“Everything feels vibrant and alive,” describes director Paco Cabezas of the show “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.” Cabezas directed the first two episodes of Showtime’s new horror noir story and worked hard to find the right tone for the story. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
One of the biggest hurdles in shooting was figuring out how to pull off elements of horror in a sunny location. “City of Angels” is set in 1938 Los Angeles, a far cry from the grim, gothic locales of the original “Penny Dreadful” series. Cabezas has plenty of experience in the world of horror, having helmed Spanish thriller “The Appeared,” and installments of “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Strain.” But, he admits that this bright setting was “virgin territory” for scary happenings.
The original “Penny Dreadful” series marked Cabezas’ first time directing for television, and “City of Angels” is a happy reunion for he and creator John Logan. “He’s great with everything regarding the script,” says Cabezas of his collaborator, praising Logan’s dialogue and character work. The pair’s working relationship helped them nail down the tricky tone for this new series. “We talked a lot about the light and the color,” explains Cabezas, “We wanted to make it like a sunny noir.”
In the premiere episode, “Santa Muerte,” detectives Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) and Lewis (Nathan Lane) enter the Los Angeles River basin to discover a gruesome murder. A wealthy family is splayed out in a ritualistic circle. It’s a foreboding scene and the basin feels ominous in a way that hasn’t been captured in other films or television series. “The most gruesome scenes are the most beautiful to shoot,” admits the Cabezas. The director has a unique process of creating a book out of the script, with space in the margins for him to post images or jot down his thoughts. This results in a deeper connection with the material and helps him make intuitive decisions on set, like capturing the river basin in a new light. “I just have a feeling of where I should put the camera,” notes the director.
Intuition is clearly important to the director, as he also discloses that he’s “not a big fan of rehearsals.” When he’s dealing with talented actors like Natalie Dormer (whom he describes as a “supercomputer”), his fear is that scenes will get over rehearsed and burned out. Instead, Cabezas is focused on “creating a safe space for the actors” to take risks and he talks at length with the performers about their characters. That way “when we are on set, we’re creating in the moment,” describes Cabezas.
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