Dreadful. "Penny Dreadful." The new Showtime thriller, which stars Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Reeve Carney, Billie Piper, and former James Bond Timothy Dalton, mixes classic horror story characters (Dorian Gray, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster) with new characters to make a creepy series that was inspired by penny dreadfuls, Victorian horror magazines sold on the street for a penny. Dalton, most famous for his two-movie run as 007, plays mysterious explorer Sir Malcolm, who aligns himself with an eclectic lineup of associates as he goes on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter.
The actor, who has most recently starred as Mr. Pricklepants in various "Toy Story" projects on the big screen and TV, talked to Yahoo TV about what drew him to "Penny Dreadful," how fun it is to play a character who's described by his friend as "weak, foul, lustful, and vainglorious," if he might reprise his role as the founder of the Time Lord civilization on "Doctor Who," and whether or not he inspired toon thespian Pricklepants.
What attracted you to "Penny Dreadful"?
I have to tell you they are all very interesting characters, and they're all very warped people. Not simply that. It's brilliantly written. It's superbly written by [series creator] John Logan. He's a fine dramatist. There's nothing simple, nothing black and white. It's complex, and yet it's sort of highbrow, but in a lowbrow wrapper. There's tremendous excitement and mystery and disturbance and terror. Yet it's always very intelligent, so you can enjoy it on any level you like.
Watch a clip from "Penny Dreadful":
Your character, Sir Malcolm, is not just a man of words — you have some great lines in the premiere — but Sir Malcolm is also a man of action, on this quest to find his daughter. He is one of the characters I most wanted to know more about after seeing the pilot.
You know, I do find that you generally know within about 12 or 15 pages [of a script] whether you're going to be able to put it down. This, you carry on reading. There's such fascination, mystery in it. I got drawn to the story first. Then, of course, you have to look at your character and think, "What can I do with it? Can I bring this to fruition? Can I do what the writer, the author, is intending here? What the hell is he intending?" You get intrigued by it. You call up and say, "Well, what happens next? I want to know what happens next."
Get to know Sir Malcolm:
Did you know the whole story before you began filming?
In those very early days, John was extremely loath to tell anybody what the story was. I used to have meetings with him, and I'd eke out more and more of the story from him. I'd sit like pulling teeth, "What happens? What goes on? What does he do?" You know [Sir Malcolm] is an African explorer, and that could tell you something about his character, but it's also a metaphor for a man that is on a quest for the source of the Nile. The quest for the source of any river is madness, because you can't find it ever. It's water, and however small a patch of water you find, that bit of water comes from somewhere else. You gradually get this feeling that he's an extremely manipulative, obsessive, determined man, who is totally ruthless, but he's trying to save his daughter. What a fabulous combination of opposites. It's great, so the more I just got into it, the more intrigued I was and the more challenged I was by the idea of trying to bring this man to life, make him real and entertaining in a true way.
I'll go further, actually, just for fun. Vanessa, played by Eva Green, who is wonderful, lovely to work with, in an episode you've not seen yet, describes Malcolm as being "weak, foul, lustful and vainglorious." She might have been pissed off with Malcolm at the time, and it may not entirely be true, but there's truth in all of that, you know. These are interesting characters, very interesting characters. It's a joy to work on something that's so rich and so full of possibilities.
Did you continue to be surprised, as you filmed the season, by your character and the story line?
When you read a book, you get from the beginning to the end. If you do a film, you generally have the same sort of luxury. You don't get that in a series. The best you can get is the story line of Season 1, which obviously introduces a lot of characters and tries to develop them in an interesting way. I was lucky. I think I got up to Episode 5 before I started [filming], so I kind of knew what to expect, but the last three episodes of the season, I didn't get that out of John until much later.
Were you at all reluctant to sign on to do a series?
Reluctant, reluctant. Well, all my life, I have been. Every series that I've been asked to do... I don't like the idea of a series, to tell you the truth. I don't like the idea of not knowing what I'm doing. I don't like the idea of not knowing how well it is going to be written, but on this one, John promised he was going to write them all, which is great. I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I'm up there in my 60s. This is a terrific part, so I thought, "Come on. Do it. Give it a crack."
On to another series you've been a part of. Is there any chance you might reprise your role as Rassilon on "Doctor Who," especially with a new Doctor taking over?
I've often wondered that myself. [Laughs.] I think you could probably go and talk to any actor, any famous actor, and a lot of what they saw in their childhood still remains in their consciousness and in their fantasies. Like, "Is there anything you'd like to do?" I'd say, "Well, when I was a kid I saw all those western movies. God, I'd love to be in a western." I never have. We all watched pirate movies. I'd love to do a pirate movie. Never did. And a horror movie is definitely one, so there are elements in "Penny Dreadful" that fulfill a childhood fantasy. "Doctor Who," because I watched it as a child, it's just wonderfully satisfying and enjoyable to find yourself in one. And particularly because [Rassilon] is a Time Lord. The Time Lords are the great characters in that series. But to answer your question, are they going to ask me back? No idea. I certainly haven't been asked back yet. But it had better be soon, before I get in my wheelchair.
See Dalton on "Doctor Who":
You are continuing your role in another series, "Toy Story," including the upcoming ABC TV special, "Toy Story That Time Forgot." What's so fun about playing a hedgehog actor who wears lederhosen?
They're wonderful, those specials, aren't they? They keep the whole series alive. You're working with really special people. I don't mean the actors. I mean the creative people who make them, people that you and I, and our audience, don't often really get to hear and know about. I can't take credit for Mr. Pricklepants. It's the people who conceived him and who drew him and who gave him this storyline. You're working with people who will settle for nothing less than the best, which is all of our dreams. You just go into a room and play. You don't meet anybody else. You don't meet the cast. You just play with the director, and we have fun and try lots of different approaches and see if we can make something funny or serious or whatever. It's a lovely thing to do.
Was the character created with you in mind?
I don't know. That's the simple answer, and it's silly to speculate. I don't know. Maybe, but... I think at a certain point, they probably started thinking, "Now, who shall we get to play this? What kind of person do we want? Who can do what we're after?" I got lucky, and they asked me.
Do you have any Mr. Pricklepants toys?
Yes! Initially, I got a little model that was about 2 inches tall, which I rather like. It's a lovely thing to have it on my desk. And then, I was recording this latest [special], and when I went in, someone was talking about merchandising, all the things that they make that are associated with "Toy Story," and I said, "I don't think I've had any of those." Two days later, in the post, I got a big parcel, Mr. Pricklepants, all furry and soft and lovely.
"Penny Dreadful" premieres Sunday, 5/11 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.