The fictional characters who populate the new HBO series The Nevers aren’t the only ones with remarkable powers. Some of the series’ most memorable performances come from actors playing members of “the Touched,” a group of Victorian misfits who’ve been endowed with supernatural gifts, but there’s something to be said for those actors doing the performing as well. Case in point: Ann Skelly, the Vikings veteran who plays Penance Adair, an inventor who can see electricity—and puts it to very good use.
Skelly’s Penance walks a line between honoring her traditional values and embracing the change she sees coming in the world; it’s a conflict that makes her one of the series’ most compelling characters—well, that and the inventions that she, for better and sometimes worse, has a hand in creating. She’s a crusader whose moral compass helps give the series its heart.
Here, Skelly shares what the series has in store for Penance and why her character's fictional inventions can make for some very real scares on screen and off.
This series creates a huge world that unfolds over the first episodes. What was your initial reaction to reading the scripts?
I knew it would come together, but that's not to say I didn't make a mind map and fill a notepad to understand the ways of the events unfolding. One thing that the show does really well is ask questions; it’s meant to intrigue you. Along the way it does give satisfying answers and you can piece it together as you go. I'm still piecing things together as well.
Since you’ve mapped it out, what does her journey over the course of this first season look like?
We've only got the first six episodes of season one shot, and we're going to be filming the rest later this year. But what I can say is that Penance and [Laura Donnelly’s character,] Amalia's friendship goes through things they haven't experienced before. For the past few years, things have been quite good for them but now there are all of these different forces coming together, and it feels like their mission is about to really go into another gear. My character's journey is about how Penance holds her own.
She’s a gifted inventor who’s part of a new age, but also has a traditional streak. In an early episode, she’s built a car that comes flying out of another car!
The car was just hilarious. I don't have a driver's license, and there were tests when the stunt drivers were having me drive around the parking lot of our studio in a golf buggy. One thing about the car in episode one is that you see when it comes out the back of the carriage and it becomes a car itself. We were actually on rollercoaster tracks so that when we started, they would zoom us forward and then just drop us down onto other tracks and zoom off again. I felt a bit nauseous, but that, probably was one of our maddest endeavors.
The series also makes the 1890s feel surprisingly modern.
It’s a world from the past in which we can recognize elements that are familiar. One thing I find really interesting about the Victorian times is how we're still recovering from that mentality and the institutions that they laid down and how much we can recognize our own world in the Victorian scope of things. It’s also very interesting to see women at the front of a show like this—and I’m not trying to share spoilers it’s quick and fast-paced and about a world on the verge of embracing new technology. We’re all so deep into our own technology now, I wonder if that’s an intriguing element.
The people on the series known as The Touched all have supernatural gifts. If you were to have one, what would it be?
I think acting might be the one gift that I have, besides the gift of a terrible memory. But that’s useful sometimes; maybe I'll forget this past year.
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