Before “Penny Dreadful” came to life, I’d never done a TV series. It was an uncharted world to me. David Nevins turned out to be my guide.
I’d been thinking about the concept for “Penny Dreadful” for a long time. My agent, Joe Cohen at CAA, told me I should meet Nevins. David is a charming, smart, idiosyncratic fellow. I instantly liked him.
A year or so went by, and when Sam Mendes and I were ready to go out with the great beast that is “Penny Dreadful,” we went to David. He saw what we saw in the show, and championed it from the first meeting. He understood that my entire attraction to doing it was as a novelistic endeavor. I wanted to tell one story over time.
My learning curve was stratospheric. One of the great lessons David taught me was that while I had a good story, I didn’t quite have the center of gravity to bring these disparate elements into a TV show. He gave me the organizing principle when he said that at their core, all television shows are about a family. From that note on, I always have kept the idea of building “Penny Dreadful” as a family paramount in my mind.
When working on a show, David gives you sensible, solid, muscular thoughts. He doesn’t go into abstract theory of character or dramaturgical structures. He goes straight from the gut, and that’s what a writer needs. He’s great at pitching ideas that can be ridiculously wild or wise. He’s never hesitant.
He taught me another lesson about TV that has been really valuable. As we were about to start shooting the first episodes, he told me that “Penny Dreadful” was not going to be like making a movie, nor like doing a play. The uniqueness of TV is that you’re telling an ongoing story.
“Keep your imagination open as you watch it unfold,” he said. “Don’t be completely set now about something you’ve written in episode eight if something interesting happens in episode four.” He advised me to keep a close eye on the interplay of the actors, and to keep myself open to surprises that excite me.
David is not a micro-manager, but he has an interest in minutiae that I find heartwarming. When he came to Ireland to visit us, his microscopic obsession with our set was a source of great amusement. There were lots of people we wanted him to meet, but he was transfixed by the painting of the wood grain on our walls.
This only made me more convinced that David is someone I want to work with again and again.
Three-time Oscar nominee and Tony winner John Logan is “Penny Dreadful’s” creator and exec producer.