Showrunner John Logan: "To me, Penny Dreadful is a dance with Eva Green"

With the third series of Penny Dreadful just in production, we thought it timely to take a look at the critically acclaimed gothic drama through the eyes of the series' creator John Logan.  

The showrunner was on stage for a masterclass with former BBC Radio Four Front Row presenter Mark Lawson at this year's Edinburgh International Television Festival, where he spoke stirringly and warmly about his passion for the graphic drama, from its birth to his plans for its future, and his ultimate muse, Vanessa Ives.

 

Sam Mendes and the birth of the show

"Penny Dreadful is my first baby step into television; I'm still learning," Logan said when asked about the opportunity that TV offers creatives nowadays to make shows.

Nowadays, working on a drama series means working on a large scale production, one that sometimes consist of between 80-100 hours - this compared to feature films where directors often need permission from a plethora of forces in order to run over two hours, or theatre, where a dramatist - as Logan used to be - generally works in two hour blocks.

"My love of Dickens was the start of the series - I wanted to find scope and characters that could be interesting over a few years. I get really excited about gothic literature; I read a lot of Dickens, Shelley, Byron and Keats, all of whom inspired Penny Dreadful."

Logan wasn't just 'lucky'. His research and feedback from some prominent colleagues in the media industry helped him on his way. "I wanted to go into my first TV series with a colleague, so I pitched my idea to Sam Mendes while we were on the set of Skyfall… and he liked it. We still confer quite a lot over some of the major casting decisions, the shape of the season, that sort of thing. But while he's busy on Spectre, I don't really want to bother him!"

The showrunner has been asked many times why he went into TV in the first place and the answer is always the same, to be able to show strength in identity.

"I wanted to write my coming out story - I was gay in the mid-70s in New Jersey, which wasn't cool at all. I wanted to write characters who felt they are different, yet have power in that difference. We all have secrets, portraits in the attic; it's about saying the real strength is in the forbidden - you must just be uniquely who you are."
 


Vanessa Ives vs Eva Green

On the subject of the lead character Vanessa Ives played by Eva Green, Logan was unequivocal.

"To me, Penny Dreadful is a dance with Eva Green. Vanessa Ives is my muse, no question about it. She is a good metaphor for me coming to accept 'the beast in me'.

"As soon as I get on set, I speak to Eva, and we go over all the scenes in detail."

At the annual festival, attended by the who's who of television production, Logan was also asked about his writing style and the structure of the show. The writer responded that he is very specific about the action he writes, something he finds a hard part of the process: "I try to hold the viewer in my screenplay. I don't say 'Camera close up on a glass', for example. Instead, I would say something like, 'A hand reaches for the beautiful, pristine cut glass, shining like a glacier'.

He says one of the great lessons about writing action was taught to him by Ridley Scott when they were working on Gladiator. Logan had an idea for what he considered "a little shot I wrote, with someone riding into view over the horizon". Scott coolly pointed out that "that little shot" would cos



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