Penny Dreadful first look: Natalie Dormer descends upon the City of Angels
Dormer portrays Magda, a shape-shifting demon and "agent of chaos" in 1930s Los Angeles.
The three-time Oscar nominee saw that first iteration of his Showtime series—which concluded in 2016 after three seasons—as a “beautifully complete sonnet” for Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives. “Very shortly after that, Showtime was asking, ‘Would you ever reconsider doing more,” Logan tells EW. “And I said, ‘No. I’ve done that story, I’ve done gothic horror with literary characters. But if there’s anything else that ever occurs to me, I’ll get in touch.’” Then, he says, something happened: “The world changed with such a seismic crash everywhere around us.”
More specifically, Logan points to “the worldwide resurgence of political extremism, atavistic nationalism, dangerous demagoguery, and the vehement racism and antisemitism,” with Penny Dreadful: City of Angels as his response to it.
To understand the present, the show’s writer-creator goes back to 1938 L.A. during the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Logan chuckles at the thought that “this may be the first television show in history about the building of the freeway.” This new series is built around Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto of HBO’s Here and Now), whose family is displaced by the freeway’s construction; he serves as the first Chicano LAPD detective, working to solve a grisly murder with his mentor, Officer Michener (Nathan Lane).
Logan isn’t looking to add another horror anthology to the television landscape. He sees both Penny Dreadful and its spiritual descendant as two narratively separate entities with “an incredible thread that runs between the both of them.” While the first series “came from a very personal response to romantic poetry,” Logan says City of Angels “is about the social and personal cost that goes into making a great modern metropolis and how the various forces at play in 1938 are the very forces that are playing now. One hundred years before our show, Los Angeles was Mexico. I wanted to tell a story about a Latino family under pressure because of all the forces at play—not only in freeway building but also in crime, law enforcement, and immigration policy.”
At its core, City of Angels (premiering on Showtime in 2020) is about the “demonization of the other,” says Game of Thrones vet Natalie Dormer. The description is fitting, considering she stars as a literal demon named Magda. For Logan, she is the aspect of the show that “makes it a Penny Dreadful.”
Dormer describes her shape-shifting hell queen as a “delicious, multidimensional thrill,” an “agent of chaos” who can “sow the seeds of disorder.” In the first season, we’ll meet three of Magda’s manifestations as humans, says the actress. “The audience will discover who those identities are as they continue to watch the show.”
These days, Dormer is moving more behind the camera through writing, directing, and producing, but this role was a “dream come true as an actor.” She says, “There was an opportunity to get in the dressing-up box and play a range of iterations. You have a number of characters all under the guise Magda morphs into for the price of one.” Plus, as she says, “every good protagonist needs an antagonist.”
“We can heighten the life and death and the violence by using a supernatural figure within the storytelling. She brings the sauce, basically, is what I’m telling you.”
What is Magda’s goal on earth? Well, that’s part of the fun. According to Dormer, “she’s fundamentally a skeptic of humanity. She says in the first episode, ‘I give human beings a choice, but they choose time and time again to be seduced by the more baser, selfish roles.’”
Magda’s sister, Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo), takes an opposing view. As an immortal ferrywoman who guides human souls to the afterlife, the Holy Angel of Death is “a force of benign common goodness,” Logan says, noting it’s “a very combative and complex relationship.”
“For all of us in the current climate, wanting to believe in humanity,” Dormer adds, “it’s an interesting argument.”
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