daugh­ter Mina, and killing off Bil­lie Piper’s tu­ber­cu­lo­sis- plagued Ir­ish im­mi­grant Brona Croft only to see her corpse pre­pared for rean­i­ma­tion, as a mate for Franken­stein’s mon­ster. All of which leads us to sea­son two.

“Ethan, in this sea­son, learns ex­actly what he is,” says Lo­gan, “and he’s hunted by a very dogged Scot­land Yard in­spec­tor played by Doug Hodge; and he’s drawn closer to Vanessa in ev­ery con­ceiv­able way due to the pres­sure on him. Sir Mal­colm is drawn into a re­la­tion­ship with Eve­lyn Poole that alien­ates him, ro­man­ti­cally, per­son­ally, and su­per­nat­u­rally from the rest of the peo­ple in the se­ries. And Doc­tor Franken­stein him­self is grap­pling with a new life. And has to deal with what those feel­ings, what those sen­si­tiv­i­ties, are.”

Lo­gan glee­fully re­calls in­form­ing Hart­nett of his char­ac­ter’s true na­ture. “I will con­fess that was one of the great mo­ments in the en­tire process. I met with Josh for the first time — he was the ac­tor I des­per­ately wanted, he’d read the first two scripts — and I had to say the words, ‘ Oh, by the way, you play a were­wolf.’ At which point he could have walked out of the room, but to his credit he didn’t.

“One of the great rev­e­la­tions [ of sea­son two],” Lo­gan con­tin­ues, “is Ethan sees him­self for what he is. The dread of it all, if you will, has en­com­passed him. The sense of not know­ing. So how we treat ly­can­thropy is a ma­jor part of the sea­son and be­yond for Ethan… Ev­ery­thing be­comes more fluid in the sec­ond sea­son. Be­cause we know the char­ac­ters and now we get to un­spool them in dif­fer­ent ways. So erot­i­cally, ro­man­ti­cally, su­per­nat­u­rally — both in terms of ug­li­ness and beauty — I think we just get deeper.”

Lo­gan tells SFX that his great­est in­spi­ra­tion for his char­ac­ters comes from the idio­syn­cratic cast he’s as­sem­bled cast to play them.

“When you see how they spark, how they connect, the ac­tors who just click to­gether mag­nif­i­cently, where the chem­istry is — you imag­ine it on the page. Then you see it on the set, and you hope it trans­lates to the screen. When it does, it’s ab­so­lute light­ning.”

Of all his char­ac­ters, the writer- pro­ducer ex­hibits the most out­ward af­fec­tion for Eva Green’s de­mon- plagued Ives.

“Ev­ery­thing Eva does ex­ceeds my ex­pec­ta­tions. We spend a lot of time to­gether, Eva and I, and we talk about things in great de­tail. Some of the more dif­fi­cult scenes we just read to­gether. So we build the per­for­mance as a duo. Then ev­ery time I go on the set she ex­ceeds any­thing I imag­ine.”

Lo­gan is quick to add that, af­ter eight hours of story, Penny Dread­ful has only scratched the sur­face of Green’s char­ac­ter, and that her story will be told “end­lessly” in episodes to come.

“Eva Green her­self, she’s an Alpine moun­taineer. She’s only happy in the high al­ti­tudes. So I have to chal­lenge her and I have to chal­lenge my­self to climb higher. Ev­ery sin­gle line, ev­ery sin­gle episode, and ev­ery sin­gle sea­son… I will say that this se­ries asks one very sim­ple ques­tion, which is ‘ Who is Vanessa Ives?’ I don’t be­lieve I will ever know. And as long as she re­mains an enigma to me I will con­tinue to try to un­wrap her.”

In ad­di­tion to his cast, Lo­gan has found fur­ther in­spi­ra­tion in the hor­ror films he loved as a boy. He doesn’t hes­i­tate be­fore nam­ing his

gate­way drug — “Franken­stein. Orig­i­nally the Boris Karloff movie, then the Christo­pher Lee movie, and then the book. That was the way I fell into the en­tire sor­did mess.”

Lo­gan also cites direc­tor Fran­cis Cop­pola’s adap­ta­tion of Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula as a favourite: “I love Cop­pola’s Drac­ula, ev­ery frame of it. And all of those movies that I watched first as a kid and then as an adult have fil­tered through and in­formed my work. I stand on the shoul­ders of those who have walked be­fore me.”

In­ter­est­ing times

Like Cop­pola’s film, Penny Dread­ful de­picts a world still fright­ened by the su­per­sti­tions of the past even as the tech­nol­ogy of the fu­ture en­gulfs it. The con­trast is one Lo­gan sees as an apt metaphor for the per­ils of 2015.

“One of the rea­sons this is set in 1891, and now 1892 in this sea­son, is they were look­ing at a world that was chang­ing so quickly tech­no­log­i­cally they couldn’t keep up. The old gods were be­ing re­placed by the new gods, with the tur­bine en­gine and steam and teleg­ra­phy and elec­tri­cal light­ing. I feel we’re in ex­actly the same place. Who knows what demons will come from the in­ter­net, from Face­book, from the com­mu­ni­ca­tion that moves so quickly that we lose the idea of ac­tu­ally in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple? It’s one of the main rea­sons I wrote the se­ries and why I think it’s rel­e­vant. I think we live in that world right now. On our show, it’s Vic­to­rian Lon­don and it has cob­ble­stone streets and it has fog. But it’s ex­actly the world we live in as I see it. Com­pletely.”

Hav­ing co- writ­ten the screen­play for Star Trek: Nemesis as well as the block­buster Sky­fall, Lo­gan is no stranger to the opin­ions of genre fans. But be­fore leav­ing us, he beams as he men­tions the re­cep­tion Penny

Dread­ful has had from the most de­mand­ing of crit­ics.

“Oh, I’m thrilled… Es­pe­cially among hard­core genre fans, be­cause that’s the bread and but­ter, and those are the peo­ple I didn’t want to dis­ap­point and be­tray. So the fact that they’ve re­sponded so favourably is fan­tas­tic!”

If you go down to the woods to­day…

Bil­lie Piper as Brona Croft, fu­ture bride of Franken­stein…

“I don’t know how to say this… but have you thought about us­ing con­di­tioner?”

Stranger on the shore.

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