For ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’, series creator John Logan abruptly bounces from the foggy, damp cobblestone streets of Victorian London, the main setting of the first ‘Penny Dreadful’, to the sun-scorched desert of Los Angeles in the late 1930s. And it isn’t just the temperature that’s rising, as tensions mount between the Mexican-American citizenry and the corrupt Caucasian politicians and police force. And if that weren’t enough, the American Nazi party is weaving its web over the public in the days prior to America entering the fray of World War II. Oh, and then there are the demons.
Primarily among the cast is Natalie Dormer who plays the shapeshifter Magda. Under three guises– well, four counting her true form– she promises to cause this simmering pot of tension to completely boil over. In her regular identity, who cannot be seen by the human characters she agitates, Dormer appears to viewers with sleek dark hair and a black leather wardrobe which must have been murder to wear during filming.
Among her disguises is Elsa, a German immigrant, housewife (to a fat, lazy American), and mother who connects to Rory Kinnear‘s Dr. Peter Craft, another German immigrant, and the pediatrician to Elsa’s young son. He retains ties to the Nazi party, and wants to keep America out of WWII.
Similarly sinister is Alex, the gray-haired assistant to Michael Gladis‘ Councilman Charlton Townsend. Alex is ambitious and driven, and shares her boss’ hatred for the Latinx community. Dormer donned dull-colored contacts and dental appliances to completely transform herself into this role.
Finally, Magda transforms into Rio, a gender-queer Latina gang leader, whose gang is suspected to be tied to a string of gruesome serial murders that have rocked the town.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Dormer explained:
“Magda is a metaphor for the darker side of men’s souls. Magda is not the devil incarnate. She’s taken a position on mankind: They will always choose the more selfish or baser option. For me, it’s certainly more interesting if you’re doing empirical experimentation to see how bad mankind can [be]. When they have forks in the road, which way do they choose?
“We worked out quite quickly that the iterations of Magda — Elsa, Rio, and Alex — have to be lived and breathed as real people. Their backstories have to be real. Take someone like Rio. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. With Elsa, it’s very interesting to look at why so much of the German population voted for Hitler when he came into power. Why do people who fundamentally seem normal start saying really awful things out loud about other people or other ethnic groups? For John and I together, it was finding humanity to Elsa, Alex, and Rio. In some places, perhaps you might at least empathize with why they would make certain choices. I can’t play a role on two levels. You can only ever be pure in the moment… When I play Else, I’m not playing Magda walking along in the faux-leather dress. I have to play Elsa, who’s a true, full characterization. I have to believe in those individuals as if they were real humans and forgetting there was a puppet master [Magda] above.”
‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’ premieres on Showtime on Sunday, April 26, but the first episode is also available to view for free on Youtube or SHO.com.