One week he’s making love to Eva Green the next he’s making out with Josh Hartnett—what exactly are we to make of Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray in the new must-see Showtime series Penny Dreadful?
Based on the titular character in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the character is a sexual omnivore. But his motivations remain mostly secret, forcing us to tune in each week to find out more about the beautiful, unchanging libertine.
“What makes us a human being is how we respond erotically to the world around us,” explained Penny Dreadful’s out producer John Logan at a Television Critics Association panel. “And it’s just as true for these characters and as everything else.” Logan added that, creatively, he and team are “trying to really grapple with these characters in all their extremes—sexually as well as in terms of violence, in terms of psychology.”
The Backlot spoke with Dorian himself, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’s comely Reeve Carney, about the show’s success, his next projects and whether we’ll see Gray and Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler in bed together again.
When you first stepped into the role, what kind of conversations did you and John Logan have about your character?
Reeve Carney: John’s language originally drew me to the piece and then having a meeting with him I could tell he was a gentleman and such a talent. Overall he’s a lovely guy. I was initially expressing some concern over the nudity in the show because I’ve never done it yet. He made me feel really good about it and said ‘As long as you’re comfortable with the eroticism, that’s all you have to do.’ It’s kind of like jumping into an ice cold pool.
How familiar were you with Dorian Gray’s story? I know John’s take is a little different that the Oscar Wilde book, but did you refresh yourself on the story?
RC: I didn’t actually read it in high school, but once I got the audition I went to the book. John wants to use that novel as more of a springboard for where it ultimately could go. I’m not exactly sure where the show is going to go, which is great because in life you don’t always know where things are going.
How would you say you’re challenged differently here than in, say, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark?
RC: I would say I love working on a piece where all the natural expressions on the face are picked up. You don’t have to project as much and you use different tools in the film and television medium than the stage medium. So I enjoy exploring that after a few years on Broadway.
They’re two really different skill sets that you have to work with, but the thing that’s hardest about this is probably the notes after. I don’t mean to say any of it is bad but on Broadway when they give you notes, you have 30 minutes to let them sink in and think ‘how am I going to do that tonight?’
When it comes to this type of work, it’s like ‘You ready? You got it? We’re going to go again.” That’s challenging but it’s exciting and the one thing I’ve learned is that you have to really get out of your own way and relax and have fun.
We’ve seen that Dorian is very infatuated with Vanessa, but I get a sense it’s about more than just physical attraction.
RC: There’s definitely something going on with Vanessa that is supernatural, but I think it’s something along those lines at least with the characters introduced thus far. The whole concept of the demimonde that seems to exist in Vanessa. She somewhat exists in the half-world, she’s part supernatural, part human. I think Dorian has a bit of both, too.
TBL: We saw Dorian in Episode 4 in an orgy with men and women, and then he kisses Ethan. How would you define Dorian’s sexuality?
RC: I think it’s a response to a numbness within. He has to continue to take things to the next level and create more extreme, heightened circumstances in order to feel things that he once felt…
Dorian has done so much and has been through so many modes of expression in terms of sexuality that he has to take it to the next level every time.
Would you say, then, that what we’re seeing with him is bigger than just human sexuality?
RC: I wouldn’t put him in any category or label him in any way, which is interesting to play with. It’s great to be able to work with that, but it has nothing to do with sexuality. And, I’m not sure if this is a good thing to say, but it’s almost like someone who is a cutter. It’s not about the cutting, it’s not about that. It’s about wanting to have some physical manifestation for what you’re feeling on the inside.
What will we see in terms of Dorian and Ethan moving forward?
RC: You’ll definitely see more of it and we’re obviously nearing the end of this particular installment of the series and I’m excited to see what’s happens next year. But, yeah, things will be explained a little bit more. Dorian and Ethan have some sort of connection and I’d like to see how it develops and changes.
Will we see more of Dorian involved with the darker side of things? I’m guessing with what we saw in this week’s episode with Vanessa that he might be exposed to something more.
RC: From my perspective, it almost seemed to me like he unlocked something in her that took it to a darker level in her, but I don’t really know. There’s definitely something that that experience that makes an impression.
How have you taken the attention the show has received so far?
RC: It’s been great. I haven’t felt a big change, but it’s nice when people come up to me and tell me they’re really enjoying the show. That makes me feel great. I’m happy about that.
I went to a Tonys party [recently] and saw a bunch of my old friends and they were really encouraging about the work and the show in general. That was nice to be back, especially with the theater people who are watching the show. It’s great to connect those two worlds.
Will you be getting back on stage, or in the studio, before filming Penny Dreadful Season 2?
RC: I’m focusing on my music. Right now my plan now is I’ve been writing some new stuff now since I came back from Penny Dreadful, but I had already begun work on some new songs that I hope to release.
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.