Hatred threatens to tear a city apart in Showtime’s supernaturally-tinged ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’

Natalie Dormer crosses over to the dark side in new Showtime series

Natalie Dormer stars in “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” premiering Sunday on Showtime.

It’s 1938 and Los Angeles is rife with political and social tension. And in the middle of it is Tiago Vega.

As played by Daniel Zovatto (“Vandal”) in the Showtime supernatural thriller “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” the spiritual descendant of the original “Penny Dreadful” that premieres Sunday, April 26, he’s the LAPD’s first Mexican-American detective whose first case is to investigate a grisly murder case with partner Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane, “The Producers”) that appears to be linked to a brewing race war between the city’s Latino population and rich whites.

Those tensions are further exacerbated by a proposed freeway through a Latino neighborhood that’s being spearheaded by city councilman Charles Townsend (Michael Gladis, “Mad Men”). Tiago is resigned to his old stomping grounds being plowed under in the name of progress but his brother Raul (Adam Rodriguez, “CSI: Miami”), a local union leader, is determined to stop it, thus putting the siblings at odds and setting the whole city on a collision course with a bloody race riot.

Which is just what two supernatural entities want. Magda (Natalie Dormer, “Game of Thrones”), a dark goddess, can take any form she wants, including that of Townsend’s uber-efficient assistant, and her intent is to fan the flames of discord. When the smoke clears, her sister Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), the angel of holy death, will be there to collect the souls.

Natalie Dormer stars in “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” premiering Sunday on Showtime.

Also in the toxic mix are Nazis, evangelists and elements of political, religious and racial hatred, all of which series creator John Logan (“Genius”) says make this story relevant today.

“Although it’s set in 1938, it’s about 2020,” he says. “Looking over the world landscape now, I’m struck by parallels to the late ’30s and what’s going on now, particularly the rise of extremist political hatred, of a sort of racist demagoguery that is taken for granted, by the pernicious influence in the danger of a foreign power in our electoral process, in our communication, and particularly by the marginalization and victimization of an ethnic community. And as the son of immigrants myself, this is a story that I wanted to tell.”

And one of the more insidious characters in “City of Angels” is Magda, the otherworldly being who takes various forms to incite hatred and violence on humanity. It was a formidable acting challenge that required Dormer to play multiple characters through Magda, one that she relished.

“This is the actor’s dream,” she says, “to play countless iterations and countless characterizations. You see in the first episode … two of Magda’s iterations. There are more. You’ll have to wait to see how many there are.

“By adding the supernatural element to it,” she continues, “you have this catalyst, you have this metaphor that can lift the story in that way that illustrates John’s themes even more emphatically. And every good protagonist needs an antagonist, and I just have a lot of fun interweaving with all the cast, being several antagonists, which I’m thrilled to be doing. And yeah, I mean, every character – a different wig, different voice, different physicality – this is catnip to an actor.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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