Over a decade after her breakthrough role as Anne Boleyn on The Tudors, Natalie Dormer is back on Showtime with the darkly charming Penny Dreadful spinoff, City of Angels, in which she plays Magda, a shape-shifting demon and craver of chaos. The lead role — which actually sees her playing multiple personas — is showcase for the English actress who has since garnered international acclaim thanks to supporting characters as Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones and Cressida in The Hunger Games films.
Set in 1938 Los Angeles, City of Angels explores the growing political and social tensions between the Latinx community and a growing insurgency of alt-right and Nazi sympathizers as murders of Mexican-Americans and a new highway threaten to tear the entire community apart. Created and written by Penny Dreadful’s John Logan, the series is infused with Mexican folklore and evangelism, with some characters connected to the deity Santa Muerte, played by Lorenza Izzo, and others aligned with the devil.
As the series’ antagonist, Magda is the one who seemingly holds sway over which way things will go. “All it takes for mankind to be the monster that he truly is to be told that he can,” she says in the first episode, planting the kernel for what’s to come the rest of the season.
“She’s the devil incarnate with limited power. She can only work with what’s within the human heart… yes, there’s an obvious anger slash sadness in her,” Dormer says, comparing Magda to a puppeteer, whose layers and intentions will continue to unfold and reveal themselves.
One of several ways audiences will get to see Magda exact her influence is by taking shape as various personas — a mysterious mother, Elsa; a city councilman’s assistant, Alex; a ringleader of pachucos named Rio — on both sides of the growing war. “You get an insight into Magda slowly but surely I think by listening to the three iterations that you see over the course of season one,” Dormer says.
And it was “getting four roles for the price of one” that the actress gleefully jumped at the chance to play. “Getting to change your physicality, voice and psychology to a certain extent is like catnip to an actress,” she says.