As part of our Penny Dreadful Season 3 preview, we sat down with Sarah Greene (Hecate) and two new cast members, Shazad Latif and Samuel Barnett. (Very minor spoilers ahead.)
This season takes the regular cast to some pretty far-flung places, from German East Africa to the New Mexico Territory, and beyond. As elements of the story have moved away from London, has production moved beyond Penny Dreadful’s traditional home of Dublin, Ireland?
Sarah Greene: That’s the great thing about it this year: everyone starts in different parts of the world, which is really exciting. The train [sequence, from the first episode] was shot in Spain, in Almuria, which was incredible, shooting the desert everyday on the old ‘spaghetti western’ sets. The weather was nicer too. It was just magnificent, epic scenery.
Were you fans of the show before the show?
Sarah: I was. John Logan’s writing is just sublime.
Samuel Barnett: I definitely was.
Do John Logan’s scripts read as well as they play?
Sarah: Oh yes. Some scripts – it’s terrible to say as an actor – you skip forward to read your bits, but with John’s you just get drawn in by the writing, you forget what you’re reading.
Samuel: You can tell it’s well written because it’s easy to learn. When stuff’s badly written it just doesn’t stay in.
Sarah: And then there’s the sets are just incredible, mesmerising, looking around at every single attention to detail, every corner, so you’re immersed in that immediately.
Sam: It makes our job so much easier. I was so worried about my first day, because I’m building a character from nothing, I don’t know how to pitch this, and I walked on the set and thought, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ Because you’re in the world; it’s all done for you. One of the sets had a cobbled floor, but it wasn’t a real cobbled floor – it was soft and squishy – but it looked so real. The detail is extraordinary. And the lab is amazing.
Shazad Latif: It’s hard to describe how amazing it is, and it all works. It’s got flowing liquids and everything.
Sarah: This is in Dublin, in Ardmore Studios, they have five stages down there, and they’re all just as beautiful as each other.
Shazad, what can you tell us about your character, who first appeared in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Might he have a – ahem – dark side we don’t yet know about?
Shazad: Maybe. [Laughs] It’s John’s take on it, really. He’s got a military Raj type father who slept with an Indian mistress. It’s sort of like a prequel-y thing, really, John’s take on it: he’s an old Cambridge friend of Victor Frankenstein and they start to do some chemistry and some experiments. It’s quite emotional and intense between those two; there’s a lot of them in the lab, just being weird with each other.
Have you watched any of the old Jekyll and Hyde adaptations?
Shazad: I watched two versions, one with Spencer Tracey and an old 1930s German expressionist version, and that was about it. I didn’t want to go too close.
Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about Abbot and Costello Meet Jekyll and Hyde. Does it feel weird that you’re filling in backstory for characters who are so well known in literature that they’ve almost become mythological?
Shazad: I think that’s what John does really well, just take those little details and hone in on them, and that’s why it’s so exciting.
Sarah: He reimagines these characters.
Samuel: And he gives them depth, because it would be very easy to all of them to be either good or evil, but they’re all much more complex than that. Every season that I’ve watched, and also the scripts for this season, you think, ‘Oh, that’s so out of character for that person to do that,’ but that’s what ultimately makes them human, I guess. And witchy.
Tell us about some of the challenges of filming the third series.
Sarah: I get to do some fight scenes in my makeup, I spend seven hours in the chair before I get on set, and go around with red and green contact lenses in, so I can’t really see much, and kill a load of men, which is always exciting. We’ve got a really amazing stunt team, including Vic Armstrong, the best stunt man in the world, and he came out to Spain to direct a few bits and pieces. So we get the best team of stunt guys because he’s involved. I try to do all my own stunts.
Are any of you squeamish at all?
Samuel: I had to do a few things, which shall remain nameless now, that really challenged me. I’m totally arachnophobic, and in fact I wrote to John to say, ‘Please, no spiders,’ and I thought, ‘He’ll probably put one in just because I said that.’
Do you ever get freaked out by anything on set?
Samuel: That scene I shot with all those familiars coming down and all surrounding me, we shot it all day and it was creepy as anything, because they were dancers and background artists but they were all brilliant, and they were all so in it. They made it easy to get the fear going.
You’re being modest. That scene must be one of the greatest on-screen manifestations of abject terror I’ve ever seen. Was there anything in your life – God forbid – that put that kind of fear into you? Other than spiders?
Samuel: Look, it was all ‘tear stick’, I’m not gonna lie. [Laughs] When you have to cry on cue like that – I’m not a ‘cry on cue’ person – the first take I was able to quite naturally with fear and terror and imagination, but by ‘Take 12’ it’s like, “Blow in my eyes! Put tear stick in my eyes!” I actually grew up in Whitby, where Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, and I used to go to drama classes in the Royal Hotel, where Bram Stoker stayed and wrote Dracula, and it overlooks the abbey, and it was all a bit creepy. And when I was about eleven, I had the biggest fear of ghosts. Abject terror. I couldn’t sleep. So I used a bit of that… but then after that it really was tear stick.
What’s it like working with the other actors?
Sarah: All of my scenes are with Josh, and that’s nice. He’s very handsome. It’s easy to do love scenes with Josh Hartnett! I miss Helen McCrory terribly. She texted me recently, ‘Do you miss Mummy?’ I loved working with Helen, we had some really great scenes together last year. She’s an incredible actress. But that’s what John does, you know? He gets people you usually see on stage.
Like Simon Russell Beale.
Sarah: Ahh, isn’t he just amazing? And he’s beautiful. He’s so great in the show, but like a lot of theatre actors he books himself into a lot of theatre, and then you’re gone for ten months.
Samuel: I wouldn’t have got a look-in on a show like this if it wasn’t for John.
Sarah: Me either.
Sarah, I feel like all of your scenes are delicious, and all of your scenes (Shazad and Samuel) are going to be disgusting. Is that fair?
Sam: An accurate assessment.
That describes the show, doesn’t it: “Delicious and disgusting.”
Samuel: It’s very visceral.
Sarah: It’s a psychosexual thriller. We were asked to come up with how to describe the show, and I said, ‘It’s a gothic psychosexual thriller.’
Appetite not yet sated? Click here to read an interview with Billie Piper, aka ‘Lily’… and for a chance to win the Penny Dreadful book SIGNED by Sarah Greene, Samuel Barnett and Shazad Latif!