Who Plays Magda on ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’? Natalie Dormer Portrays Showtime’s Latest Supernatural Antagonist

The Penny Dreadful spinoff, City of Angels, may not star Eva Green, but the show’s cast still packs a powerful punch. The new Showtime original series includes fan-favorites such as Nathan Lane and Alex Rodriguez. But Natalie Dormer — who plays Magda, Elsa, Rio, and Alex on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels — certainly came to impress with her portrayal of four different characters.

Natalie Dormer plays Magda, Elsa, Rio, and Alex on ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’

Natalie Dormer of "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels" speaks during the Showtime segment of the 2020 Winter TCA Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 13, 2020 in Pasadena, California.
Natalie Dormer of “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Chances are, you’ve seen Dormer before. The 38-year-old English actor previously played Cressida in The Hunger Games franchise. She also starred in Showtime’s The Tudors as Anne Boleyn and the CBS series Elementary as Jamie Moriarty. 

Nevertheless, it’s likely you recognize Dormer as Margaery Tyrell from HBO’s Game of Thrones. The actor portrayed Margaery for five seasons until the character’s sudden death by wildfire. And according to an interview with Variety from April 2020, Dormer is satisfied with the ending.

“I was ever so grateful that I was with Jonathan [Pryce who played the High Sparrow],” Dormer said. “To have such a partner for my last scene was really a gift.”

She later added: “I got the golden ticket, the perfect length of time. I watched Season 1 as a fan, came in the second season, did a good solid five years just as the show had this incredible explosion, and then I got out in time to watch the end and sit on the couch again.”

Who are Magda, Elsa, Rio, and Alex on ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’

Now Dormer gets to tackle four characters in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels — Magda, Elsa, Rio, and Alex. That said, they all stem from one source. Magda is a shape-shifting demon who takes three human forms in Alex, a political aid; Elsa, a German housewife; and Rio, a leader in the local pachuco gang. 

In the Penny Dreadful: City of Angels premiere released early on April 24, it’s clear Magna is the show’s antagonist. She wants to prove mankind is innately selfish and destructive. And through Alex, Elsa, and Rio, the character pushes LA closer to a race war in the late 1930s.

“I think the mythology behind it was, to me, as she says in the first episode, ‘All mankind needs to be the monster he truly is, is being told that he can,’” Dormer said in the above interview with Variety. “She basically believes that mankind is inherently bad — that they will choose the baser, more selfish, more egocentric route whenever given a fork in the road.”

Natalie Dormer on playing Magda, Elsa, Rio, and Alex on ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’

When speaking with Entertainment Weekly upon the early premiere of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on April 24, Dormer shared Magda’s motivations and the themes they explore are the reasons why she was taken with the role. 

“[Creator John Logan] sought to write a great historical drama with the supernatural element raising the tension. Therefore, he created Magda,” Dormer said. “I, as an actress, was attracted to his themes and exploration of what it is to be in the 21st century and maybe we’re about to reascend in a way that many societies did in the late ‘30s. Thematically, I was curious in what he was trying to say.”

She continued: “Magda is a metaphor for the darker side of men’s souls. Magda is not the devil incarnate. She’s taken a position on mankind: They will always choose the more selfish or baser option. For me, it’s certainly more interesting if you’re doing empirical experimentation to see how bad mankind can [be]. When they have forks in the road, which way do they choose?”

Dormer also touched on the parallels between City of Angels and our society today, particularly as the world goes through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“It’s interesting to see where communities and nations are cooperating,” Dormer said. “What does unite us in our common humanity where we can put humanity first beyond borders and ethnicities and economic lines? The show is gonna come at a good time now for all different reasons.”

Meanwhile, Dormer explained how her new City of Angels characters challenged her as an actress. 

“It was an opportunity for me on a technical level,” Dormer said. “How can I manage to play four roles at once? How can I manage their physicality in their voices and mentality? What can I do to test myself in what I’m capable of spinning at one given time?”

Dormer then shared how she prepared for each role, from the physicality changes to the lengthy hair-and-makeup transformations. But even so, it seems the end result was worth it. 

“It’s acting in its grassroots,” she said. “I remember it said in [the script for] John’s pilot episode, ‘We meet Alex and we meet Elsa. This is not prosthetics. This is not trickery. This is acting,’ with capital letters and underlined. When an actor reads that, that’s a dream to see that written down.”

Read more: ‘Penny Dreadful’: Everything We Know About the Spinoff ‘City of Angels’