We sit down with Laura Donnelly and Ann Skelly, stars of HBO’s The Nevers, to talk about why the new fantasy series is fresh and worth watching.
Television has been graced with all sorts of wild, intriguing concepts over the last few years, but few match what HBO is brining with The Nevers. The show puts you in the middle of Victorian London alongside two butt-kicking heroines with superhuman abilities. In fact, much of the main cast (comprised mostly of women and people of color) have their own mysterious superpowers. Put it all together and you’ve got one of the most interesting television series around right now.
The Nevers premieres this Sunday, April 11 on HBO. Ahead of the premiere, WinterIsComing caught up with the two leads, Laura Donnelly and Ann Skelly, for a virtual round-table interview. Donnelly plays Amalia True, a skilled fighter who also gets flashes of the future. She’s a protective matron over the lost “Touched,” which is the name given to people who have developed superpowers, or “turns.” Skelly plays Penance Adair, Amalia’s right-hand woman, a skilled inventor, and someone who’s good for breaking the tension when things get rough.
Read on to learn what it was like for Donnelly to Skelly to work on the series, what they’re excited for fans to see when the show premieres, and much more.
Winter is Coming (Mia Johnson): I really, really loved the first four episodes, and you all pulled off your roles so well. But when I watch a series, I’m always curious to know what was the hardest part for actors. So for you two, what would you say was the most challenging part about stepping into your role?
Ann Skelly: I break every single prop I touch, which as you can imagine, does not come in useful! And sometimes when Penance’s contraptions break, they don’t break in the way that Ann needs them to! [Laughs.] So that’s been quite challenging for me, is being able to control these uncontrollable props in a way that makes it look on purpose.
But yeah, I would say that. And Penance’s joy is — I can’t believe how little I’ve investigated what it means to be happy or to what it means to be light for roles. I’ve always been like, “dark, dark headspace/mindset. Let’s get in here.” You know? It’s incredible, I think, how lightness and humor is quite hard to do.
Laura Donnelly: I think for me, playing Amalia, that the challenge was to gather up all of the information and do all of the research that I needed to do — being aware of her backstory, being aware of who she is at her core, gathering all of that up but then deciding just how to only reveal so much, and what to keep in, and what is subconscious to her. And so holding on to those various layers of knowledge and awareness is quite tricky. And just, it usually requires me going back over scripts several times to kind of remind myself exactly where I am in any given moment.
WiC: I want to also talk about characters because there are so many really good characters in this show. I love both of you all as characters. But I’m kind of partial to Primrose as well. She’s just this adorable Alice in Wonderland-like character, but if she were just permanently a giant! So I wanted to know, who is your favorite character and why?
Skelly: You stole mine! I love Primrose. I’m also not gonna say Amalia because… obviously! And I absolutely adore Anna Devlin who plays Primrose. She just does that so spectacularly well. I don’t know how she can play so much younger than she actually is as well. It just fooled all of us.
But I love [Pip Torrens’] character [Lord Massen]. I love him. And like, you shouldn’t like him. But I cry. I think I’ve watched the first episode maybe five times now. And I cry when he cries in this every single time. I just sob. And I think Pip, as well, is so different. He’s so warm and friendly and just a gorgeous person, and he’s not cold at all. He’s the most warmest, loveliest snuggle bunny in the land! And so yeah, I love him.
Donnelly: I love Ella Smith’s character, Desirée, that we meet in the second episode. For starters, she’s got a brilliant turn. But I just love her total sense– of it’s an immovable sense of self. And Ella has that as well. I think she brings that really beautifully to that character. And on top of anything else, what Ella does extraordinarily is that Desirée speaks so fast — and clearly just has so much going on at all times — and the work that Ella has to put in in order to be able to deliver that in any way [that’s convincing] and that she’s not stumbling over, it must be immense. I mean, I think that Ella must have spent her entire time just learning lines… all the time!
WiC: And finally, I don’t think anyone needs convincing to watch the show. But in your own words, if you could pitch this show, what are you excited for audiences to see?
Skelly: I think, a total refresh of the genre. I know there are Victorian period shows with sci-fi elements or period shows with sci-fi elements. But this show, I think, makes such incredible use of the sci-fi, and it makes it such incredible use of the abilities. And they’re so personalized, and there’s such different stories being told there. And you can make with them what you will, what the meaning is.
But like, for my character, I love that she’s one of the few who actually adores her power and can make use of it. But then there’s other characters who either have turns that completely are so useless to them, [or] there’s other characters who are just held back so much by their power, or that makes them stick out, or is dangerous.
And so, I think it’s a really brilliant amount of humor and adventure. And it’s philosophical… There’s a particular scene in episode 2 between Maladie (played by Amy Manson) and Laura’s character. And I just sobbed at the same line every single time. Because it’s just, the dialogue reaches in a funny little area inside of you. Maybe that’s poor wording. But you know what I mean. It’ll reach into a funny cavern that you didn’t know you’ve held. And so I think the show does a lot of things.
Donnelly: Yeah. And the only thing that I would add to that is — myself not withstanding, I’m talking about everybody else here — but I have never seen a show with an ensemble cast this strong before. The performances in this show are incredible. I think every single person, without exception, is just providing something so special and so truthful, and so amusing, and so nuanced. And you know, I watch shows for the performances. As an actor, that’s the thing that I’m most interested in. And they really are, down to every single one of them, incredible!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.