Playwright and screenwriter John Logan is known for his versatility — moving easily among pics as disparate as “Hugo,” “Rango” and “Skyfall” as well as the upcoming bigscreen adaptation of tuner “Jersey Boys.” He’s working on drafts for the next two Bond pics, but took a detour into Victorian London to birth the period horror drama “Penny Dreadful” for Showtime, with “Skyfall” helmer Sam Mendes. Logan spoke to Variety’s Cynthia Littleton about his inspiration for the show, which bowed May 11, and about the opportunity to stretch his writing muscles.
With so many film projects in the pipeline, what made you decide to stop and write eight hours of television?
I’m 52. I’m at the point in my career and my life where I want new challenges. I’ve always been agile in the things I’ve chosen. I’ve never wanted to write the same thing twice. Getting the chance to work in a whole new form was thrilling.
What part of the project did you find the most challenging compared with writing a screenplay?
I love novels, especially 19th century novels. I don’t write prose or poetry. I write lines for actors and scenes for directors and designers. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write so
much ahead of time. First, I wanted to see if I could do it; and second, could I enjoy it, or after hour six would I be exhausted. Now I’m deep into (planning) the second season, and loving it.
What inspired the ‘Penny Dreadful’ premise of bringing classic horror characters into one story?
I’d been thinking about it for the last 10 years or so. The real impetus was reading a lot of romantic poetry: Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Shelley. I re-read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and was struck dumb at how powerful it was. I hadn’t read it since I was a kid.
What stood out in your re-reading?
The creature is a much more human character than Victor Frankenstein. That led me to imagine if there was a way to tell that story (onscreen) in a different (manner). (I) wanted to do something from the fictional heart (of “Frankenstein”) to form a new piece. I started with Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) and built the story around her.
This must have been a hard show to pitch. Did you shop it as a spec?
Because I’ve never done TV before at this level, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. I didn’t tell anyone about the first two episodes, I just wrote them. I talked to (producer) Chris King, and he just loved it. Then it went to Sam Mendes, and when he was in, we went to Showtime. We came up with a 40-page document about the world and the characters and the story. To my delight (Showtime president) David Nevins saw the potential.
How do you like to write? Longhand? On a computer?
I get up very early in the morning, 4 a.m. most days, when it’s very quiet and very dark. I work on a computer that is sitting on a stack of steno pads (with notes I’ve taken). It’s a little bit of the 19th century and a little bit of the 21st century.