Penny Dreadful Cast Talks Gothic Horror, Guts, and Gore!

The notorious Victorian penny dreadful was the lurid literary success of its time. Bloodthirsty and filled with gore, the dreadful was a weekly sensationalist serial sold in parts for only a penny each. The publication was a hit with the poor and introduced to the literary canon such staples as Sweeney Todd, vampires, and serial killers.

Producer Sam Mendes and writer John Logan are bringing the penny dreadful bang up to date with their new series, which airs on Sky Atlantic on 20 May. Starring Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper and Harry Treadaway, the series weaves together literary influences with gothic horror and a dash of psychological drama to add substance to the dark, gritty style.

The cast sat down to chat about the show, so what can we expect from this gothic revival?

Guts and Gore

If you’re planning on tuning in to the first episode, make sure you’re not averse to creepy crawlies, naked corpses, and gallons of blood. In traditional style, the show is gory, action-packed, and filled with gothic imagery. The pilot episode doesn’t hang around at establishing a stylish new vision of Victorian London and the message is clear: here be monsters!

Gothic Horror

Weaving together literary allusions to Dracula, Frankenstein, and even real life horrors like Jack the Ripper, Logan’s script creates new characters with intriguing backstories of their own to explore in this world that takes the bare bones of those stories and adds some bloody flesh to it.

Harry Treadaway plays Victor Frankenstein, one of the most overt literary inclusions in the show: “[John’s] original scripts and the source material from the novel [showed] such a fascinating character, a genius auteur scientist.” New characters also include Eva Green as the mysterious Vanessa Ives, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, an allusion to Dracula’s Mina Murray, and Josh Hartnett as a traditional dreadful essential, the American gun-slinger, Ethan Chandler. Mendes promises that, as the story continues, even more new characters will be introduced and plots will unfold that “you cannot predict from the first episode alone.”

Twists and Turns

The very first episode pulls some punches with our expectations of Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein and Eva Green’s mysterious Vanessa Ives clearly has a few secrets up her sleeve, but Timothy Dalton’s character is just one of many with an extremely intriguing backstory to explore over the next few weeks. Dalton said: “[He’s] weak, lustful, vainglorious. He’s a lot of different things. He’s an obsessive person. His need, as our needs would be when one’s daughter is at risk, knows no bounds.” And his search for his daughter leads the central characters to confront some real horrors in the depths of Victorian London.

And it’s also what brings Josh Hartnett’s gun-slinging, hard-drinking, womanising showman Ethan Chandler to their door. Providing some of the show’s more action-packed moments, Hartnett’s character is a perfect shot, but Hartnett himself didn’t get to wield a weapon much on set: “I shot a few guns for work in the past. I had some sort of sharp shooting and sniper shooting [experience] for Black Hawk Down, but for the most part I wasn’t that comfortable with guns. In England, it’s not very easy to have a gun on set and in Dublin it’s even less easy. I had the guns for about as much time as you see them on screen. So I couldn’t tell you if I could shoot from the hip [like Chandler]. I’m not very accurate!”

Cinematic Quality

With a cast straight out of Hollywood and the producers of James Bond running the show, it’s easy to expect the cinematic quality we’ve been seeing on TV in recent years. And we’re not disappointed. With the filming taking place in Dublin, Victorian East London has been lavishly re-created for the screen with great visual flare.

But it’s also the talent behind the camera that is so promising. John Logan is the creator and writer, with what Mendes promises is a unique, whole, and unpredictable vision for the show. Having penned Skyfall, he certainly has his script-writer’s chops. Much-loved directors Coky Giedroyc and J. A. Bayonna also helm a few episodes each. And with Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton taking lead roles on top of that, the entire production has class. Hartnett knew the collaboration of such talent was vital: “John could write the telephone book and have it sold in Hollywood. He said he always wanted to write [this] as a novel, but he’s a dramatist and this was his chance. It’s all about the collaborators really.”

Penny Dreadful airs on Sky Atlantic on 20 May 2014.