ByFred Topel, writer at
Fred Topel

With Penny Dreadful, maybe horror newbs will finally learn that Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, not the monster. Harry Treadaway plays Victor Frankenstein on Showtime’s horror series. Season one already had him create the creature and its bride, so we can only imagine what he’ll do in season two. Until then, there is another horror movie in which you can watch Treadaway.

[Honeymoon](movie:1266045) stars Treadaway and Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie as newlyweds spending their honeymoon alone in a cabin. When Bea (Leslie) starts acting strange, disoriented, manipulative, Paul (Treadaway)’s first instinct is not that he’s in a horror movie. The film premiered at SXSW and will be in theaters and on VOD Sept. 12.

I spoke with Treadaway by phone about his burgeoning career in horror (he previously starred in Cockneys Vs. Zombies), but mainly focused on the performance in Honeymoon and the first season of [Penny Dreadful](series:817319).

Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon
Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon

At the time you made Honeymoon, did you have any idea that horror was going to be quite so big for you, that Penny Dreadful was coming? You had already done Cockneys Vs. Zombies, right?

It’s funny, for me I don’t really see it in genre terms. I just see it story to story. So for me, when I accepted Honeymoon, it was the story that I was into. For me it very much felt like the horror came out of the reality of it if you know what I mean, which I think is scarier personally. If you can set up a relationship or a story which seems to have foundations in reality, if you’re invested in those characters’ lives and believe in them, then if horrific things start happening then I think hopefully you care more and the horror is more pronounced by the process of creating reality first, if that makes sense. So for me, when I read Honeymoon, I found it a very original script. I felt like it was a very idiosyncratic relationship that was drawn. It felt like they were real people with their quirks and histories of a real couple. Then I was really surprised and scared and intrigued as the script went on. You don’t know whether he’s losing his mind or she’s losing her mind or whether there’s something bigger going on. So the horror kind of stems from that really.

That does make sense. So did you take the same approach to Penny Dreadful?

In terms of Penny Dreadful, obviously that is more keenly rooted in gothic literature and the horror world of the turn of the century Victoriana and all of that. So for that one, yes, I knew what I was getting into more. But yet again, I think for me, it always starts from the story and the person, the way that someone’s been brought up and who they are and all those things. It’s really just moment to moment. I never really consider the bigger genre.

But when you’re making a movie out in a cabin in the woods and bad stuff starts happening, does the legacy of that start to hit you?

I think it is a classic set up, isn’t it, for a horror story. But, I think the fact that it’s sort of a two-hander and this very intimate romantic reality which is present for the first third of the film. That felt a bit different to me than the normal cabin in the woods thing. I think it’s quite an interesting metaphor the way that the cabin can turn from something so trusting and lovely and quaint and safe to something that’s hell on earth and horrifying, terrifying. It’s true to say that is similar with their relationship. They’re going from a safe, trusting, happy place with each other to the same person, the same space, the same cabin turning into a nightmare. That I think was what I found really interesting in the script, this universal search we all have to find someone to give ourselves to, to trust and to love with everything we have and to trust that they are who we think they are. What happens when we decide to spend the rest of our lives with someone and they maybe turn out not to be quite the person that we thought they were. I think that’s a very real, universal fear that people can have. Granted, not maybe on the same scale as this but on the micro level, on some level people change in relationships and it scares us. I think this is a very extreme, graphic version of that but hopefully it has roots in something which we can all identify with.

Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon
Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon

We won’t give away the big effect in the end, but how did you and Rose work with what happens towards the end?

A really talented, amazing makeup guy called Chris Nelson who has worked on Kill Bill and American Horror Story. He came down to do the prosthetic work on the film. He was able to make something very low budget, so it’s quite organic and real. No CGI, so he’s making practical things. To be honest, those scenes will be scenes that people ask you questions about, but for me it’s just another scene. I don’t mean that to play down that that is a huge moment, but it’s as intriguing, as exciting and as challenging to do a scene where you’re happy walking down the street chatting together. That can be just as hard as something extreme and gruesome as what you’re talking about. Luckily by that point we’d all been there for a long time. Me and Rose had an amazing level of trust and respect and care for each other so yes, it’s pretty sick, it’s pretty graphic. It made her stomach turn doing it a bit but as soon as we’d done it, we were outside having a cup of tea making each other life. It was important that we had a shared sense of humor on this one, because otherwise I think it would’ve been pretty unbearable.

How did you and Rose work together to create this relationship of this young newlywed couple?

The film is a very contained portion of their lives. Their honeymoon is a five day period. But of course they’ve got this whole shared history and relationship prior to the film so really, as much as working on the script itself, we worked on their history and their shared private life. Who they were as people individually but also how they met, who they were, where they were living, the first dates that they had, the first holiday they’d been on, the first argument they had and all the little tiny micro moments that exist within a relationship, we tried to flesh it out and make it as detailed and as real for us as possible, because that gave us a foundation with which to both enjoy the honeymoon and also see the change in one another. Just tried to fill up the world as detailed as possible, spent as much time together as we could before and once we got to North Carolina. We just knew it was important for people to connect with them as a couple and believe their love and believe their relationship. If you believe in that relationship then you would be invested in them as people. If you didn’t, then the stuff at the end wouldn’t mean as much.

Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon
Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie in Honeymoon

Was the lake actually really cold?

It was indeed. It was April in North Carolina so it was pretty chilly. We didn’t hang around in there very long, but it wasn’t as cold as it was supposed to be. There was some cold acting going on.

So what’s coming up for Victor Frankenstein?

Haha, wouldn’t you like to know? I can’t reveal anything of season two yet. My lips are stitched shut. I’m very excited about it. We start shooting in a couple of weeks’ time and I’m very excited to be back. The scripts are amazing. John Logan’s written another incredible collection of scripts. It’s very exciting to go back and start our story again.

To talk about the first season, were you surprised they did the Bride story so quickly? Because that’s a juicy story in the novel Frankenstein and of course the movie series.

I wasn’t surprised. I think John’s writing keeps me guessing always. It’s always surprising. He’s weaving together literary classics and so I never know what to expect. His scripts constantly keep me on my toes because I never know what’s going to be on the next page, so I have learned not to try to second guess him.

Did you audition for the part of Victor or could you have gone out for the part of Dorian Gray also? Or could you have even played the creature?

Yeah, I did audition for Victor Frankenstein. Yeah, it was certainly an incredibly layered, interesting and complex character which I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to get to play with because it’s just such an interesting psychology of a person.

The new show The Knick is about medicine in 1900. Playing a doctor 10 years earlier, is medicine even more different than it advances in a single decade?

Oh, of course, incredibly so. It was an explosion of scientific progress around that time. Electric current was being used for the first time. They were conducting experiments on humans where they were causing limbs to move after someone’s head’s been chopped up and thinking that perhaps electricity was the source of life. Science was going from the visible to the invisible whereby the first operations had no clue that there was anything such as bacteria, or anything that was invisible. They just didn’t have any idea of it. Over a 10 years period, obviously dabbling with microscopes and having a far greater understanding of what we now think of as science and biology which is inner cells, the smaller workings of stuff. It’s a hugely fascinating period of time and quite rightly so, as you said. Massive shifts within a very small period of time so it was a really exciting period.

He still had a Hippocratic Oath though so I imagine euthanizing a patient was a pretty big deal. How did you wrap your head around Victor’s decision to do that in the season finale?

Well, Frankenstein at times is existing in a realm which is pretty unique so anything that he does is I think through his filter of reality which is science over sanity perhaps. But it’s progress and the idea of finding out the cause of life and death. What happens at that infinite moment? So it’s all for a bigger picture and I don’t think he’s viewing it in the ways that maybe you and I would.

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