When Showtime’s Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11, some monsters are going to be more familiar than others. The show—from award-winning Skyfall and Jersey Boys screenwriter John Logan—follows a group including Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, a vampire king and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray as they slither through 19th-century London. Of course, there are also the people hunting them, namely Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives, Timothy Dalton’s Malcolm Murray and American marksman Ethan Murray, played by early aughts heartthrob Josh Hartnett.
Thanks to smart writing, decadent sets and a true fright fan’s special effects, the series pulls off combining a diverse set of horror’s most famous characters and turning their exploits into something new and exciting.
Here, DuJour chats with Reeve Carney—the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark alum who’s playing Dorian Gray—about making the series, riffing on a beloved character and what really scared him about this job.
Your role on Penny Dreadful is something new for you. How did you go from playing Spider-Man to playing Dorian Gray?
I was working on the Spider-Man musical and different projects kept coming up, but generally I wasn’t interested. I was having so much fun on stage, and it wasn’t often I was seeing something that excited me. But that’s what happened with this; the script came to me and I read it and was immediately drawn to the poetic writing. When they started assembling the cast, that really did it for me. They have a great group of people working on the show, and I wanted to be part of that.
And you were ready to take on someone so different from Peter Parker?
The things that excite me most about the character are the same things that terrify me. I like to be challenged and I knew this would be a great one; jumping from Peter Parker to playing Dorian Gray. They’re quite different animals.
Is horror a genre that appeals to you?
I hate to admit this, but Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I’ve always loved spooky things, especially films.
So was being in something scary as frightening as watching something scary?
It actually is scary on set. I was living alone in a remote part of Dublin, at the top of a hill, while we were shooting. And I’m a city kid, so silence is more frightening to me than any kind of noise. This hose was totally silent except for this howling wind that would happen throughout the night. One day we did about 30 takes of this one intense scene and, after that, I felt some of that energy following me home. I had some weird visual disturbances in the night. I think we all did. We talked about it a lot—the whole cast and crew—about how the show was affecting our sleep and our dreams.
How close to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray can we expect your character to be?
When I got this part, I had never read The Picture of Dorian Gray. In school, we were given the option but when I was in AP Literature, I think I chose Heart of Darkness instead. So I did read the novel when I got the part, and I asked how much I should incorporate into the character. I was told none. We’re just starting with that character and using it as a springboard for where we’ll go. We honor the origin of the character, but there’s a lot of freedom.
Does working on a show like this make it hard to watch scary movies? Is that whole genre passé for you now?
I’ve always loved horror movies and things like that. I just saw The Conjuring and God, was it scary. Being on the show hasn’t changed that at all.
Penny Dreadful premieres Sunday, May 11, on Showtime.