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John Logan is no stranger to time travel. As a screenwriter, he has journeyed to ancient Japan (for The Last Samurai), 1940s Hollywood (The Aviator) and 1930s Paris (Hugo). But as showrunner on Showtime's Penny Dreadful, a horror-drama mashup set in London during the late 1890s, he's finding himself struggling with the space-time continuum in ways that would have H.G. Wells throwing clocks out the window. "The biggest challenge of this show is the time-machine quality of filming one episode while editing another while doing preproduction for a different one," he says. "Jumping between all these scripts and characters has required a fair bit of mental agility."
Telling the story of explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and eccentric medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and their battles with supernatural figures out of gothic lit (like Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein) required that the show's BAFTA-winning production designer, Jonathan McKinstry, also do some time traveling. He had to re-create the gaslit streets of London on a soundstage in the famed (and huge) Ardmore Studios in Ireland (where The Tudors is shot). "The scale is enormous," marvels Hartnett of the large shooting space, which features five soundstages and a new backlot that allows for the building and remodeling of sets to happen simultaneously during filming. "Sometimes we'll have three different units filming at once on three different blocks. It can be a huge logistical nightmare."
But nightmares aren't entirely of the logistical sort. Occasionally, the actors find themselves more than a little haunted by the show's celebration of the occult. "I was apprehensive of the seance scene in episode two because my character is possessed," admits Green. "It easily could have looked silly but was one of the most difficult scenes I've ever filmed."
Such intensity is offset by Penny's pleasant Irish surroundings — and a daily dose of American comfort food. "Pizza is always the second meal," says Hartnett. "It turns into a f—ing feeding frenzy."
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