Natalie Dormer Interview: ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’
“I think it’s really healthy to scare yourself” as an actor, admits Natalie Dormer. As the star of the new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” Dormer was able to live up to that mantra by tackling the monumental task of portraying four different characters at once. Watch the full video interview above.
“City of Angels” ditches the original series’ Gothic London aesthetic for Los Angeles circa 1938. Dormer portrays Magda, a shapeshifting demon who has had it with mankind. In addition to her true form, Magda transforms into an ambitious political advisor, a German expat in an abusive relationship, and a ruthless gang leader. These personas allow her to spread chaos and disorder in a community gripped by racism and division.
The level of technique required to convincingly change into each iteration of Magda leads Dormer to confess that “City of Angels” is “the camera job that I have used my stage training for the most.” A different accent and physicality is required for each persona. “The voice is where I started with each of them,” she explains. In the months before production, she sent series creator and writer John Logan boatloads of voice recordings, trying out various vocal placements for each character until they found the right fit.
The rehearsal process was unusually long for a television series. Dormer flew to New York in order to workshop the characters with Logan in a rehearsal studio before they set foot on set. That creative period was “a gift” to Dormer, who had time to explore and refine the psychology of each role under Logan’s helpful eye. “His theatre roots and mine recognized each other,” Dormer says.
In addition to stretching herself as an actress in liberating ways, Dormer was also drawn to the project for the timely themes it explores. According to the actress, the series “is experimenting with the idea that good people can do bad things.” Dormer’s dark goddess pushes the various characters in the show to act on their dark impulses. The result is that the hate and prejudice seen in the series’ 1938 setting looks shocking similar to the world today. “How horrible can mankind be with each other,” Dormer asks, “under the banner of something they think is good and noble?”