Eva Green Paints It Black
The lead actress in the series Penny Dreadful wards off the curse of the Bond Girl with her evil eye.
“I will tell you simply, there were occasions when I was really proud, as a man and as an actor, to be on that set with her."
Eva Green doesn’t scare Timothy Dalton — but she does get his attention.
“Most of my work was with her,” says Dalton, who plays demon hunter Sir Malcolm Murray opposite Green’s fearless Vanessa Ives on Showtime’s Gothic thriller Penny Dreadful. “I will tell you simply, there were occasions when I was really proud, as a man and as an actor, to be on that set with her. I could have cheated.”
High praise coming from a former James Bond. Dalton is one of two 007s Green has worked with – the other, of course, being Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. That was the film that made Green an international star.
Reluctant to be typecast as a “Bond Girl,” Green originally turned down the role of Vesper Lynd. Casino Royale director Martin Campbell saw her in Kingdom of Heaven and — even though principal photography on Casino Royale was already underway — asked her a second time to read the final Bond script. Finding there was more to Vesper than the usual 007 distraction, Green “Bonded” with Craig.
The 34-year-old actress needed little persuading to sign on for Penny Dreadful. “I mean, it’s such a magnificent story and all the characters are very complex,” Green told TV critics in Los Angeles when the series was introduced. “For me, it’s such a gift to have such a meaty role, and you don’t get that very often.”
Working with creator, executive producer, and writer John Logan was also a big draw. “John is just … you know, he’s God. I mean, he is. He is so talented. And all the characters are flawed, complicated, and it’s just great to sink your teeth into.”
A Tony Award-winning playwright, Logan also boasts a Bond connection, having co-scripted Skyfall as well as this year’s Bond release, Spectre.
With Penny Dreadful, he gives new meaning to the term spectre with a tale of shadowy presences who crawl out of coffins. “Penny dreadful” was the nickname given to pulp fiction paperbacks printed in 19th-century Britain. The thin novellas generally featured lurid, serialized tales and sold for one large British penny, mainly to young, working-class boys.
Logan admits he grew up “a total monster geek,” loving the black and white Universal Studios horror movies of the ’40s. But what of Green? Born and raised in Paris, she was, by all accounts, a shy and quiet student. Her mother was an actress, but Green didn’t really develop a passion for performance until she was 14 and saw Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H. She began studying acting in London and Paris and found herself drawn to evil roles. “It’s a great way,” she once said of her drama school experience, “to deal with your everyday emotions.”
Her first film role certainly scared her family. Green made her debut in 2003’s The Dreamers, a film by director Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) that found her in several full frontal nude shots as well as graphic sex scenes. A full minute was cut out of the American release.
She has gone on to play several dark, complex women. She portrayed a witch in The Golden Compass (2007) and, the same year, a schizophrenic in Franklyn. In Womb (2009), she plays a woman who clones her dead boyfriend. In the Starz series Camelot she was a sorceress, and in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) she was a vengeful witch. She had the title role in 2014’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
In short, the so-called shy Parisian now has more scream-queen cred than Halloween heroine Jamie Lee Curtis.
It wasn’t the chills, however, that drew her to Penny Dreadful. “This is a very human show,” she says. “It’s not just scary for the sake of it.”
She sees her character as a rebel. “It’s such a repressed time, the Victorian [era],” Green says.
Her character Ives is in on Sir Malcolm’s demon hunt not simply to chase the undead but because, Green explains, “she’s very hungry for life. All her five senses are very much alive, tingling all the time. But it’s in Victorian times, so [there’s] always the conflict inside her.”
Logan says he was proud of Penny Dreadful’s first season and praised all the actors for hitting a challenging target, which was to create “a horror show that would break your heart.” Season 2 is tonally different, he says. “There is more pressure, there’s more tension this season because last season our heroes were hunters. This season, they are the hunted; they are the prey, so there’s a foxhole mentality because there’s so much pressure on them externally.”
Josh Hartnett is back as Ethan Chandler, the brash American marksman aiding Sir Malcolm and Vanessa Ives. Harry Treadaway is also back as Victor Frankenstein, with Helen McCrory boosted to regular status as spiritualist Madame Kali.
“We’ve sort of unleashed Helen this season,” Logan says. “This is our make-or-break season, and we’re going for it.”
Bill Brioux is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and contributor to the Canadian Press.