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The Much Anticipated 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Discussed by the Creators and Stars
April 26, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

The new Penny Dreadful season – Penny Dreadful: City of Angels – sprawls across huge emotional turf.

It ranges from scheming Nazis to a sweet-spirited evangelist. It has crooked politicians, angry cops, displaced families, and a deadly Latina demon.

Yes, a demon. “As a Mexican, I have lots of stories in my family about supernatural things…. We love these stories,” Adriana Barraza told the Television Critics Association in January.

Barraza plays a bruja, or witch, but a nice one, trying to save her family. Much nastier is Magda, a shape-shifter. It’s an “actor’s dream, to play countless iterations” of the same character, Natalie Dormer said.

The season, starting Sunday (10:10 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. ET subsequent Sundays, on Showtime), is set in 1938 Los Angeles but not the Hollywood version.

For three seasons, Penny Dreadful told dark stories set in 19th-century England. Writer-producer John Logan said the Showtime programmers encouraged him to do some more.

“So I showed up at their office one day and said, ‘It’s not Victorian, it’s not Gothic; it’s the opposite. It’s bright, sunny L.A.”

Even in that setting, he found lots of darkness. For one thing, there were Nazi sympathizers. “New York was closed to them,” Logan said, “because Mayor La Guardia was half-Jewish…. Los Angeles was like the Wild West. The aircraft factories were centered here, the armament factories, the film studios, so it became really ripe for sabotage.”

At the same time, Los Angeles was planning its first freeway – slicing through a Mexican-American neighborhood. “What began as a civil-engineering project turned into a sort of de facto social-engineering,” Logan said.

The freeways have gone on to decimate neighborhoods, he said. “If you live on Cesar Chavez Avenue and you want to walk to Los Angeles County General Hospital, less than a half-mile away, you have to cross 41 lanes of freeway.”

In his story, the Chicanos protest, the policemen gather, the braja prays for peace, and Magda whispers for war. In the midst of this is the braja’s son, the story’s central character.

“He’s kind of stuck between two worlds,” said Daniel Zovatto (top), who plays Tiago Vega. “He’s the first Chicano detective in the (police) force…. The freeway is being built right in his neighborhood, and it’s completely changing the dynamic between him and his family.”

Helping him is his police partner, a veteran cop, Lewis Michener, who has never fired a gun. He’s Jewish, in an era when bigotry was open.

“He’s got a lot of issues,” said Nathan Lane (top), who plays Michener. “He’s taken this young detective under his wing because no one else would partner with him…. He understands what being an outsider is.”

Audiences are used to seeing Lane do broad comedy on TV (Pepper in Modern Family), in movies (Producers, Birdcage), and on Broadway. But he’s also done dramas and now gets a deep one.

His on-set approach: “I barely make a joke,” he said, “and spend most of my time in prayer.”

Or not. “We have a lot of laughs doing this,” Lane said. “It’s been a tremendously happy experience…I can’t believe I have a stunt double. At 63, that’s very exciting.”

For Logan, a fun challenge was re-creating the era. “I love the late ‘30s,” he said. “I love the costumes, I love the hats, I love the guns, I love the cars. There’s a certain patina and panache to design.”

Some things came easily; the Los Angeles City Hall, built in 1928, offers an elegant setting. 
And some are more complicated, Logan said. “We bought hundreds of cars, and we rent other cars.”

Joked Lane: “They all came from Jay Leno, I believe.”

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