7 Questions with… Rory Kinnear: ‘Penny Dreadful shows these demons are in all of us’

We speak to Rory Kinnear about the return of Penny Dreadful to Sky Atlantic with new spin-off City of Angels, working with Natalie Dormer and the importance of telling rarely told stories.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 30 June 2020 - 2.24pm

Watch Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Sky Atlantic with NOW TV from July 1.

John Logan’s dark fantasy series Penny Dreadful ended in 2016 after three critically-acclaimed seasons of horror thrills and macabre delights.

Four years on, the series is returning with a new location, a new look and a largely new cast.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels swaps the literary and gothic frights of the original for the political and social tensions of 1930s Los Angeles.

A grisly murder acts as a starting point for a story that covers a vast swathe of Los Angeles’ rich history, from the first freeways and Mexican-American folklore to the rise of espionage from the Third Reich and the rise of radio evangelism.

Natalie Dormer in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels © Showtime Networks Inc. All rights reserved.

A supernatural element underpins all Penny Dreadful series and City of Angels is no exception. In this case the demonic Magda, played by British star Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), lurks around every corner as multiple characters, nudging the city slowly towards chaos.

A bridge between the original Penny Dreadful and City of Angels is Rory Kinnear. The Years and Years actor played the Creature in the original, but returns with the very different role of Peter Craft, a German paediatrician and head of the local German American Bund - a society for Americans of German descent aimed at promoting a favourable view of Nazi Germany overseas. 

BT TV caught up with Rory to talk about City of Angels, his new character and more...

1. You've worked a lot with Penny Dreadful creator John Logan. What do you love about his work?

Rory Kinnear in Penny Dreadul: City of Angels © 2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

His output is ludicrously prolific. He also seems to cover so many different areas of life. So many different types of media, in terms of working in theatre, film and TV. And he’s just a continually interested person. He has such a broad range of interests and unique passion for telling stories.

He wakes up at 4am every morning to write. If I woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning I wouldn’t write; I would be furious.

When you come across someone with so much enthusiasm for their own work and someone who has so much energy – not only wake up at four to write, get to work at eight and stay until eight at night, then go home and write some more. There is something infectious about someone with such an enormous appetite for their art.

It’s inspiring and you do hope some of it rubs off on you. 

2. What can you tell us about Peter Craft?

Rory Kinnear in Penny Dreadul: City of Angels as Peter Craft ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

One of John’s main ideas was they didn't want to just have this evil Nazi. Peter is someone who is a head of the LA chapter of the German American Bund, he is a German ex-pat. There is a political side to the group, but there is also a social side.

During the mid-to-late 1930s, the Nazis’ values were beginning to be espoused more within the chapters, but Peter is keen to stand up against the Nazis and prevent Americans from going into a war. 

His stance of America First and stopping them getting involved was not because he wanted to see the Nazi’s win, it was because he didn’t want his fellow man to suffer the pain that he witnessed in the First World War. He is driven by the desire and need for peace.

He is also, at the start of the series, in an unhappy marriage. His wife is an alcoholic. He’s a very devoted dad and a very devoted paediatrician. But there is something fundamentally rocking him throughout. And when he meets Magda (Natalie Dormer) that sense of underlying terror within him begins to bubble out. And what she’s good at is unleashing the demons everyone is trying to sit on.

3. Did John write the character for you?

Rory Kinnear in Penny Dreadul: City of Angels as Peter Craft ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

When I first spoke to him about the show he’d written a couple of episodes and he did say he’d thought of me from the off. We’d had a great time on the first iteration of Penny Dreadful. I was very proud to be a part of that and a bridge of continuation in the shows.

And his email title was ‘No Make-up’, which immediately interested me after my daily three-and-a-half-hour ordeal that I had to go through playing the Creature.

When I read the show, I knew where it could end up, because I know John’s mind and how he likes to seed things. I was interested to see where he ended up taking this story.

4. How does City of Angels differ from the original Penny Dreadful?

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels - First look at the Sky Atlantic series ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

It’s not told with literary characters, they are all characters from John’s head. But I think the character of Magda is thematically the chief bridge between the two shows and this idea of the struggle to do the right thing.

Both shows reveal the chaos when people fail to monitor themselves and control the demons we find within us all.

Certainly with the Creature in Penny Dreadful that was a big factor of his arc through the three series. And in many ways, the character of Peter is the inverse of that. He has secrets that he tries to suppress and which we only learn about as the series progresses.

He’s someone who has moved from Germany to start a new life and in some ways start a new personality. With the Creature he didn’t know who he was, he was constantly in search of his origin and his true personality. In some ways, they are the mirror image of each other.

5. Natalie Dormer has a fabulous multi-character role on the show. What was she like to work with?

Natalie Dormer in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

I feel like I’ve only seen a quarter of her performance, but that was incredibly impressive. I would occasionally bump into her when she was another character, but largely I only saw one part of her role.

As the two Brits on the show we took refuge with each other. Working on American TV, the sets they were working with, they took over this whole studio, these massive backlots, huge soundstages, we did a few nights working in Universal Studios as well. So there were a few moments where we sat together and said, "Look where we’ve come from to get here". It was nice to have a fellow Brit.

6. Mexican-American history is rarely seen on TV. Did that appeal to you?

Rory Kinnear and Natalie Dormer in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a show set in the 1930s in LA and people presume they know what it will look like and be about – the glamorous side of Hollywood. I think we touch on Hollywood for about three minutes in episode three or four. But that’s it.

What’s clever about it is that there is something familiar about the era, but these are stories which are very rarely told. As an actor you look for stories like that, rather than ones that make you feel comfortable.

If we’ve learnt anything in the last few weeks, it’s that we need to address our history honestly, without prejudice and without our own ulterior motive. It’s a way to move forward.

Otherwise, this story does show that these things will continue to happen. These demons are in all of us, in all countries and they will continue unless we address them honestly.

7. Your character gives a speech about 'America First'. Was it strange to hear those Trumpian words?

Rory Kinnear in Penny Dreadul: City of Angels as Peter Craft ©2020 SHOWTIME NETWORKS INC. All Rights Reserved.

It was very interesting reading about the history of the America First movement which increased in prominence in the 1930 and 1940s. It’s not just the rhetoric that Trump and America is using, we see it in our own country: we see nationalism as a preferred tool of rhetoric in politics.

And for Peter to be using it that comes as a great shock, because he is someone you’re quite sympathetic towards.

But that’s what John is great at, seeing how someone could genuinely believe that was the right path. It’s never good guys and bad guys, John is always interested in how complex and conflicted characters can be.

Watch Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Sky Atlantic with the NOW TV Entertainment Pass from July 1.

© Showtime Networks Inc. All rights reserved.

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