"Penny Dreadful," premiering on the CBS Corp cable network on
Sunday, follows wealthy explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy
Dalton) on a quest to find his kidnapped daughter Mina, as a
terrifying creature wreaks havoc by devouring humans in the
nighttime shadows of London.
Murray enlists the help of eclectic outsiders, some mined from
British literature like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray and Mary
Shelley's Victor Frankenstein, while others, such as Eva Green's
mysterious Vanessa Ives or Hartnett's Ethan Chandler were
developed by the show's creator John Logan.
Hartnett, who makes his return to television after a breakout
role 17 years ago in the short-lived series "Cracker," said he
drew inspiration for the gun-slinging charmer Ethan from
gunfighters of the old American West, such as Wild Bill Hickok
and Buffalo Bill Cody.
"He's a Russian doll of a character, and I wanted that to come
across immediately," he said. "In that first scene, he's wearing
a costume over a costume, he's wearing a mustache over a
mustache. It's important to me that you know from the get-go
that he's not what he seems."
The term 'penny dreadful' refers to cheap Victorian-era books
containing tawdry, graphic stories of monsters and murder, and
the show is loosely inspired by the tales of horror that
thrilled working-class readers.
"Penny Dreadful" is the latest U.S. television show drawing from
Victorian England after shows such as NBC's "Dracula" and Fox's
"Sleepy Hollow" also resurrected gothic literary characters for
the modern-day audience.
Hartnett said he saw similarities in the social changes of 19th
century England and today, accounting for why audiences may
relate to the bygone age.
"It was a time that was on the cusp of something new, which I
think is kind of an equivalent to what's happening now, there's
reverberation of change in everything," he said.
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SWAPPING BLOCKBUSTERS FOR INDEPENDENT FILM
The role of Ethan is a welcome return to the spotlight for the
35-year-old Hartnett, who became one of Hollywood's in-demand young
stars in the early 2000s, with leading roles in 2001's "Pearl
Harbor" and "Black Hawk Down."
But after 2006's "The Black Dahlia," Hartnett - who opted not to
take superhero roles for Spider-Man, Batman and Superman - stepped
away from Hollywood's bigger budget fare, instead focusing on
independent film projects such as 2008's "August."
"There were a lot of the top directors in Hollywood that I had
projects with that we were developing, and for one reason or
another, things fell apart," he said.
"Instead of doing lesser versions of those projects with other
people or just doing something to keep my name out there, I pursued
directors that were making really interesting projects that were off
the beaten path."
Hartnett is the latest actor to embrace television as part of a
recent wave of shows that have drawn film-level talent, as networks
are now financing mid-level budget productions of $20 million to $50
million that Hollywood struggles to make.
The actor hopes to step behind the camera himself to direct, saying
filmmakers with smaller movies have more options now for releasing
through different on-demand platforms.
"I worked at a video store when I was younger, and I've always had a
fascination with the two-hour format, that's why I've done a lot of
film over the last few years," he said.
"I would love to take some of the ideas that I come up with and put
them into a film, and it's something that I'll hopefully will do in
the future when the time is right."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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