In last night’s Penny Dreadful on Sky Atlantic, the all-new Frankenstein’s Creature came to a shocking end at the hand’s of the original beast, played by the terrifyingly vulnerable and otherworld Rory Kinnear. SciFiNow spoke exclusively to star of Skyfall and Quantum Of Solace about getting right back to the character’s gothic horror origins and Episode 3…
Tell me a bit about your character. He’s been kept under wraps until now…
It’s nice to be able to talk about it now! I play Frankenstein’s original creature, who, we find out through the course of Episode 3, was abandoned when he was first animated. As in the book really, he’s had to fend for himself and learn how to talk, to behave, and be in society – at the same time, he’s a figure of great horror for other people.
So he feels this sense of neglect and abandonment from Frankenstein, and this rage towards him, but at the same time, in the rest of society, he’s quite fragile, quite gentle, somebody who’s just longing to be loved.
So you’ve gone back to the original portrayal in Mary Shelley’s novel, then?
Yeah. I think the original impetus for the whole series was that, after he was reading some poetry, John [Logan, showrunner] read Frankenstein again, and the show grew out of his affiliation with the Creature and that sense of otherness and being different and feeling on the margins of society, and our need to integrate.
That seems like it’s the theme of the whole show: otherness and alienation.
Yeah, I think that’s the thing that raises it above just a horror show, it’s very much rooted in the psychology of all the characters, and all of them have a missing part, or something that they’re trying to conceal or something that they are ashamed of.
I think when you talk about a show that brings together vampires and Frankenstein and Dorian Grey and all those other characters, you start thinking about something like The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and there’s a risk that it could descend into camp, but this is a very different approach, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s very much about the humanity in all of these people and the way that they have to conceal things about themselves to fit into society. And I guess everybody can relate to that – the want to be normal when you’re not actually sure what normal is.
What appealed to you about the role, then? Why did you want to take this on?
Well, I’d worked with John before on Skyfall and we’d kept in touch, and he rang up and said “I’ve written this part with you in mind, would you like to do it?” So I said “could I have a read of it?”
So he sent me Episodes 3 and 4 and I asked to read some others and then I was sold. John’s idea of structure and sense of what people might want to watch is incredibly well attuned, obviously from writing those big films, but he also has this poetic sensibility as well, which raises the whole subject matter and tone and style of the piece into something that I’d never really read before. Although it has its antecedents, both literary and televisual, it wasn’t like anything I’d come across before.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you on the show?
That’s getting up at 4am and doing the makeup. Particularly the contact lenses. So yeah, the challenges were largely physical. Once I was ready, it was a pleasure to be able to get my teeth into something this juicy and get into the psychology of someone who has only been alive for a couple of years but at the same time has the body and soul of a 36-year-old man.
He’s got basically the corpse and brain of one person and the heart of another, and trying to make those judgement calls as to how much you think whose heart you’ve got affects your personality – or just pumps blood around you – and how much you remember of your former lives, whilst you yourself have only just come to life.
Did you do much research into other portrayals of Frankenstein and his Creature before you took the role?
The most important thing for us was the look of him, and Nick Dudman, our SFX makeup guy, and John, I think they went through every single depiction of Frankenstein’s Creature on screen that there’s ever been and wanted to make sure they didn’t recreate anything that’s been done before.
It’s the same with every job, as an actor, you only do what the script says, and I know John has given it a newness in the way it’s written, but it also goes back to the source material that a lot of the films have veered away from. As an actor, you just trust that the writer knows what he wants to bring to life and you try and imbue that with a greater sense of yourself, a greater sense of humanity.
That’s the job no matter what you’re doing. I guess it was very much John and Nick who were steering us away from anything that had been done before, and for myself, I was just reacting to the cues that they gave me.
Do you find yourself having to correct people who call the monster Frankenstein?
Yeah. But also, I have to correct you: it’s the Creature. A lot of people say Frankenstein or Frankenstein’s Monster, but in the book it’s the Creature. You will quite quickly get to know, in this series, that the monster side of him is put upon him by other people. He himself is just like a newborn child, really. With a disfigurement.
Why do you think we are still so fascinated with these stories from classic literature, and Victorian London in particular? Why do we keep going back to that?
Well, I think it was an exciting time of novel-writing and you got an incredible outpouring of very important and well-remember and re-adapted novels around that time. You get flourishings in all the artforms – think of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe at the same time in the theatre world, or the early stages of the new millennium in the internet world – and I think this was a time when the novel made some leaps forward, about looking at ourselves in a way sort of refracted through a greater sense of imagination.
I think something like Frankenstein obviously gets embedded in our consciousness the more adaptations there are of it, but I think there’s something in all of these stories that speak to the sense of otherness in us: who we think we should be and who we think we are, and that disconnect there, and how we seek to exist in society despite our perceived frailties.
Penny Dreadful is airing Tuesday nights at 9pm on Sky Atlantic and Sky Atlantic HD.