Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’ takes satanic turn in 2nd season
ARDMORE STUDIOS, Ireland (AP) — John Logan, the creator, writer and show runner of Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful,” has a studio full of surprises in store for fans of the Victorian Gothic horror series. But the biggest one of all might be lurking in his own head.
Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful,” which makes its season 2 premiere Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, is, in a most peculiar fashion, the story of his own life. Of his desire to be accepted, appreciated, loved — and his fear of being reviled.
“My characters share a sense of monstrousness, either perceived or actual. That’s why I wrote it,” said Logan, 53, in an interview with The Associated Press on the Irish set of the series. “When I realized I was gay, in the early ’70s, it wasn’t socially acceptable. I was torn between what I knew to be true about myself — and what I knew would mark me as different and alien and monstrous to many people — would separate me from my friends and family. So the very thing that made me who I was — and empowered me — also isolated me.”
This shadow from his own teenage years, Logan says, guides his approach to shaping the eccentric blend of characters of “Penny Dreadful.” They include his own creations — the satanically tormented Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the gun-slinging American werewolf in London, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), and the colonial adventurer haunted by grief, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) — alongside figures drawn from the most stylized corners of the gothic literary canon: Doctor Frankenstein and his Creature, and the ageless Dorian Gray.
“All the characters manifest some version of that central dilemma. So to me it’s a deeply personal story,” said Logan. “Yes, it has all the tropes of a horror show. Yes, it deals with great literary characters. But really for me it’s about the yearning and pain and search for love in those characters.”
The survival stakes have been raised for Ives & Co. Last year’s vampires often proved hard to find and easy to blow away. This season, a seemingly peripheral character from the first — Evelyn Poole, otherwise known as the mystic Madame Kali — is revealed to be a witch with a direct line to Satan himself, and a hit squad of sexy deputies who gut their victims in the buff.
Viewings of early season-two episodes suggest that Logan continues to have his richly melodramatic cake and eat it too, his fantastical plot kept grounded by a core of strong performances led by Green and Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s poetic and sensitive Creature.
Touring the “Penny Dreadful” set at Ardmore, Ireland’s oldest film studio near the oak forests and wind-swept hills of Wicklow south of Dublin, reveals Logan’s obsessive attention to every detail of his 1892 London universe. A warehouse is packed to the rafters with seemingly half of Ireland’s real-life Victoriana, a project that pumped more than $1 million into the grateful auction houses of Ireland.
He’s quick to credit the ingenuity of key team members, including Academy Award-winning costume designer Gabriella Pescucci; production designer Jonathan McKinstry and set decorator Philip Murphy, who have just received BAFTA honors for their work on the show; and prosthetics guru Nick Dudman, who started as an apprentice designing Yoda in “Star Wars” and spent a decade overseeing makeup and creature effects for the “Harry Potter” franchise.
But as Logan strides though three sound stages and a newly built back lot occupied year-round by his production, he emphasizes his own sense of responsibility. The Californian spends half the year in Dublin, guiding Season 2 even as he writes Season 3 and polishes plays and film scripts, including the next James Bond film, “Spectre,” due out this November.
“This is my show and every buck stops here,” Logan says as he walks through a mind-bending construction of Kali’s mansion, which has been designed deliberately to confuse the unwary visitor with a maze of hallways. Its central stairs coil like a snake, its walls bear dragon-like scales, and the witch’s parlor is the show-stopper: Thousands of skulls and other human bones form a revolting mosaic, centered on a coat of arms featuring an infant’s skeleton with a raven’s head. Flickering candelabras illuminate the nightmare.
Upstairs are the sets for Ives’ austere existence, where she prays to her crucifix in hopes of keeping the underworld at bay. Logan notes his requirement for bespoke paintings executed in the style of real Victorian-era English artists, and the walls themselves must reinforce the mood of the character.
In Ives’ parlor, where she divines the future from tarot cards, Logan says the background received a month’s worth of on-camera color tests. “Right now they look a little tomato, but when they’re lit, they have an aubergine or purple quality. The trim on her dresses is frequently that sort of aubergine or purple. This is her color,” he says proudly before striding to the next room, the bedroom where Green performed scenes of wall-climbing possession in Season 1.
“This is my favorite set, Vanessa’s bedroom. She’s the fulcrum of the show,” Logan says. “What’s important to her is a blank wall with a cross on it, so we stripped everything back. Victoriana is banned here. There’s no chintz, no clutter. I wanted it to feel like the third act of (Henrik) Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts.’ I wanted it to feel like a gray fjord.”
In the set’s basement, a space used last year as the Creature’s theater hideaway has become a waxworks assembly line filled with pale severed heads and gnarled hands. A house of wax with “chambers of grotesqueries and gore” is to be the Creature’s new employer.
A visitor can imagine the monsters and murderers within, including a model of Jack the Ripper, springing to life. Will they? Not for the first time, Logan keeps his tarot cards close to his chest.
“We’ll see,” Logan says with a mischievous grin.