[Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead unless you have watched last night’s episode of Penny Dreadful.]
Dorian (Reeve Carney, r) is proud to have Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp, l) on his arm. (Showtime)
Since the Showtime horror drama, Penny Dreadful, began last year we’ve seen ageless beauty Dorian Gray (played by Reeve Carney) in sexual situations with multiple people, including an absinthe-fueled liaison that we’re still talking about from last season with Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett).
But leave it to out series creator John Logan to have this period drama make a comment about love with a transgender person, in the form of a prostitute named Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), who recently came into Gray’s life and has made quite the impression.
After last night’s episode, where we saw Angelique sans makeup as she challenged Gray to accept her as she really is (of course he does and did), it was time to talk with Beauchamp, who has been a terrific addition to the already stellar cast (the series also stars Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Harry Treadaway, Simon Russell Beale, Billie Piper, Helen McCrory and Rory Kinnear.)
During Beauchamp’s conversation with TheBacklot, we discussed Angelique being transgender at a time when that name didn’t really exist yet, the blossoming relationship between her and Dorian Gray, as well as Beauchamp’s role in the upcoming Roland Emmerich film, Stonewall.
TheBacklot: How did you and John Logan come up with not just the look of Angelique but even how she holds herself and her character.
Jonny Beauchamp: John really had a very strong idea of who she was at first so that’s a nice jumping off place. For me, the most important thing and what I kept stressing the whole season was I really wanted to honor the transgender community especially because we were working with a representation of the trans community in a time before transsexualism was even a construct.
The best part about Angelique is she isn’t really a common prostitute. She’s educated. She’s well-read and she’s smart. So that kind of hints that she came from some sort of status, whether or not she still has that you’ll have to find out but she’s not just your average boy in a dress on the street. She was the high price at the brothel so how did she get there? That’s the kind of stuff we really got to deal with. I’m not allowed to disclose too much but in terms of the movement and the look I worked really closely with Gabriella Pescucci, who is the most amazing costume designer. She had such insight to the time period, which only added to the acting which was amazing.
Would you say that based on the time and being transgender or whatever you would refer to it back in that time, was prostitution her only option to be herself?
JB: Yes. I mean there were no options. That’s the option that she came up with herself. What I love about Angelique is she isn’t just taking what she can get. She holds herself with such pride. To understand yourself that way is amazing and she’s even at odds with herself as the series goes on you’ll see. It was amazing to be able to play that kind of bravery and find that because she really holds herself with such finesse and such pride. She’s very stoic and strong in that.
I think that’s why Dorian just completely is taken aback by her but he has to have her because it’s such a rare attribute especially back then. She approaches him very, very strongly. She stands at his table, she’s a woman. She’s presenting herself as a woman but she’s unaccompanied by a man. She sits at his table and she starts talking to this very well-dressed man in a very nice place and it’s so assuming. It was so, dare I say, ballsy and it ignites something in Dorian and I think that’s why he has to have her.
In this week’s episode, we see Angelique really be degraded by some other men and Dorian steps up for her. You really see her armor come down in that scene.
JB: So now [Dorian and Angelique] are clearly seeing each other and you see a little date that Dorian has been taking her all around town and he’s taking her to see some Wagner, for which she has a really interesting opinion on and is accosted in the drawing room by one of her clients. It’s completely humiliating. Everything falls and she kind of freezes. You’d think someone so proud, someone so strong would really lash back but there is no help for her. There is now law protecting her. She has no idea what to do at that point. When Dorian kind of makes a show of it she’s both humbled and afraid because what does this mean. Are they going to follow them? What’s going to happen to Dorian?
She is in love with Dorian and I think that is a lovely moment that they get to capture there where you do see Angelique’s walls completely crumble and she kind of goes mental. She completely takes herself apart and says, “Is this what you want? Can you handle this because I don’t think you can.” She’s so willing and ready to admit that it’s over and she’s getting ready to go. Again, she’s taken aback because Dorian’s like, A, this isn’t you. This is not who I fell in love with and this is not who I want. I do want you here. She’s never had that before in her life…she lives day to day and so this kind of definitely puts a fork in her road because she doesn’t know what to do. She’s never been accepted in this way before by a man. She’s taken care of herself pretty much and so [Dorian is] starting to take care of her. She’s very fragile because you want to keep that.
Please tell me you did not have to get spit on 20 times when you were filming the scene in the opera house.
JB: We did a few takes of it. Depending on the shot we did some actual spit takes. The director, Damon [Thomas], was so clear on how he wanted it to go and where he wanted it to land so that the actual spit that you see wasn’t actually someone spitting on me. You know I was game for it. I was like ‘spit on me!’ We choreographed it very specifically. Then we did have a few takes just to have a cut with him actually spitting.
Tell me about working with Reeve. You two have a really lovely chemistry.
JB: As an actor, you never know what you’re going to get. I felt so lucky. In my two biggest projects Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich and Penny Dreadful I had such a strong, amazing counterpart. In Penny Dreadful it is Reeve Carney and in Stonewall with Jeremy Irvine. Both times, both guys were really kind of seasoned. They’d been in a lot of really great stuff and they’re great actors. They really kind of held my hand through it, which was amazing.
I was completely so comfortable with Reeve. Reeve was so generous and with all the freaky stuff that we had to do in the season together…it’s just as nerve racking for him as it was for me but yet we’d both look over and we knew that we had an ally in the room. So we were able to go there and that was great. Let me tell you, Reeve is a prankster. He’s like a teenage boy. We still text each other some of our inside jokes. It’s just hysterical. He’s such a blast to work with.
In next week’s episode, Angelique meets more people in Dorian’s world. (Showtime)(l-r) Beauchamp, Harry Treadaway, Eva Green, Billie Piper, Carney.
And you’re getting paid to make out with him and have sex scenes with him! He’s not a bad looking guy.
JB: How awful! No. [laughs] Everyone has said things like that and I’ve got to be honest, it was hard for me because to be put out there like that and I was aware that this was going to be the first project of mine that was really going to be seen where I had a real role. So there was a bit of nerves there. At the same time, it just wasn’t me. It was Angelique and just the opportunity to work on this incredible show with an incredible show runner, John Logan. I mean the mastermind. He understands everything. Like every answer to your question he knows, that doesn’t mean he will tell you.
That’s frustrating and both thrilling because you don’t know. We don’t always have the same scripts as everybody else so you don’t know what’s going on so it’s really a lovely puzzle. We’re telling a story and so we have to use all of our pieces that we know and that we can bring to the table and together we collaborate and create the story, the puzzle. He was definitely the keeper of the keys in that aspect. I mean really lucky is the word that I keep trying to come up with. I can’t describe it. I’m just really lucky to have had that time in Dublin.
I’ve never been so challenged in terms of physically not with brute force but with my movements, with my eyes. It was so important to me. I worked really closely with the costume designer with the corsets. Every day that I was on set I had them put the corset on me because I’m a dude and I’ve never really worn a real corset like that. It was so limiting. I couldn’t really breathe right. They were really cool about leaving it open. I was like, “No. You’re going to put this as tight as you would, in fact tighter because Angelique is not like those girls. She has to work a little harder so I had to work a little harder.” They all speak Italian. They laughed at me so much. They had a ball with me.
Also in this episode is the first time we see Angelique without her makeup, without her dress. I’m curious if it was a different challenge for you playing her without her ‘armor?’
JB: I’m so glad you brought that up because I don’t usually get to talk about that. Being on set when we’re working, it takes me three hours to get ready so you are kind of prepared for war. It’s not me. When I’m Angelique it’s much easier for me to put it on and do things that I don’t normally do because it wasn’t me. But when everything was stripped away and she’s wearing Dorian’s clothes, which they actually gave me a few pieces from last season to wear. That was the hardest day for me but it was perfect because not only was Angelique the most vulnerable I was the most vulnerable because I didn’t have my armor. So it really was Jonny on set that day. The gaffers and people…they didn’t really know it was me at first.
That monologue that John wrote, I think it struck a chord with people because a lot of people can really identify with that moment whether you’re trans or gay or even if you just feel lost in your life. I feel like at any given moment you can identify with being lost and not knowing ‘should I be what you want me to be’ or ‘is that enough for you?’ These are all really humanistic questions and stuff that she raises and John raises in the scene.
So I will say though that that was an imminent thing because we did that scene and then we went right into the sex scene right after so for half the day I’m crying and screaming and having it out with Reeve all day standing and then we have to quickly rush and get all greased up for the sex scene. I literally didn’t have a moment to breathe. I just remember looking at Reeve and being like ‘oh my God.’ He’s like, “Buddy, it’s going to be okay. It never gets better and it’ll be fine.’ He’s done it last season and he told me a few stories and it definitely made me feel better.
Is it safe to say there’s a lot of choreography involved in the scene in bed with Reeve?
JB: Yeah. Damon, the director, was the best candidate for that scene because I feel comfortable with Damon. He’s so available to me as a director and he was really fun. We’re really lucky in our profession because we actually do get to have fun and that’s when the best work happens…but it’s the most unsexy thing in the world to do a sex scene. You’ve got five people in the room who don’t necessarily want to be there. That’s very uncomfortable for everybody. You’ve got all these messages going back and forth because as little people as possible can be in the room. You’ve got people yelling at you like ‘grab his ass.’ It’s so impersonal. It’s like a football team almost. Like a football rehearsal and the coach is telling you ‘42, 43…go long, go long, go long.’ Doing a sex scene is like being on the field and just trying to win the game.
How did the role of Angelique actually come about?
JB: This actually leads into Stonewall perfectly. Basically I had gotten Stonewall last summer and so it was the biggest thing that had happened to me. It was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced in my life. I owe everything to Roland Emmerich because he saw everybody for the role of Ray. He said when he saw my tape and my initial audition I only went in twice for it he said there was no one else. He said there was no one else. For Roland Emmerich to say that it was just incredible.
I’m on set for Stonewall and I get the call about Penny Dreadful. Initially, I was like ‘what’s the role?’ My manager was like ‘it’s super top secret.’ I found out ‘they’re only seeing a few people and they can’t find it so they’re interested in you.’ I was like there’s no way I can get to New York. We’re literally week two of the riots. It was insane. Fire, police, glass, 400 extras every day. Like we were doing 18 hour days. It was insane. I wasn’t really running to play another kind of prostitute character [but] when I read the [Penny] script and I found out it was John Logan I immediately changed my tune. I was like I will stop at nothing until I get this role. So a friend had come from London to visit the set and I told her. I had about a 15 minute break in between setups. I pulled her into my dressing room. Together we pulled out the fridge and I glued my lines for the scene on the fridge. Then I had her hold my iPhone steady and stuff and I filmed it in 15 minutes in my trailer. It was fantastic.
They sent it John Logan immediately who was really into it. I wrapped Stonewall that Friday…John Logan called me personally and he said, “We’re going to green light you for a screen test in Dublin.” It was a whirlwind. It was the best way because had I had time to even think I probably would have got in my own head. I would have gotten really nervous. Eva Green has been one of my favorite actresses since I was 15 years old, as is Jonathan Rhys Meyers. So to be able to have worked with two of my idols in my first two projects has been humbling.
It’s absolutely amazing. I can’t tell you that I don’t wake up every day looking in the mirror like why you. Why me? Then I quickly step out of it and I say of course this was always the plan. This is what I’ve been working my whole life for. But then when you get there you’re like ‘oh my God,’ when you see the grandeur of what you’re working on and creating, it’s a gift.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime. Stonewall will hit theaters later this year.