The Nevers stars preview their supernatural HBO series, discuss working with Joss Whedon
"He left for personal reasons and you can't argue with that," Laura Donnelly says of Whedon's surprise exit.
The Nevers begins with a (supernatural) bang.
The upcoming HBO series takes place in 1896 in the aftermath of an otherworldly event that gives certain people — mainly women — abilities. In the series, these abilities are called "turns," and it quickly becomes apparent that anyone with a turn is in danger. So two of "the touched," Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), set out to save everyone they can and bring other members of the touched into their orphanage. (It's not unlike X-Men, but with almost all women and a lot more Victorian garb.)
The series comes from creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who, after working on the first six episodes, announced in November that he was leaving the series, noting that he was "genuinely exhausted" and wanted to "martial my energy towards my own life." Whedon later came under fire when Buffy star Charisma Carpenter (and supporting costars) were the latest to accuse Whedon of creating "hostile and toxic work environments."
But as HBO stated at the time of his exit, The Nevers will continue on without Whedon, with Philippa Goslett taking the reins as the new showrunner. EW sat down with stars Laura Donnelly and Ann Skelly via Zoom for the exclusive first interview about their new series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Had you all met before working on The Nevers?
LAURA DONNELLY: We met at the chemistry read, which was brilliant. I knew of Ann's work, so as soon as she came in and we figured out that we were both Irish, then it was just like instant bonding. It was a very easy chemistry between us.
ANN SKELLY: It took away the nerves as well. I think I messed up a line while we were doing the scene and we were able to laugh about it. It just felt really nice and I hope that translates.
How would you describe the dynamic between your characters, Amalia and Penance?
DONNELLY: When you've got close female friends it always feels very much like a sisterhood. [The show] was pitched to me very early on that this was like a female Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I just loved that. I do think that there's so much about Ann that is actually similar to Penance and the same with me and Amalia, so I think that our relationship with each other is not entirely dissimilar to the one that Penance and Amalia have — there's genuine support, genuine love there, and we have a hell of a lot of fun together. Hopefully, that reads. The chemistry of these two characters together was kind of the most important element of starting off the show.
SKELLY: There's a great balance because the two characters have different world views and life experiences. They go about handling things very differently, but then they can come together and take on the world. The most lovely thing about friendship is to be able to have a person that you're so close with that you can experience the most difficult things with and have a sense of humor about it or to enjoy the journey together. They balance each other out.
DONNELLY: There's something as well that links with what it is that we're experiencing in doing the job at the same time, because you often don't get a chance to play a complex woman on screen, never mind share that with another complex female character at the same time. That in itself is so rare, and so Ann and I, in the very experience of doing this work, are having lots of the same experiences as Amalia and Penance, which is that they're in a situation that they've never even seen modeled for them before.
Amalia and Penance are trying to protect the touched, but is there more to their plan?
DONNELLY: There is certainly a larger story going on, but I think that is understood from episode 1. There has been this event that has created these powers or abilities. I don't think that everybody in that world at that point has all of the information, so especially through those first six episodes, the audience is discovering a lot of it alongside most of the other characters in the story. A lot of questions get resolved within these first six episodes.
SKELLY: There is [a] good payoff and it is very satisfying. Not every character knows the full story. There's no one person with all the answers and I think it gets filled in in a very entertaining way, so it's not a frustrating journey.
DONNELLY: One of my favorite elements of the show is its pacing and how it's always just a step ahead of the audience. It never allows the audience to get ahead of it, but it also never runs away from the audience either.
SKELLY: It's never too far out of reach for sure and I think [it's] challenging in the right ways without being indulgent at all. The mystery serves a really great purpose.
How difficult is it to do a fight scene in Victorian clothing?
DONNELLY: Surprisingly, the corset is not the problem. The problem is the long skirt. The corset I've discovered is brilliant for fighting because it keeps your posture really good. I hadn't done a lot of screen fighting before this and my stunt team would film me in the early days of my training, and I think I look one way and then you see it on video and you're like, "Oh God, that looks nothing like it's supposed to," and a lot of that is to do with posture. That straight back that the corset gives you really helps for the visuals of the fights and makes everything look really sharp. Long skirts are a problem because when you need to very quickly get up off a floor, that is not easy. [Laughs]
When filming a show with so many fantastical elements, does that add a degree of difficulty? How much of it is practical?
DONNELLY: A surprising amount, actually. It's not my idea of a dream job to be playing to tennis balls and green screens. I enjoy acting so much for one reason, which is the human connection. I love being able to look into somebody else's eyes and have what is a real moment. Even though that is being filmed or that is on a stage, it feels like a very real thing in that moment. So I wouldn't have been keen to do something that involved a lot of special effects in the moment and it doesn't. The vast majority of what we're doing, we're there, the sets are all there, and we're looking in the eyes of other real people.
SKELLY: I love that whenever we film on location, we're in these mad stately homes on acres of land, where there's an actual lake built into the land that one family would've lived on, there's really wacky paintings on the wall. Just that experience of these old homes is totally immersive. Playing one of the touched, I do feel out of place and it does add to that feeling of, "I shouldn't be in this very expensive place." [Laughs] So it can really add to your performance.
Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about working with Joss Whedon recently. What was your personal experience of working with Joss?
SKELLY: I loved working with Joss. I found him to be a lovely boss and director, he was very open. I felt he cared a lot for the actors and the crew. It was definitely one of my favorite on-set experiences for sure.
DONNELLY: From my personal experience, it was the best screen, film or TV, experience that I've had on any set. From my point of view, he always felt very supportive and protective of the artistic integrity and what we as actors needed in order to be able to do our job. One of the great things was the way that trickled down. I've never worked on a show that has a cast and a crew that all seem to be so at the top of their game and who are all so lovely and I say that without a single exception. They have just been such a joy to work with and I'm so thrilled that the vast majority we'll be back with later this year doing the rest of the series because it's been one of the best experiences of my career.
SKELLY: Everyone would show up to work happy to be there, ready to go. That is a very contagious feeling. It was a very positive energy.
DONNELLY: One of the first talks that we got from HBO, and I think this speaks to the culture as it has been learned about over the years and the progress that we've managed to make within the industry, was an HR talk about what you can do if you do ever feel uncomfortable on a set in any capacity at all. So we all knew that there were very clear lines of communication there if we ever felt that we were in any way uncomfortable. Certainly, from my point of view, I always felt like I was being very looked after in that capacity. I'd like to think that everybody else on set did too. I think that's brilliant of HBO. I'll always be grateful to them for providing that for us.
What was your reaction to Joss' decision to leave the show? Were you blindsided by it?
DONNELLY: We found out at the same time as everybody else did when it was announced from HBO. I was certainly gutted. I was going to miss him a lot — he was our captain. But at the same time, he left for personal reasons and you can't argue with that. People have to look after themselves, they gotta look after their families, they gotta look after their mental well-being. These are all the conversations that we're having at the moment and it's really important that that happens. I wouldn't want it to be any other way for him.
SKELLY: I found out the same way and I was really sad. I'll miss him going back to work, but I am very trusting in who we have leading the show now, Philippa Goslett. I've had a couple of Zoom meetings at this point and she's really made me feel very comforted that the show is in her hands and HBO trusts her immensely. I think she'll continue on [in] that really positive atmosphere. She does have creative control, so it's going to be her spin on things. Though the tone has been set and the world has been created, I think it will make a lovely impact for a woman to continue that on.
DONNELLY: It's really easy to forget as well that TV, out of all of the arts, is probably the most collaborative one that there is, so there are so many people that go into making the show what it is. We've got producers that we've come to trust so much, multiple writers... and then, of course, the vast majority of our crew and all of our cast, so it won't feel like a different thing. It will feel like a lovely continuation I think.
The Nevers premieres April 11 on HBO.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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