The creator and showrunner of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, John Logan, was joined by stars Josh Hartnett (Ethan Chandler), Reeve Carney (Dorian Gray) and Harry Treadaway (Victor Frankenstein) in Ballroom 20 Wednesday evening for a panel to discuss what haunted them from the first season and to see what the cards reveal about the season ahead. The panel was moderated by Aisha Tyler (Archer) followed by the traditional Q&A.
Tyler asked about the finale reveal/holy shit moment when we saw Ethan Chandler (Hartnett) has a beast inside him. Logan said, “What I think the show is about is the monster in all of us.” He went hiking and saw mountain lions and said, “that’s it, he’s a werewolf”.
He further said he’s been thinking about this world for ten years. The idea to merge all the characters came from reading romantic poetry and re-reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Growing up gay, he knew what it felt like to be alienated. Therefore, he spent years, “literally years”, thinking about it. He referenced the Universal Monsters when all the origins started mixing together. (Hartnett joked, “So it was really Abbott and Costello who got you into this?”)
About the romantic scene between Ethan and Dorian, Carney said he told Logan he better hire a good-looking man. Logan wanted to look at sexuality in every conceivable way. The question of whether Ethan is gay, bi- or whatever is irrelevant to the truth of the moment. Is the connection going to continue? Logan structured the first season to bring the family together. “It was like the overture.” All the relationships go on and evolve (in season two).
Why did they kill Van Helsing? Logan did it as a provocation fan-to-fan. They’re not making Penny Dreadful to recreate the source material. “We’re liberating (it); come with us.”
Carney read The Picture of Dorian Gray and Logan said he was glad, but they agreed not to bring too much of the character’s thought process into the show. Logan thought of Gray as a rock star. Carney walked in and was perfect.
Without knowing it, Logan thinks Treadaway is channeling the only person to bring such detail and dedication to his portrayal of Frankenstein: Peter Cushing. Medical scenes are all him.
Logan asks if Vanessa invited something in, or was she simply possessed. “In the first season, we presented the question. In the second, we begin to answer it.”
Are there any monsters we’re going to meet in season two? Did Logan leave any out for narrative purposes. “I thought about Dr. Moreau. Maybe someday we’ll get to the island of lost souls, depending on how much Showtime likes us.”
Season two is very different. The characters are thrown into a larger supernatural world, according to Logan. Madame Kali is the season’s antagonist. “Her supernatural world becomes the threat to all the gentlemen sitting on this stage.”
How much did the panel know about the Victorian era before working on the show? Logan said it’s a world he knows pretty well, “but it’s our version of Victoriana”. Treadaway said it’s a stimulating thing to go back in time.
Were there shades of Phantom of the Opera with the creature’s story in season one? Was it intentional? Logan said, no. When you read the book, you realize the creature is the most eloquent person in it. He’s always played as dumb (unable to speak) in movies with Karloff and Christopher Lee.
Treadaway said sometimes bad things come from trying to be good.
Carney said there’s an inherent sadness in losing everyone you love. The portrait bears the burden of his sins. At some point, we will see the portrait, but Logan doesn’t talk as if it’s real important.
Hartnett thinks Ethan’s middle name is “Shame”. He lives in a spiral of fear. How much does he know about the monstrous things he does? In the second season, he learns exactly what he is. “For me, whenever a character makes a realization, it’s great drama.”
What is Ethan running from? Logan is looking forward to his backstory, although he’s not sure when it will happen. “The essence of his relationship with his father is monstrous. At some point, something happened that led to Ehtan’s curse, or blessing. That led him to try to run away from himself.”
During Q&A, Carney said they’re given great scripts, but it’s like raising children. You don’t want to mess them up.
Logan said he hopes to continue exploring sexuality, “joyous and terrifying in equal measure, just like sex.”
Treadaway: “Frankenstein doesn’t believe in God.”
Carney: “I’d say Dorian is agnostic.”
Hartnett: “Ethan believes in God, I’m sure.”
At times, the conversation in the panel got a little deep with issues of sex and religion. But, so does Penny Dreadful. It’s not bad when a show about monsters can accomplish such a feat.