The greening of Penny Dreadful’s Eva Green

For a former ‘Bond’ girl, Eva Green certainly knows how to keep under the radar. After two years of living quietly in Ireland, she says that she’s happier walking the Wicklow hills make-up free – than in a Dublin nightclub

Eva green,  afford a homebase, just near Dublin, because shooting of Penny Dreadful,

She has been doing so much work in Ireland in recent years that the Paris-born actress jokes that she should get herself an Irish passport.

Living in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, for the past two years, she is very at home in a house by the sea, to which she retreats each night, after days at Ardmore Studios filming Penny Dreadful.

A self-described introvert – who says she took up acting to help with her acute shyness, the embrace of the coastline of Dublin Bay comforts her.

« There’s something very magical and very spiritual in Ireland. The nature is very particular here and there are forces, » she tells me in her very quiet voice. It’s a statement befitting of Vanessa Ives, the mysterious clairvoyant that Eva plays in supernatural TV series Penny Dreadful.

Though set in Victorian London, the show – which also stars Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett and is now in its second series for American network Showtime – is filmed in Dublin. When we meet on the set at Ardmore Studios, 35-year-old Eva is dressed in a purple silk shirt and black tie from Dolce & Gabbana over a pair of black leather trousers and high boots. She’s friendly and wants to give a decent interview, but there’s also an arms-length reserve which she can’t help but give off. There’s almost no trace of a French accent when she speaks.

« I shot Cracks here in Ireland, it’s a small film. A long time ago, I did a TV show here also, called Camelot. I’ve spent two years here now doing Penny Dreadful, so I think I should get an Irish passport !

« The people here are amazing. It’s the kindest crew I’ve ever worked with and I’m not just saying that. They’re full of heart, they’re sincere, they’re funny, they’re raw. It’s a real pleasure. »

Wicklow Mountains

Country Wicklow Hills

Filming of season two of the popular show is currently close to completion and although Eva looks more like a contemporary Goth, with those smoky dark eyes, there’s something about her temperamentally that seems right in the lavish 19th century elegant set. But then, she’s never been one to shirk from stretching herself from Bond Girl to Action Girl with the melancholy sexiness that is so much her hallmark.

« Psychologically, it’s hard. I love it, but it’s so intense that I can’t wait to lie down on a beach and have a tequila very soon. I might end up in a cuckoo home after this TV series. But I know how to read the future with tarot cards now, which is kind of cool, to connect with the universe and all this, the elements… It sounds like kind of witchcraft, but it makes you more aware of yourself and connected to the earth. »

Penny Dreadful  indeed have a lot of darkness and violence & includes lots of appearances by literary characters ranging from Frankenstein to Dorian Gray to Dracula. Does the role allow Eva to unleash her inner demons ?

« I’m not that confident in real life, so sometimes I’m drawn to playing strong women because I wish I could be like this in reality. Like if somebody annoys me, I wish I could say : ‘Off with his head!’ In general, I am very scared, so it’s kind of a dream to be so ballsy on-screen, even to be rude and evil. In reality, I’m really quite an introvert.

« Although I’m an actor now and have been for several years, I was so shy in school. I never talked and I thought I was going to pass out every time the teacher asked me a question. So, weirdly, maybe even masochistically, I decided to take theatre classes to be somebody else and to maybe gain some confidence. Then, I found I really enjoyed it and then I knew it was OK, that what I wanted to do was be other people. »

Despite the urgings of her successful actress mother, Marlene Jobert, not to follow her into the same profession, Eva studied acting as a teenager at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts. While in London, director Bernardo Bertolucci spotted her and cast her in his sexually charged movie The Dreamers, which effectively put her on the map – eventually leading to a ‘Bond girl’ role in 2006’s Casino Royale.

« People always recognise me as Vesper from Casino Royale and I am very, very grateful and proud of that role. It was a nice love story in Bond. She was the only one he ever loved and always looks quite cool. But my favourite Bond girl I’d have to say is Judy Dench! She broke my heart in Skyfall. »

Her heart is otherwise unclaimed – she’s been single since she split from New Zealand actor Marton Csokas, who she worked with on Kingdom of Heaven.

Eva appears to have compartmentalised the various aspects of her personal life and her work life. She realises the power of her beauty and has become very wealthy from advertising campaigns for Armani, Lancôme and Dior. Her eyes appear to be very much wide-open about the work she’s doing and the double standards that exist for women in the world in which she works. « As actresses, it’s very boring, but you have to drink lots of water and eat vegetables – because otherwise I am very naughty. Doing all the intense training I’ve had to do lets me have my glass of red wine and cheese at night, or a glass of Guinness, which I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. But you have to look after yourself and even despite that, sometimes you’re made to feel like an old woman.

« You hear them talking about the next big thing saying ‘oh, she’s 20’ and you are like, ‘ oh God, I’m 30’.

« They make you very aware of yourself to the point where sometimes you have to just put earplugs in and just not listen to their bullshit, because it’s very ruthless.

« But sometimes, I am also very hard on myself. I feel like I’m kind of schizophrenic – that’s what my mother would say. I can be confident about some things ; I can be frank and very determined. But I would say I am not very confident when I feel like I really have to prove myself. And in this business you have to keep your armour on and be strong. At the same time, you have to keep your vulnerability for the set – to be able to act. So it’s kind of hard. I’m still learning. »

Dublin provides her with the privacy and solitude she craves. « I live a quiet, reclusive life when I’m not working. Living by the sea in Dalkey, it’s great, after all those intense scenes during the day, when I can go home at night. I’m just like a cave woman with nature. Some of the roles that I do, like Penny Dreadful, are so intense that I really like being lazy when I’m not working. I love walking and I walk a lot when I can. I’ve been loving walking in Dublin and also in Wicklow.

« When I’m at home in London, I walk all the way through the centre, through Regent’s Park. I love going to the cinema and I love reading. It’s very boring really – I’m not somebody who goes out to clubs and things like that. I wear no make-up in real life. I’m very simple. I wear jeans and T-shirts. That may be why I go over the top for the red carpet. But otherwise, I’m very plain. I am really in my own bubble. »

And what does she do in that bubble in Dalkey ?

« I have various TV shows that I like. At the moment, I’m watching Girls, which couldn’t be more different from Penny Dreadful ! I adored True Detective and will be very interested to see what Colin Farrell does with the role. There are so many good shows at the moment, it’s kind of overwhelming. »

Eva’s family are still in Paris, except for her twin sister Joy, who lives in Italy. So far, she hasn’t invited her actress mother to visit her here.

« I didn’t bring my mother to the set, [Not really true, lol at least this autumn] because she always has something to say about my hair or something, so I said to her, ‘No, no. Don’t come’. She always thinks it’s very extreme and she’s like ‘are you OK ?’ and making sure I don’t lose myself because we are very different actresses.

« Sometimes in the evenings, she helps me run lines, caus’ her English has improved. She’s very supportive, but I’m fighting with myself all the time ! »

Season 3 : Filming is currently underway

Showrunner John Logan:
« To me, Penny Dreadful is a dance with Eva Green »

With the third series of Penny Dreadful just in production, we thought it timely
to take a look at the critically acclaimed gothic drama through the eyes
of the series’ creator John Logan.  

The showrunner was on stage for a masterclass with former BBC Radio Four Front Row presenter Mark Lawson at this year’s Edinburgh International Television Festival, where he spoke stirringly and warmly about his passion for the graphic drama, from its birth to his plans for its future, and his ultimate muse, Vanessa Ives.

Sam Mendes and the birth of the show

“Penny Dreadful is my first baby step into television; I’m still learning,” Logan said when asked about the opportunity that TV offers creatives nowadays to make shows.

Nowadays, working on a drama series means working on a large scale production, one that sometimes consist of between 80-100 hours – this compared to feature films where directors often need permission from a plethora of forces in order to run over two hours, or theatre, where a dramatist – as Logan used to be – generally works in two hour blocks.

“My love of Dickens was the start of the series – I wanted to find scope and characters that could be interesting over a few years. I get really excited about gothic literature; I read a lot of Dickens, Shelley, Byron and Keats, all of whom inspired Penny Dreadful.”

Logan wasn’t just ‘lucky’. His research and feedback from some prominent colleagues in the media industry helped him on his way. “I wanted to go into my first TV series with a colleague, so I pitched my idea to Sam Mendes while we were on the set of Skyfall… and he liked it. We still confer quite a lot over some of the major casting decisions, the shape of the season, that sort of thing. But while he’s busy on Spectre, I don’t really want to bother him !”

The showrunner has been asked many times why he went into TV in the first place and the answer is always the same, to be able to show strength in identity.

“I wanted to write my coming out story – I was gay in the mid-70s in New Jersey, which wasn’t cool at all. I wanted to write characters who felt they are different, yet have power in that difference. We all have secrets, portraits in the attic; it’s about saying the real strength is in the forbidden, you must just be uniquely who you are.”

Vanessa Ives vs Eva Green

On the subject of the lead character Vanessa Ives played by Eva Green, Logan was unequivocal.

“To me, Penny Dreadful is a dance with Eva Green. Vanessa Ives is my muse, no question about it. She’s a good metaphor for me coming to accept ‘the beast in me’.

“As soon as I get on set, I speak to Eva, and we go over all the scenes in detail.”

At the annual festival, attended by the who’s who of television production, Logan was also asked about his writing style and the structure of the show. The writer responded that he is very specific about the action he writes, something he finds a hard part of the process: “I try to hold the viewer in my screenplay. I don’t say ‘Camera close up on a glass’, for example. Instead, I would say something like, ‘A hand reaches for the beautiful, pristine cut glass, shining like a glacier’.

He says one of the great lessons about writing action was taught to him by Ridley Scott when they were working on Gladiator. Logan had an idea for what he considered “a little shot I wrote, with someone riding into view over the horizon”. Scott coolly pointed out that “that little shot” would cost around $100,000 to produce…

Logan clearly is a huge fan of reading or watching content in chapter form, saying he finds them « comforting ». However, he is also fine with the idea of audiences binge-watching his show, citing the fact that “that’s how I wrote it, and if I feel like reading the whole of Bleak House in one weekend, then I will.”

The screenwriter, who has numerous blockbusters to his name, has brought on two writers to help with series three of Penny Dreadful, as he needed “new ideas and fresh young minds”. But despite this he insists that the show is still very much his own. “For better or worse, I never rely on inspiration, I am methodical.”

The end ?

Logan stressed that Penny Dreadful had only ever been intended as a three-year project,
so if there were to be a season four, “it would be new, it would be very different”.

The last word went to his boss at Showtime, David Evans, whom Logan quoted as having given him the best single piece of advice: “All great TV shows are, in a way, about family.”