In the new series Penny Dreadful, which has just debuted in the US, everyone is a monster: Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, Jack the Ripper and other creations from classic horror literature sit side-by-side with real-world creatures in the Victorian London-set show. But the people behind it, from writer John Logan, to main cast members Eva Green, Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton, sound like they have been shooting a romance. And their words are full of love for their Catalan director, J. A. Bayona. “He’s like a small child, who’s anxious with passion,” says Green. “Someone who experienced it like a little boy, playing music and creating one of the most fun shoots I have ever been on.”
“He knows how to listen,” says Hartnett, who, after rejecting film roles such as Superman, decided to return to the public eye in the series because he felt in safe hands with Bayona.
Logan, an Oscar nominee for Gladiator and Hugo, knew nothing of the Spaniard’s previous work on The Orphanage and The Impossible, but trusted in his collaborator, friend and producer Sam Mendes. “He was the one who recommended Bayona to me and I understand why. As soon as we met, Bayona said to me that in order for the audience to feel scared it has to think that what you are telling is real. And he has the two qualities: he can tell human stories such as The Impossible and at the same time is a master of genre who knows how to scare you,” Logan says.
The eight-episode series is Logan’s first foray into TV. “We’re talking about 1891, when the British Empire is on the verge of collapse and the writers are channeling this anxiety into the horror in their novels,” he says.
Bayona was like a little boy, creating one of the most fun shoots I have ever been on”
Logan first presented the project, originally designed as a movie, to Mendes when they were working together on James Bond flick Skyfall. “For someone used to a two-hour format and incapable of writing something that isn’t a script, Penny Dreadful has become my novel, a story told in three volumes in which each volume will be one season,” he explains.
Bayona has only directed the two opening episodes of the series, but his work has been fundamental in establishing its basis and tone. Shot in Dublin on a budget of €1.2 million per episode, Penny Dreadful has not been penny-pinching. It offers the quality of a feature film, but to do so it has demanded blood from its actors. “We arrive on set before sun up, we work the whole day, on an average of two episodes in a month and a half, and we go back to the hotel when the sun has already set,” explains former Bond star Timothy Dalton. “As if we were creatures of the night.”