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Penny Dreadful: City of Angels a 'joy' to make says star Natalie Dormer

Natalie Domer in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels
(Image credit: Showtime)

Natalie Dormer and Rory Kinnear on magical new spin-off Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

As scheming Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer has plenty of experience dealing with bloodthirsty battles and supernatural forces. Now the actor finds herself in another tangled web of deceit and destruction when she plays a shape-shifting demon unleashing chaos in Sky Atlantic drama Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.

The new 10-part series is a spin-off by Penny Dreadful showrunner John Logan and stars a cast of completely new characters. The action has been relocated to the bright lights of Los Angeles in the 1930s, and swaps London Victorian monsters for a world of Mexican-American folklore, secret Nazis, and the rise of religious evangelism.

Rory Kinnear appears in both Penny Dreadful worlds – as Frankenstein’s monster in the original and now as new character, German paediatrician and Nazi supporter, Peter Craft.

As the series opens, mysterious demon Magda (Natalie Dormer) prophesies to her sister, Santa Muerta – the Holy Angel of Death – that a time is coming when mankind will fight itself into oblivion. In 1938 Los Angeles, it looks like the prophecy is set to come true...

The city is wracked by political and police corruption, members of the Third Reich are pulling sinister strings, and racial prejudice towards Mexican-Americans is reaching tipping point, as preparations are made to build California’s first freeway through their close-knit community.

We chatted with Natalie Dormer, 38, and Rory Kinnear, 44, to find out more about Penny Dreadful: City of Angels…

Rory, you played Frankenstein’s monster, AKA The Creature, in the original Penny Dreadful. What made you want to return?

Rory: "John [Logan] emailed and said: ‘no make-up this time’… The Creature’s make-up took over three and a half hours! Then he sent me the script and I was sold!"

Is Peter very different to The Creature in the original?

Rory: "Peter is almost the inverse of The Creature. He is trying desperately to push down his true identity and create someone anew, whereas The Creature was in constant search of his origin and identity. Peter has a troubled home life. His wife is an alcoholic and has cut herself off from looking after their children. Peter is a very committed father and his profession is all about looking after kids, so we’re expecting that our sympathies are with him. But in meeting Elsa the path in front of him, and our sympathies, change…"

Natalie, Magda adopts several personas - plotting political secretary Alex, seductive refugee Elsa, and captivating gang leader Rio. Was playing multiple characters a major challenge in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels?

Natalie: "Yes, it was a physical and mental gymnastic exercise! John and I realised quickly that I had to play Elsa, Rio, and Alex as separate, fully fleshed out characters, not as moustache-twisting dual personalities. It was a joy because I literally got to play four characters for the price of one. I’d fun with the physicality, voices, accents, costumes, and there was some dancing and singing – though Rory vastly outshone me on the singing!"

Rory: [Laughing] "They wouldn’t let me dance!"

Can you tell us more about Magda’s mission?

Natalie: "Magda is absolutely convinced that people are bad, and it’s up to the characters she messes with to prove otherwise. We explore the premise that good people do bad things. There are circumstances, whether it’s threatening their family, their country, their vulnerabilities or secrets that bring out the uglier side in all of us."

Rory: "Peter, like a lot of the characters here, is complex, conflicted and struggling to do the right thing. He comes upon a fairly invincible force in the shape of Elsa and Magda. We don’t know how much strength he has to withstand temptation. Over the course of the series he does try to stand up to the more radical Nazi wing of the German American Bund. We also tap into a history in him that he’s trying to keep secret."

Did anything about the history and setting of the series surprise you?

Natalie: "I don’t know about Rory but I’ve been going to Los Angeles for 16 years but didn’t know anything about the social engineering that went on with the motorways and the actual decimation of communities. I don’t think we’ve seen the American-Mexican community in a show like this before. There’s also an interesting parallel between 1938’s evangelical radio and now. It’s the equivalent of social media – this idea of technology creating mass propaganda and swaying hearts and minds."

Rory: "The first Penny Dreadful was about the monsters that lie within us. This focuses on the same thing – things exist beyond our comprehension that can lead to fears, but can also give succour and strength. You see that with the Mexican folkloric storyline and people trying to find faith in the radio evangelists. Topically, the tensions between the police and minority ethnic groups in a large city with a history of oppressing minorities will continue to resurface if they’re not addressed honestly – and certainly no one in this piece addresses those things honestly."

Natalie: "It’s an LA we know, but also in a way we’ve never seen it before. John calls it his love letter to LA."

Our guide to who’s who in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

Tiago Vega played by Daniel Zovatto

Newly qualified, Tiago is LAPD’s first Mexican-American detective. He’s caught between racist colleagues and his wary community, threatening the safety of his tight-knit family. Tiago Vega and his partner Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) investigate the gruesome murder of a rich, evangelist family.

Lewis Michener played by Nathan Lane

The goodhearted Jewish veteran detective partners with Tiago and takes him under his wing, while also running an unauthorised investigation into LA’s rising Nazi presence.

Magda played by Natalie Dormer

The demon is on a mission to corrupt mankind, and has the ability to adopt several personas, including political aide Alex, mysterious gang leader Rio and unhappily married Berliner Elsa.

Peter Craft played by Rory Kinnear

Also unhappily married, the German paediatrician spends lunchtime parading around the park with a Nazi flag, but soon falls for one of Magda’s Machiavellian personas, Elsa.

Sister Molly Finnister played by Kerry Bishé

The seemingly angelic evangelist brings in big bucks for the Joyful Voice Ministry. Tiago falls for her while investigating a gruesome murder. But is she sinner or saint?

Maria Vega played by Adriana Barraza (opens in new tab)

Tiago’s widowed mum works as housekeeper for Peter Craft. A deeply religious matriarch, she has a close connection with Magda’s supernatural sister, Santa Muerte...

All episodes of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels are available from 01 July 2020 on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW TV

Elaine Reilly
Elaine Reilly

With twenty years of experience as an entertainment journalist, Elaine writes for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) covering a variety of programs from gardening and wildlife to documentaries and drama.


As well as active involvement in the WTW family’s social media accounts, she has been known to get chatty on the red carpet and wander into the odd podcast. 

After a day of previewing TV, writing about TV and interviewing TV stars, Elaine likes nothing than to relax… by watching TV.