The show, set in Victorian England, brings together many of the characters from classic Gothic literature - among them Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and, this season, Dr. Henry Jekyll - in an ever-growing canvas of storytelling. Green portrays Vanessa Ives, officially described as "poised, mysterious and utterly composed." Vanessa is "a seductive and formidable beauty full of secrets and danger. She is keenly observant - clairvoyant even - as well as an expert medium. Her supernatural gifts are powerful and useful to those around her, but they are also a heavy burden. Her inner demons just may be more real than emotional, and they threaten to detroy her relationships, her sanity and her very life."
The actress' credits have included such films as Ridley Scott's Kingdom Of Heaven, the James Bond film Casino Royale, The Golden Compass, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of An Empire and the forthcoming Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. She had previously been drawn to television and the role of Morgan in the short-lived Camelot.
Empire conducted this exclusive interview with Green shortly before the premiere of the new season of Penny Dreadful.
Given a career made up so largely of film, what was it about Penny Dreadful that made you willing to commit to it?
The role is so meaty. It's quite rare to find something so rich. John Logan really insisted and insisted and at first I was, like, "Oh my God, I can't commit to TV. I don't know if I can." But then he really kind of talked me through the several seasons and the arc of the character is absolutely beautiful, so I couldn't say no. So many things to explore as an actor; it's a gift.
You mentioned the arc. How would you describe Vanessa's evolution over the course of what we've seen so far?
Sometimes she goes back and forth. At the end of season two, she loses her faith, and faith was absolutely everything to her, so she's most of the time in the darkness, but is somebody that aims towards the light. There's a lot of turmoil... she's someone who becomes almost like a Joan of Arc, but there is something very pure about her.
As I watch the show and what you've done in it, I frequently find myself asking, "Is this woman afraid of anything?" You just seem so willing to go out there.
I love the fact that it's happening during Victorian, repressed times when people are quite on their guard. Vanessa seems quite in control most of the time, but then you kind of suddenly let everything out and are very free, irreverent, and there's something kind of jubilating, weirdly, about just being very physical. I don't know, it's just weirdly quite pleasant.
You were worried about committing to a TV series. You're now in season three and I'm not sure how much further it will go on. At this stage, are you happy to be doing TV or feeling oppressed by the production schedule?
It takes, like, five months and it is quite intense, but it's such a great role. I can't complain, and I've been able to work a bit in between. Also, Showtime and John Logan are very kind, and they understand that I have to live as well, so they tightened the schedule to allow me to live my life.
How grueling is the show for you, because it does involve so much in the way of effects, whether it's makeup effects or visual effects?
I don't have much makeup. You do have lots of creatures and I'm always quite fascinated by that part of the show, because they do such amazing work. They're very passionate and last season the girls [who played the witches] were in the makeup at 3am. It required so much time, because they were naked as well, and just to be in the chair for eight hours is quite impressive. That I don't have to do.
John Logan as a collaborator, what is that like?
He has always been so open, and you would think he would have a big ego, but he doesn't. Most of the time when I want to add a few things or change some stuff, he's, like, "Okay, no problem. Would you be comfortable ...", and that's such a luxury, to have somebody who loves you so much and wants to get the best out of you. He's very passionate and it's very contagious.
How would you describe Vanessa in season three?
She starts the season quite lost. She lives a bit like Miss Havisham, kind of a recluse. She's shut herself up in the mansion and she hardly eats and doesn't seek fun, and is very depressed, very, very dreadful, and then... Mr. Lyle comes in and tries to shake her out of this state, and she's going to the shrink and she's going to try and deal with her demons. And she's going to meet this guy at the National History Museum. For her, it's difficult to fall in love, because she feels like she's always been kind of cursed, yet she can't help falling in love with that guy, so that's kind of a very intense love story.
I hope that she'll find some happiness, because I remember watching the end of season two and thinking, "Wait a minute, everybody's leaving her. She can't be left alone."
I know. It's so dark and lonely and no family, no lover, no faith, but you will be surprised. I can't say anything, of course, but Vanessa will be trying to claw her way back into the light throughout the season.
Penny Dreadful airs on Showtime in the US and Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK. The third season premieres on May 3rd in the UK.