Penny Dreadful exclusive: Christian Camargo talks Dracula

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If you can send Lucifer cowering into the corner of a room, you know you're a badass. And in the lore of Penny Dreadful, there is apparently no badder ass than Dracula.

The king of the vampires has, in a departure from Bram Stoker, been reimagined by series creator John Logan as the brother of Lucifer, the two of them having been expelled from heaven and plotting a bloody return ever since. Key to this is Eva Green's Vanessa Ives, the show's focal point of the battle between good and evil and the struggle of faith versus despair. For two years viewers had been under the impression that Lucifer was the one vying for her soul, but the revelation of this season is that it's actually Dracula.

Christian Camargo, who's had roles in The Hurt Locker, House Of Cards and Dexter, stars in the dual role of Dracula and his alter ego, the day walking (we told you he was a badass) zoologist Dr. Alexander Sweet, who befriends Vanessa in an attempt to manipulate her. In the following exclusive interview, Camargo shares his views on the show and his role as the world's most famous vampire, conveying the fact that he's as fascinated by this world as any of the fans.


What was your familiarity with the show prior to joining?

I wasn't familiar with it before, but I'm a total addict now. I was just so taken with a show that is so intelligently written, yet is so accessible in its themes, it's characterizations and it's connective tissue. It's a perfect combination of high and low brow for me. What was exciting about watching the show is that from a performance level, a writing level and the way it's shot... basically on every level, the way it's made challenges the viewer to think. There's so much TV that doesn't, that sort of plays down to the audience in a way. I know that the trend is going away from that, but I didn't realize TV could be the perfect combination of cinema and theater.

So if you weren't familiar with it, what made you say yes?

Well at first I didn't know where it was going, but I love Eva Green and was told that this was a sort of love interest for her. I'd known John Logan briefly through Kathryn Bigelow during Hurt Locker and we had a little catching up. Then he said, "So, do you like the show?" and I said, "Of course. And I love Eva Green." He's, like, "Okay, there's probably one thing you should know: This guy also goes by another name." "What's that?" "Dracula." I said, "What time is my flight?" It was that quick. To go from the material that I was given where my character is this sort of overly-obsessive museum director, which is a fun character, to an ageless Dracula that you don't want to mess around with was fascinating. He's the darkness that goes throughout the whole three seasons. He's challenging and wonderfully fun to do.


The take itself is so different, particularly the Dracula/Lucifer connection.

What's so fun about it is that I went to Juilliard, and this is not a snobby thing, but when you go to Juilliard they ask you to do a classic monologue and a contemporary one. I was so intimidated by Shakespeare at the time that I swore I would never do a Shakespeare monologue. I grew up loving Paradise Lost and Milton, and the Satan falling from heaven speech particularly, so I memorized that as my audition monologue. When John was talking about Dracula there was so much Milton that was coming up. You're talking about a sort of Gothic, more literary interpretation of Dracula as Satan. These are two brothers who are cut from the same cloth; that classic literature tradition, as opposed to the Bram Stoker Dracula that we've all come to know. There's a depth to the literature that's far more unique, it's more John Logan's creation, as are all of the other monsters in his piece. What I love is the borrowing from the old literature, from the old masters, and then making it his own, but creating it, going further, beyond the Penny Dreadful stories of the Victorian Age and going into really deep storytelling.

There's no show like it, because it relies on the audience's involvement. It's a show that's not showing you, it's grabbing you and putting you in the room with it. That's a very hard thing to do. All these characters are sort of metaphors for elements of ourselves and I think that's the connection to the audience, that's where it really ropes you in. We see ourselves in all of these monsters and angels.


And as powerful as Dracula is, he's not all powerful, because he needs Vanessa to complete whatever his master plan is. That's incredibly intriguing.

Yes, he's the ultimate power, except for Vanessa. There's a formula there, and what's sort of beautiful about it is you can go as deep as you want or as surface as you want. You can take the show for just what it is, or you can look at it deeper. The masculinity and the feminine, not woman/man, but the feminine energy and the masculine energy, in order to dominate, and the balance of nature, and man's yearning to dominate nature. The desire to control is a wonderful theme. As we see with Dracula, what he's capable of is massive. He's extremely powerful, and yet there's an Achilles heel there. That's a lot of fun to play.

What I find interesting about Dracula is that if you had him walking down Broadway in modern day Manhattan, there's something goofy about it. But if you put him in Victorian England, there is such power to it.

You're absolutely right. There's just something theatrical about Victorian England. There's something interesting also about making the unbelievable believable from a distance, reel in that perspective, step back, and sort of look beyond the cliché or beyond the unbelievable and accept it when there's a little distance between us as far as age or an era.

I was talking to John and asked, "Should I read the Bram Stoker novel?", and he's, like, "No, stay away from that! It needs to be its own thing." That's what we've talked a lot about with the way he looks, with adding that beard, and doing things that are not the stereotypical Dracula look. My challenge was that I wanted to get people to like him a lot and be sort of on his side. In the same way the fans are all about "Team Ethan" or "Team Vanessa", there's got to be "Team Dracula." Come on! I want people to start rooting for this guy.


With that in mind, how do you view Dracula? What's your take on him?

I go back, again, to Milton's Paradise Lost a little bit, because there's a tremendous injustice that has been done to Dracula in my mind. There's a tremendous upsetting of what is right. His own sense of what is right and the morality of it. To the point where human beings are not human beings, they are just a part of his playground. Basically he views Earth as hell. There's a wonderful line in Milton where he basically says, "I'll make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven," so that he's going to flip-flop. He's going to really show that if God is sort of thinking of this as a good place, Dracula will turn it in to what it really is for him. That there's a larger war going on, a war about the universe taking place on this tiny little planet and in this tiny little city.

What's particularly fascinating with what John is doing with the show is that he's taking these larger than life characters from classic literature and embedding a higher level of humanity within them than we're used to seeing.

Yes, the tiny, fragile side to these much larger literary characters. What I'm finding from Dracula is you have this grand re-balancing of the universe basically. The struggle between him, Lucifer and God. Then bringing it down to the fact that he's walking in two worlds. He's an angel that was up there with God, he's sent to Earth, he's been put in to this human body and doesn't ever die. He's been around for thousands of years, putting this plan together to survive, to get back to where he came from, because this is just a hellish purgatory that he's been in. He has found the formula, and the formula involves Vanessa. He needs Vanessa and her energy. She is a chosen one, she is sort of the light version to his dark that is similarly trapped between worlds, really. Vanessa is between worlds in that she's human, is drawn to the spirit and yet walking in the flesh. And so is Dracula. He knows, and he's been waiting for a very long time for this opportunity. You could just imagine waiting 2,000 years for this plan to start.


And the patience that that sort of waiting game would require. The patience, the pressure, and nothing can go wrong; it's all so meticulous. That's where the temper comes from, that's where the playfulness comes from. He absolutely cannot afford to show his cards at all. To the point where, and I think this is what he didn't plan on as much through the thousands of years he was waiting, there's true love there. Playing Dracula, I started out imagining the grand themes that were being played on. He went through this funnel and got more resonant to the human, thus allowing this to become a love story. That, to me, was the whole thing. All of these ideas of injustice, and resetting the balance of the universe and getting back at God is one thing, then you have the brother thing, which is a whole other side. Then it really becomes about him and this woman. Him and Vanessa. The two of them being sort of outcasts, the similarities between them and the connection that breeds. I was looking at Vanessa's journey through the two previous seasons as pretty much fodder for Dracula. Whether it was intended or not from John's side, they are very much two of the same.

Penny Dreadful airs on Showtime in the US and Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK.