Fangs a Lot: Penny Dreadful Werewolf Josh Hartnett Talks Sex, Romance, and Full Moons

Penny Dreadful Josh Hartnett
Penny Dreadful Josh Hartnett

The Victorian-era horror saga Penny Dreadful ended with a megashock last season when it was revealed that Wild West sharpshooter Ethan Chandler—played by Josh Hartnett—can sprout fur and killer fangs. Yep, he’s an American werewolf in London! Season 2 of the Showtime series kicks off Sunday, May 3 (10/9c) and Hartnett gave us a preview of the howling good time to come.

How was it keeping Ethan’s werewolf identity under wraps?
Terrible! I am so grateful I don’t have to hide anymore. My friends would watch Penny Dreadful and go, “So what’s Ethan’s big secret? Everyone on the show has one.” The more I tried to skirt the subject, the more people tried to guess and, some of them were right. We even had to keep it a secret at the set. On the actor call sheet, the werewolf’s name was Brian.

How will Ethan deal with his wolfiness in Season 2?
Very carefully. All the people in his little group–Sir Malcolm [Timothy Dalton], Vanessa Ives [Eva Green], Dr. Frankenstein [Harry Treadaway]–are haunted by demons, but Ethan is a demon. And when he turns into that vicious beast, he doesn’t care who he kills, so he’s a danger to everyone. [Laughs] He really has to keep track of those full moons!

We know he was the victim of an abusive father back in the U.S. Will more of that story come to light?
It’s a slow burn. There was definitely emotional abuse and a lot of damage there. Hang with Ethan for a few minutes and you can see that. It’s unusual for a man of his time to be so open and vulnerable, to be haunted in such an huge way, but it has made him a man who is much more sensitive than most. I love that duality about him—his freaky werewolf side and the incredible empathy he feels for others.

Do we find out how he became a werewolf?
We find out if Ethan was born this way or was bitten, but you’ll learn much more about his future than his past. He’s got even greater secrets than being a werewolf.

Like when he suddenly went bi last season and got it on with Dorian Gray [Reeve Carney]? Was that just one night of lust, or will there be more?
Dorian and Ethan definitely had something going there, and it does need to be dealt with at some point, but Dorian is supernatural in his attractiveness and can have anyone he likes. Why would he continue to woo Ethan? I do know one thing for sure: The crowd at Comic-Con loved it!

Did you?
Oh, I liked playing it a lot. I like that the sexuality on our show is so fluid. People were not expecting a supposedly straight guy to get together with another guy and it threw some folks for a loop. There were a lot of questions asked [by viewers] about Ethan’s sexuality that I don’t think necessarily pertained. People feel the need to call it something. Sex is a very complex thing and the way people are so quick to label things they don’t understand can be very detrimental to the people who are labeled.

What about Ethan and Vanessa? The show’s creator, John Logan, has said that their “intimacy grows as they are forced to confront their demons together.” What does that mean exactly, lots of hot sex?
Is that what “intimacy” means to you?

Well, on this show, it sure as hell doesn’t mean tea parties.
It means that Ethan and Vanessa are going to be spending lots more time together and that their fates are much more intertwined than in Season 1.

They do become closer.

How close?
[Laughs] There’s definitely some romance!