From acclaimed writer John Logan, the Showtime horror drama Penny Dreadful is back. As Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) form a deeper bond, the group, including Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Sembene (Danny Sapani), must unite to banish the evil forces that threaten to destroy them.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Helen McCrory (who has returned as Evelyn Poole, aka Madame Kali, the seductive spiritualist that will pose a unique threat this season) talked about how much she was told about the character when she signed on, what a great collaborator John Logan is, what fans can expect from her motives, the fascinating research she got to do, just how much darker this season will get, and that this is the most eclectic cast she’s ever worked with. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you signed on for this, did you know where this role would ultimately go?
HELEN McCRORY: Yes. I had spoken to John [Logan]. I had worked with John on Hugo, with [Martin] Scorsese, and again for a little part in Skyfall, as well. And I knew his work from the theater. I saw a production he had done of Red with Fred Molina, and met him there. So, he called me and said, “Would you like brunch?” We had brunch and he said, “I’ve written a thesis about the writing of this period, and it’s obsessed me for years. For about 10 years, I’ve been planning on doing this series. There’s a little part for you in the first [season]. But in the second [season], she is my antagonist. I’ve written it for you. Would you play it?” I said, “Yes! When is it?” And that was it.
Did you always keep the fact that she would be returning as the villain in the back of your head, during the first season, or did you intentionally not think about that?
McCRORY: No, I never thought about it again. Obviously, the character is nothing like me. In fact, as we’re talking about it now, maybe I should be really insulted. I suddenly realized what character I’m playing. Maybe I should have a good, stiff word with John later. But no, I didn’t. John uses many actors that he’s worked with before, and many actors that he knows from British theater. We’ve got a really close relationship, which is lovely, and I trust him completely. If I don’t understand anything, or I question anything, he’s the easiest person in the world to talk to.
What can we expect from your character, this season?
McCRORY: In Season 1, they were the hunters. They were trying to find out Mina’s whereabouts. In this season, they are the hunted and I’m the huntress. You will find out that, like Vanessa, I am also within the occult and within witchcraft, and I am battling for her soul. The light is on one side of her, and the darkness is on the other. You can have a great big guess about which one I am.
All we really knew of Evelyn Poole, before Season 2, is the Madame Kali persona that isn’t really her. Why did she choose that persona to hide behind?
McCRORY: That was a thing that the Victorians did. John was very keen for people to realize that, while a lot of this is fantasy, a lot of it is true, as well. The Victorian obsession with the occult was absolutely accepted in society. It wasn’t frowned upon. Many of our aristocrats and great writers and poets were members of the occult. It didn’t have the dark connotations. Nobody thought about it as satanic worship. It was all to do with the fact that Darwin’s book had come out and people were trying to find answers from different places, outside of religion, and going back to pagan religions and Egypt. I think he was very keen to do that. I went to go talk to a man called Derren Brown, who’s an illusionist and magician. He’s fascinating, and he talked me through how to read people when they come into a room. I thought, “This is extraordinary, what he knows about it.” He just gave me book upon book about it. And John was interested about, if you were somebody who was a sensitive and you were trying to find another sensitive, what better way to do it.
The research you did for this must have been so interesting.
McCRORY: It’s fascinating. I’ve been researching witchcraft. And John does touch on the fact that a lot of it has to do with misogyny. Clearly, it was just some old, poor woman who had 25 children and was knackered, living in the village and trying to heal some people with some herbs when something went wrong and she was burned, or some man slept with the wrong woman, and then called her a witch and said that she lured him to it.
Season 2 promises to be darker than Season 1, which was already pretty dark. In what ways does it get darker?
McCRORY: I think it gets darker because the whole theme of, what are you going to live behind, and what is your soul about, is treated in a really brutally honest way. We’re all pretty flabby about ourselves. I speak for myself, but I’m very flabby about myself, spiritually. So, we go to the dark place that maybe we’re all in, but don’t realize we are.
Will we know what Evelyn’s intentions are, right away?
McCRORY: Yes, you do, but you don’t realize why until later. You’ll discover that we’ve met before, that we have things in common, and that we’re familiar, in many different ways. We just have chosen different paths. We both try to struggle to get the other one onto their path. Her intentions will be revealed to the other characters much more slowly.
If you’re leading people off of the path of goodness and godliness, it’s seductive. It’s all beautiful and seductive and hard to resist, which is why they’re temptations. Evelyn Poole is not a rasping Troglodyte that comes up from the cellar. She has a voice thick with seduction and promise and temptation, as need to, if you’re going to capture what you need.
What’s it been like to work with this cast of actors?
McCRORY: I think it’s the most eclectic cast I’ve ever worked with. Usually, you can look around and there’s a demographic or a tone, but there just isn’t. Looking from Tim [Dalton] to Reeve [Carney] to Danny [Sapani] to Josh [Hartnett] to Harry [Treadaway], if you tried to guess why they were in the room, you’d go, “I don’t know. They’re waiting for a bus stop?” That’s what’s really interesting about it, and brave about John’s casting. He has allowed the personalities to be strong and to be completely different.
Penny Dreadful airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.