The first season of the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” pushed Josh Hartnett to extremes both emotionally and physically. Hartnett portrays Ethan Chandler, an American handy with a six-shooter whose recruited by Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) to help him to deal with all of the evil that roams the streets of Victorian London.
At the same time, Ethan had to watch his true love, Brona (Billie Piper), slip away from him into an unholy project by Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway).
The combination put heavy demands on the actor. But, viewers haven’t see the best (or worst) of it.
“That was nothing compared to where we’re going,” Hartnett says on a brief trip back to the United States. He flew in from Dublin, where the series films, to talk about the second season and is heading back in a couple of days.
“My character is barely introduced in the first season. That was necessary because of the reveal at the end of the season,” Hartnett adds. “This season is much, much, much, much more Ethan’s. Now we get to play.”
The reveal (spoiler alert) was that the dashing American is in fact a werewolf. He unleashes his fury in an encounter just after the death of Brona just before the end of the season one finale. Hartnett knew from the start the nature of his character. He waited patiently during the first season knowing that once his character showed his teeth, nothing would be the same.
He was encouraged by series creator John Logan to play scenes in certain ways so that once the truth was revealed, the context of what he had done in the past would reflect his real nature.
Logan desperately wanted Hartnett to play Ethan. That’s why he was so afraid when they met for the first time and Hartnett had only read the initial two scripts.
“I had to say the words, ‘Oh, by the way, you play a werewolf.’ At that point he could and perhaps should have walked out of the room, but to his credit, he didn’t,” Logan says.
Hartnett was excited about getting to be a monster, like so many of his fellow cast members. His only question was how many times would he have to sit in a makeup chair for the transformation. There hasn’t been enough to make him doubt his decision.
The monsters make ‘Penny Dreadful” an action series. But Hartnett stresses says the emotional stories really drive the show. It’s a structure that he understands, with a career that has blended big-action movies like “Sin City” with small emotion-driven independent movies such as “Resurrecting the Champ.”
Hartnett praises the creative departments for making the series look and feel like it takes place in the 19th Century.
“Even the props are so authentic, you walk on set and you’re there,” Hartnett says. “It’s also stylized so its not exactly the time period. They’ve also made it a little bit surreal, a little bit larger than life.”
That stylization has also given the series a bit of a modern feel. The way Hartnett sees it, the evil and good that men and women do doesn’t change that much depending on the time period.
Logan is going to keep Harntnett and company on the same path.
“You’ll definitely see more this season because one of the great revelations for Ethan is he himself learns what he is. You know, the sort of dread, if you will, of it has encompassed him, the sense of not knowing the capability for violence is defined,” Logan says. “He can put a name to it. He can put an image to it. So how we treat lycanthrope is a major part of the season and the ongoing story for Ethan.”