Penny Dreadful's Full-Frontal Surprise: Jonny Beauchamp on Angelique's Revelation
Is Dorian Gray ready to play the Crying Game? On the last night's episode of Showtime's Penny Dreadful, the supernaturally ageless heartthrob (Reeve Carney) met lady-for-hire Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp) at an outdoor café and took quite a fancy to her. He also took her business card. Dorian later showed up at Angelique's brothel for some Victorian-era lovin' but, when the lady opened up her dressing gown to display her wares, she was clearly all man. And Dorian seemed pretty okay with that! We spoke with Beauchamp—soon to be seen as gay icon Ray Castro in Roland Emmerich's feature film Stonewall—about his very meaty intro to the wild world of Penny Dreadful.
You sure know how to make a splash!
Do you know that my full-frontal moment was the first scene I shot on my first day of work? [Laughs] Talk about an ice breaker!
How did you land the gig?
My manager heard a whisper about the auditions and tried to get them to see me but, at the time, I was working in Montreal on Stonewall and couldn't leave the set. We'd heard that they were having trouble finding an Angelique. They were looking at boys everywhere—London, Iceland, Sweden and in the states. One day, right in the middle of filming this massive riot scene in Stonewall—we're talking fire, breaking glass, cops arresting everybody—I had a 15-minute break. I grabbed a production assistant and took him into my trailer and said, "Would you mind holding this camera?" And I had him shoot me playing Angelique in the scene where she first meets Dorian. I sent it in to the casting people and, within days, I was flying to the Penny Dreadful set in Dublin for a screen test. My head was spinning!
Were you confident you could be convincing as a woman and pull off the surprise?
I was scared s--tless! But [series creator] John Logan was incredible. He was on the set every day giving me insight into my character. You usually don't find that close of a connection between the writer and the actors. But with John it's a whole other shebang. During my screen test, we also did lighting, wig, and costume tests so they could see how female I could look, as well as movement tests to make sure I could keep my physicality small and feminine. They had the entire team working on me! They didn't want drag and camp. They were very stern about that.
How did they broach the nudity?
It was part of the contract I had to sign for the screen test. I didn't know exactly what would be shown or how. I wanted to be cool and professional but, inside, I was dying. Nudity was my one big fear as an actor, the one thing I never really thought I would be able to do. In the theater, it's a little different. But to go full frontal for my first big TV project was daunting. I'd be lying if I said I didn't lose sleep over it.
What got you through it?
John Logan was very comforting. He took me into his office and said, "You have to remember that this is not you. It's the character who is naked. This show is all about shock factor and pushing the boundaries, and this is a really awesome opportunity for you to do that." That made me feel a lot better and much safer. And thank God I had to drop trou in front of Reeve Carney. He was my rock. He held my hand through the hold process. Well, not literally, but we were like mates in the same crazy situation. [Laughs] We'd look at each other and be, like, "What the hell are we doing?"
Do you consider Angelique transgender?
Absolutely, but in a pre-transgender world before there was a name for it. Today, we're finally on the transgender frontier and everyone is starting to talk about it, but it wasn't spoken of a hundred years ago. If you were transgender back then you were considered crazy or a sexual deviant. So the fact that Angelique holds herself with such pride and poise is amazing. She speaks well, is very well read, and is not a common prostitute. I find her so thrilling! You don't know what she wants when she first approaches Dorian. Is she just looking for a client, or maybe someone who can be her boyfriend? She's bold, but not bold in the sense of ever making a scene or being disrespectful. She knows the rules, but she also knows how to bend them.
Do you think Dorian knew what he was in for when he showed up at the whorehouse?
People will probably have their own ideas about that but I think he does know—if not before then certainly when he walks in and sees the other patrons. Dorian is a highly cultured man who is centuries old. Nothing phases him. Vanessa Ives [Eva Green] really ignited something in him, a flame he never felt before, and then she rejected him, which has never happened to Dorian, so he was in this very weird place when my character comes along. At first glance, he may not have known what was going on underneath Angelique's corset but he could tell by the way she sat down at his table that she was not ordinary. Women didn't do that! Dorian is always ready for the new experience. Anything that overloads his senses is exciting to him, and so he went for it.
You're set for several episodes. What does the future hold for Angelique and Dorian?
Angelique doesn't necessarily have a future. There's no marriage or kids for a person like that, so she's living day to day, kind of like Dorian does. That's the reason they are able to connect so intimately. I think people will be very surprised with this relationship and where it goes and how Dorian handles things. He's seen and done it all, but Angelique brings out something very new in him, something he enjoys very much. Season 2 goes in! We'd get our scripts and the whole cast would be going, "Whoa…whaaat?!"
So you're feeling pretty fearless now?
Nothing will shake me up after this. Now I just feel so free and I will always owe that to Penny Dreadful. It has made me a better actor in so many ways. Hey, I'm a Puerto Rican boy from the Bronx. I never, ever imagined I'd find myself in Victorian England. [Laughs] I mean, seriously! What are the chances?
Penny Dreadful airs Sundays, 10/9c, Showtime.