Greene lit for scary stardom
Afer a series of theatrical successes, Sarah Greene is back in terrifying formin ‘Penny Dreadful’. She talks to Peter Crawley
The camera loves Sarah Greene, although it is not yet entirely clear if Sarah Greene loves the camera.
The subject comes up on a spectacularly fine day in Dublin, where Greene has been confined to a windowless boardroom to promote the second series of Penny Dreadful.
Does Greene look back at her performances? “No,” she winces. “It’s very hard. I find it quite difficult, like.” (You can take the girl out of Cork, but . . . )
A stage actress of phenomenal ability, Greene graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting and won acclaim in several shows for Druid, Rough Magic, a star turn in the Abbey’s Alice in
Funderland, and, most recently, her Olivier- and Tony-nominated performance as Slippy Helen, Daniel Radcliffe’s gleeful torturer, in The Cripple of Inishmaan.
And she is hardly new to the screen. Greene was the idealised Imelda Egan in the screen adaptation of Eden, played a stage of Christina Noble’s life in last year’s biopic, and scaled Brendan Gleeson’s belly in The
Guard. Yet film remains a particular challenge.
“I move my face so much, because I’m very much expressive,” Greene says, imitating a critique she has heard before. “I’m told a lot, ‘Stop moving your face’, because on camera the tiniest movement tells so much and it looks really hammy. It’s all about portraying the thought, instead.”
Even so, film has become the focus of Greene’s career. She has a part in what has been widely referred to as “Bradley Cooper’s chef movie” (the upcoming film is actually titled Adam
Jones). Between meetings with Harvey Weinstein and photoshoots with Vogue, her time in New York has brought her into contact with another realm of stardom.
“Oh, I love him!” she trills when I mention Zachary Quinto, another actor with a wellstamped passport between theatre, film and television. “I hung out with him a little bit in New York.
“I do miss theatre, a lot. I just wanted to make some money to look after my family, basically. I got to a point where I thought, now I have a choice. I can stay in theatre or I can challenge myself and give this a go. And I want to challenge myself. I like to scare myself.”
For frights, she couldn’t have chosen better than Penny Dread
ful, the horror series created by John Logan and shot in Ireland. Logan, the writer of Bond movies Skyfall and the next one, Spec
tre, has a CV that covers historical fantasy ( Gladiator, The Last
Samurai) and biopics ( The Aviator) with a revealing streak in theatre adaptations (Sweeney Todd, Coriolanus).
Penny Dreadful’s mash-up of Victorian horror may seem close to a ComicCon fantasy. Frankenstein rubs shoulders with Dracula, Dorian Gray, Jack the Ripper and assorted occultists, while Greene plays Hecate, the blood- thirsty daughter of Helen McCrory’s spiritualist Evelyn Poole. But it is the most clever and sincere tribute to horror currently on TV, sensitively performed and sumptuously shot.
The title sequence, crawling with insects and crucifixes, twisting with scarred torsos and the ethereal Eva Green, well knows the thrills of sexuality and body horror, transformations that come out mostly at night.
“That’s what the show does best,” says Greene. “We study these characters and watch them going through these struggles, whether they be sexual or psychological. There’s something much deeper and darker and more real about John’s characters, I think.”
“These creatures are on the outside of our society. I think a lot of people can relate to their loneliness. Because I think everyone just wants to be loved.”
Could that describe the life of an actor? She sees the logic.
“I think that’s why he’s got such incredible actors to work on this. We all struggle with our mental health in some form or another, I think. You have to be a little bit mental to be in this job.”
After Greene held the stage in Al
ice in Funderland, she didn’t work again for nearly a year. She remembers giving a talk to incredulous Gaiety School of Acting students later.
“Yeah. This is success. Sitting around for 10 months doing nothing. You do go a little bit insane with this. You do doubt yourself and question yourself. You go from massive highs and confidence boosters – when I was in New York I was buzzing around the place – to doubting yourself and questioning everything about your personality.” What scares her? “Poverty,” she says, without hesitation. “I’ve been there a few times and it is a scary thing. I’m not really scared of getting work. I gave up worrying about that a long time ago because there’s no point. I’m very much about living in the moment and taking each day as it comes. I absolutely love my job and I feel I’ll always find work somewhere.”
That may be why she is so sanguine about the vagaries of film.
Penny Dreadful is the biggest operation she’s been involved with.
“Your choices are very important,” she says. “The only thing you have as actors are your choices; the option to say no to something. You don’t want to take on a really bad job and be terrible in something.
“Especially in film, because if you’re bad in it, you’re bad in it forever.”
We study these characters and watch them going through these struggles, whether they be sexual or psychological. There’s something much deeper and darker about John’s characters, I think
“I want to challenge myself. I like to scare myself.”