All it took to get Rory Kinnear on board for Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was a two-word email subject line. Kinnear, who played Frankenstein's Creature in the first Penny Dreadful, returns for City of Angels as an entirely different character — this time, he's the doctor. It's a role that really cuts down on his time in the makeup chair, which Penny Dreadful and City of Angels creator John Logan knew would be a selling point.
"I've worked with John obviously on the first iteration of Penny Dreadful and on Skyfall, and we've kept in touch through the years," Kinnear told TV Guide at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January. "So he emailed me last September, a year and a half ago, with just an email title that said, 'No makeup.'"
"I knew that something might be up, because I'd often mentioned the fact that he made me have a three-and-a-half-hour makeup every day in the first iteration of Penny Dreadful," Kinnear said.
Billed as a "spiritual descendent" of the original series, City of Angels tells an all-new story set in 1938 Los Angeles. Kinnear plays Dr. Peter Craft, a role Logan wrote specifically for him. "My character is the head of the German American Bund, which was a group of German expats who had sort of shared cultural and political ideas," explained Kinnear. "But it grew into being the America First movement and that idea of American isolationism in terms of its foreign policy."
The action in City of Angels kicks off with a grisly murder investigation that draws Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto), the first Chicano detective in the LAPD, and his partner, Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane), into the middle of the social and political upheaval of the era. But it's the supernatural twist that makes the show a Penny Dreadful story: Tensions in the community are inflamed by the powerful demon Magda (Natalie Dormer), a shapeshifter who takes on human form in order to cause trouble.
The chance to play "several characters for the price of one" was a big draw for Dormer. "There is kind of a character for whatever mood I'm in," she told TV Guide. The actress said she appreciated that Magda's various human guises allow her to cross between storylines. "I have the best deal on the show because I'm the one that gets to hang out with the most members of the cast."
The stars were united in praising the show for how timely its themes are. City of Angels uncovers shocking parallels between 1930s L.A. and the present, raising questions like, in Kinnear's words, "How do we accept or create divisions in society, and how do we bring in outsiders, or how do we make them feel like they're still outside the door?"
Lane — whose part, like Kinnear's, was written specifically for him — also pointed to "the sociopolitical elements, in this case the persecution of the Latino community and this rise of white nationalism or, in 1938, the Nazi infiltration of Los Angeles."
"It's all there for the taking," said Lane, "and yet [Logan has] created this fantastic yarn filled with twists and turns and really interesting characters and many different worlds interweaving and colliding. So if you weren't interested in politics or the world coming to an end, it's also just a really ripping yarn."
Dormer added that she's excited for the show to expose audiences to a new side of Los Angeles history. "We're all quite used to seeing Hollywood L.A., old-school Tinseltown. But our story is in the Latin communities and the German bund and the evangelical church and City Hall," she said. "This is a Los Angeles that the audience will not have seen before."
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels premieres Sunday, April 26 at 10/9c on Showtime. The first episode is available to watch online for free now.
Reporting by Megan Vick