Actor Hartnett takes on mystery and monsters in 'Penny Dreadful'

Actor Hartnett takes on mystery and monsters in 'Penny Dreadful'
Cast member Josh Hartnett arrives for the world premiere of television series "Penny Dreadful" in New York, May 6, 2014.

LOS ANGELES - Monsters and murders of the Victorian age come alive in Showtime's new supernatural drama"Penny Dreadful," as actor Josh Hartnett leads a band of gothic mavericks to uncover the terrors that attack the city of London.

"Penny Dreadful," premiering on the CBS Corp cable network on Sunday, follows wealthy explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) on a quest to find his kidnapped daughter Mina, as a terrifying creature wreaks havoc by devouring humans in the nighttime shadows of London.

Murray enlists the help of eclectic outsiders, some mined from British literature like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray and Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein, while others, such as Eva Green's mysterious Vanessa Ives or Hartnett's Ethan Chandler were developed by the show's creator John Logan.

Hartnett, who makes his return to television after a breakout role 17 years ago in the short-lived series "Cracker,"said he drew inspiration for the gun-slinging charmer Ethan from gunfighters of the old American West, such as Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody.

"He's a Russian doll of a character, and I wanted that to come across immediately," he said. "In that first scene, he's wearing a costume over a costume, he's wearing a mustache over a mustache. It's important to me that you know from the get-go that he's not what he seems."

The term 'penny dreadful' refers to cheap Victorian-era books containing tawdry, graphic stories of monsters and murder, and the show is loosely inspired by the tales of horror that thrilled working-class readers.

"Penny Dreadful" is the latest US television show drawing from Victorian England after shows such as NBC's "Dracula" and Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" also resurrected gothic literary characters for the modern-day audience.

Hartnett said he saw similarities in the social changes of 19th century England and today, accounting for why audiences may relate to the bygone age.

"It was a time that was on the cusp of something new, which I think is kind of an equivalent to what's happening now, there's reverberation of change in everything," he said.

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