Fresh off the success of his recently released Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick starring film Mr. Right, we caught up with the deeply engaging and down to earth Spanish Director Paco Cabezas who directed season 3’s episodes 5, 6, 7 and the season finale episode 9, to talk about Penny Dreadful, how it was like to work with Eva Green and what’s in store for him.
You’re no stranger to the supernatural and horror genre having written and/or directed The Appeared, Sexykiller and Invasión Travesti to name a few. How did it all come about for you in terms of getting involved on Penny Dreadful? Was it an easy decision to accept the challenge of directing back to back episodes?
I think it was my film “Neon Flesh” that got the attention of John Logan and the Producers of Penny Dreadful and that says a lot about the team cause Neon Flesh is not a horror movie but they were able to see through the style and camera work, that I had the right sensitivity for the show. Once we start talking and they find out I’m a hardcore fan of the show, everything was pretty easy. What I did on every meeting was to talk with an open heart about the show and why I love it and suddenly I was there, directing the episodes. After that to be honest, there was nothing too difficult. To me, it was a joy to shoot the episodes.
From Amando de Ossorio’s La Noche del Terror Ciego to Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? to cult favorite Angustia by Bigas Luna to modern classics from Alejandro Amenábar, Jaume Balagueró, Juan Antonio Bayona and Guillem Morales, what is it about Spain’s connection and strength with producing quality horror films and directors that seems to be very transcendent and influential?
Probably there’s something about our blood. Our passion that transcends the celluloid. It’s hard to talk in these terms but I think when I watch a movie or a TV show, I don’t think in terms of genre. I think in terms of emotion. I want the show to make me shake in my seat. I wanna feel moved, thrilled, scared and above all have fun. To me, it has to be a rollercoaster of emotions. I think in the old Europe, we’re the ones who get the Latin connection, that sense that life’s too short and you gotta take the bull by the horns and just live as intensively as possible and that’s something that I think translates very well into Penny Dreadful. To me, filming is a joy and I love to cheer when I see a great performance or just jump around when I’m excited about killing vampires. I think that energy like what you said, transcends.
Speaking of your compatriot Juan Antonio Bayona, he’s credited with setting the tone of the series, having directed the first two episodes (‘Night Work” and “Séance’). Did you consulted him prior to starting production?
Funny enough we talked on a plane to Cannes about it. We run into each other way before I knew I was gonna be involved in the show and we talked as fans of the show, nothing more, then I concentrated on my storyboards and my references. We were both too busy to find time to talk again.
John Logan is very much known to be very collaborative and hands on when it comes to Penny Dreadful. How is it like to work with such a deeply involved and knowledgeable showrunner?
To me it was wonderful, honestly. I came from independent movies and I’ve worked with all sorts of Producers, good and bad, and sometimes when you have to talk with somebody who doesn’t understand or love movies the way I do, it’s really hard. But with John it was a pleasure. He loves and understands Penny so deeply that every conversation about every detail was always fun and interesting. Funny enough, we ended up thinking the same thing or connecting with just one look. I remember shooting a scene and John coming to set and both giving the same notes to the actors. To me working side by side with a creative mind is always great. In this case, we both come from very different worlds. John from the literary world and I come from movies, from a more visual world. Sometimes he was talking about Tennyson or any other poet while I was talking about Argento or Coppola. But everything felt right.
Penny Dreadful prides itself for having prestigious actors with theatre backgrounds in its cast. For season 3, apart from the main cast, you have Simon Russell Beale, Patti LuPone, Douglas Hodge, Sarah Greene, Shazad Latif, Wes Studi, Samuel Barnett, Perdita Weeks, Christian Camargo and a handful of other high caliber actors playing various important roles this season. How is it like to direct such a powerhouse ensemble of actors? Do their theatre experiences play a huge part in terms of getting the kind of acting that you want out of them for John Logan’s script?
I love actors and I’ve been lucky enough to work with great ones. My work in the end is to take care of them. Actors come from a very sensitive, fragile state and when they work they need to feel supported and loved. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. They don’t need big words or complicated thoughts. They need to feel and live the moment and what I’ve learned working with these great actors is that when they feel something’s wrong or right, that they need to move or change a line or whatever, you better listen, cause 99% of the time, they’re right. In the meantime, I just enjoy the process. You need to understand that I never went to film school. I worked in a video store for many years and wrote scripts so I feel blessed and happy to work in this. So I feel happy and I want actors and crew to feel happy around me.
For the first time on the show, you’ve branched out of England, having all of the characters in different places and situation. Was it challenging to have all these individual storylines happening at the same time but still maintain the cohesiveness of the show on intertwining the characters with each other?
When the writing is so good, it’s not complicated. It would have been if I felt that the emotional connection with the characters wasn’t working but it was. In the end, like what I said, it’s all about the emotion, whether they’re in London or Texas.
You filmed in both Ireland and your home country Spain for season 3. Do you find that filming out in nature helps you narrate the story better more than filming on smaller, enclosed spaces like a studio? How was it like to film a big English production in your own country?
It depends. There’s some great things about shooting on a studio. You have things under control. While on the exteriors, you have to go with the flow. For instance, on the last two days of shooting in the desert, the wind picked up and it was really insane. It was like Mad Max, windy and dusty like hell. But we never stopped shooting. In fact, it was really helpful to make the horses riding shots more intense. I think that in the end, opening the show to the light of Almeria, the desert, makes it bigger and more cinematic. I love episode 5 and 6 because of that, it’s really great to jump from one side of the world to the other on one episode. And then the shooting was great. I think the Irish crew and the Spanish crew got along pretty well. They both work hard and when the time comes to relax over the weekend, they dance and drink like crazy.
Eva Green has done a lot of unbelievable things on Penny Dreadful and in season one alone, she’s been put through a lot of powerful and stressful situations to watch. In season two, the stakes are even higher for Vanessa Ives. In season three, she’s come full circle and just basically has done what a lot of actresses won’t even dare to do. How was it like to direct her? What do you think sets her apart from other actresses?
To me, what Eva does is beyond human. It’s amazing how she gives herself to the character, almost losing herself. Nobody knows Vanessa Ives better than she does. Maybe John. And in the end, my work is to be there for her, to tell her “You’re safe”, “That was great, why don’t we try something a bit different here”. In the end, it’s a matter of trust and love. I remember in theater school, I had a teacher who used to scream at actors to make them cry on stage and I hated that. I always work through trust. I remember one anecdote of Marlon Brando working with Arthur Penn, on the first day Brando does his first take and Penn goes to him and says “What are you doing? You’re only doing half of what you can do” and Brando said “Oh, you noticed? Yeah, I normally do 50% of what I can do cause normally directors won’t notice but since you did I will give you a 100%”. Eva was giving 200% everyday no matter what, but I think she appreciated my sensitivity and trusted me as a director.
Prior to working with her on Penny Dreadful, have you seen any Eva Green film and is there a particular project of hers that you liked best?
There’s one movie of hers that I love and that I think is underrated called “Perfect Sense”. Her performance along with Ewan’s is heartbreaking.
You mentioned in one of your recent interviews that the first conversation that you had with Eva is about home decoration. You two seem to share a good rapport. A lot of fans think that she’s very intense. Could you tell us some on set tidbits with working and directing Eva?
Yes, well, that was funny. Of course Eva is one of the sexiest actresses alive and I’m a nerd so one of the first times that we were together in the same room, it’s hard not to get hypnotized by her beauty, so as a nerd I probably blocked and started talking about my apartment in Madrid and how the painters did something horrible to the walls called “gotelé”. I don’t think there’s an English translation to that word, but it’s something close to what Edward Hopper used to do in his paintings. The wall ends up full of drops of paint and it’s pretty ugly, so yes, that was my classy-enchanting-James-Bond talk with Eva: horrible wall paintings.
Apart from Eva, you work with highly capable and professional actors but could you tell us some on set stories? Who’s the joker/prank master in the cast? Who forgets his/her lines the most? Who does not break character?
Well, I don’t know, to be honest they’re all very professional and adorable people. Rory is a very funny guy, behind all that British aura he’s very, very funny. While Harry on the other hand is always wondering about his character, very serious about his work. We had great discussions about Victor. I think Billie on this season gives an amazing performance. You’ll see, she was killing it. And I had a wonderful bond with Tim. He’s such a gentleman and a generous actor. We had amazing conversations. Also with Josh. I don’t know, I know it’s a boring answer but I had a blast working with all of them!
All thanks to John Logan, the show is one of the few shows on television that has consistently written and portrayed women well and in a lot of ways, takes a firm stand on feminism as well as the role and existence of the transgender/transsexual community. Given the Victorian Era setting, is it hard to depict such themes?
Precisely, you’ll see that Billie has this great scenes in the next episodes where John talks about these specific issues. I don’t think I can say much without spoiling the show but what I would say is that sadly all these issues are still present, are still there, of course things were tougher in many ways for women in the Victorian Era but it’s always a struggle. Women’s rights all over the world are being daily destroyed. We’re taking steps back and before you realize, we’re giving away the right for legal abortion, equal pay, etc… I think what the show does, in the end, is really important, cause there’s not that many show out there with female strong, independent, characters.
John Logan describes Vanessa Ives as the fulcrum of the show. For season 3, we see Vanessa as a shell of her former self but slowly fighting for the light and regaining her strength and power. What can we expect from her character for the rest of the season?
You got me there! I don’t think there’s anything I can say without getting into a lot of trouble. All I can say, is like we say in Spanish “Vamos a poner toda la carne en el asador”, that we will “put all the meat in the grill” and Vanessa will emotionally and physically go to places that you will never imagine!
Given your filmography background, your episodes feature all the right elements that we viewers are looking for in Penny Dreadful: equal amounts of mystery, action, drama, levity and scare. For you, what’s the best part about directing Penny Dreadful? What sets Penny Dreadful apart from your other projects? And if Season 4 gets greenlight, would you be open to direct more episodes? After your recent success with your Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick starrer Mr. Right, what’s in store for you apart from Penny Dreadful?
Lots of questions…Ok, first of all, of course I would love to come back. I can’t think of any show that I love more than this one. And about the best part, I would say is sharing the experience with the crew and the cast. I mean, the production designer, Jonathan, the costume, The DP, John Conroy, they’re such amazing talents it makes everyday at work a joy and that goes for the actors too. So I really, really wish I can be back for Season 4. In the meantime, I’m shooting the season finale of this new show called “Dirk Gently” written by Max Landis, writer of Mr. Right and I will be lucky enough to work with Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett, who I met in Penny Dreadful cause as you well know, he plays Renfield, so as you can see everything comes back to Penny.
You have a strong presence on social media (Twitter) and you interact well with fans. What can you say about the show’s fans (Dreadfuls) and do you have a message to them and to your loyal fans who have followed your career?
Well, I’ve never seen such amazing fans. Honestly, I remember going to the editing facilities where the editors of the show have all the fan drawings on the walls. They have a huge wall covered with all the drawings: the funny ones, the super professional ones and when I saw that, I realized how much love there is for this show. How much Dreadfuls care and enjoy every bit of the show. Then I went back to the editing room and felt like Spiderman, “With a great power comes great responsibility” but all I can say to the fans is that as a fan, as a proud Dreadful, I have shot every bit of my episodes, especially the season finale, with tons of passion and love.
Thank you for your time, Paco! We wish you the very best!