Dark, mysterious and visually engrossing, Showtime’s Victorian era horror drama “Penny Dreadful,” from the mind of creator John Logan (screenwriter for “Gladiator”), is unleashed on Sunday.
A handful of characters are quickly introduced, including Timothy Dalton’s explorer Sir Malcolm, Eva Green’s supernaturally-gifted Vanessa, and Josh Hartnett’s sharpshooter/traveling performer Ethan. But immediately following the trio’s eye-popping season premiere visit to London’s dark underworld (known as the demimonde), the series rolls out its first reimagined superstar literary figure – Dr. Victor Frankenstein — played by British actor Harry Treadaway.
“Penny Dreadful’s” version of Victor Frankenstein is a young, poor, English doctor, who (like the Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s novel) has a deep curiosity about things like electricity and the space between life and death. And it was an early speech the young doc shares with Sir Malcolm in the show’s pilot that Harry read for his audition – a passage that sparked the actor’s fascination with the “Penny Dreadful” version of Victor.
“We had some speech… about his sort of thoughts on life and death and what it is to be involved in science and what the goals and the driving force behind science should be,” Harry told AccessHollywood.com. “That sort of instantly grabbed me when I read that.
“[He’s] just an incredible character,” the English actor continued. “A complete kind of alter-punk genius scientist of the Victorian age, who is an absolute prodigy, because [he] involved himself in something which is incredibly complex and provides levels of euphoria for him.”
Signing on to the role prompted the actor to do some scholarly research into the beliefs and practices of doctors and scientists of the late 1800s.
“I arranged to go and spend some time with these different professors up at Cambridge University who specialize in Victorian morals and ethics with Victorian medicine… and they just opened the whole thing up and they framed it basically, the era in which he was working,” Harry said. “And it’s an incredibly fascinating time science-wise — the things that they were discussing with electricity for the first time, and the first amputations, and the first trials with all sorts of surgeries happening for the first time.”
His research also led Harry to learn more about how doctors in the 19th century would practice Galvanism (another facet of the Mary Shelley novel and of “Penny Dreadful”), running electrical currents to the muscles of test subjects who were conscious or deceased.
“They thought for a time they discovered like what the essence of life was because current electricity was able to manipulate an arm and make it start on a dead person because of the voltage in the muscles,” he said.
Knowledge of those Victorian era morals and experiments inform his performance as the curious Victor, but Harry’s character in the Showtime drama is a man fascinated by more than labs and slabs.
“Luckily, Dr. Frankenstein also had a second love, which is poetry and sort of literacy. … He’s a big lover of Wordsworth and Keats,” Harry explained.
The season premiere of “Penny Dreadful” will hint at a central story line related to Sir Malcolm that looks to unite the show’s characters, but the series will peer into the lives of all of the ensemble.
“Everyone has their own world going on and so it’s really going to unfurl,” Harry said.
“Everyone’s world is going to flesh out and fill up,” he added.
“Penny Dreadful” premieres Sunday, May 11 at 10 PM ET/PT on Showtime.
-- Jolie Lash