A glance at Harry Treadaway's recent projects might suggest a theme for the 30-year-old English actor, who stars in creepy indie Honeymoon as a man who begins to suspect there is something off about his wife.
But while Treadaway made his mark with American audiences earlier this year on Showtime's Penny Dreadful, playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the Gothic horror mash-up, he's not making any conscious choice to establish himself as a genre icon.
"I'm not a horror aficionado myself," said Treadaway in a recent interview on a quiet outdoor patio at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. "I appreciate all different genres, but I don't think I'm particular into any genre in a very intense way."
In Leigh Janiak's Honeymoon, now in theaters and on VOD, Treadaway plays well-intentioned new husband Paul, who embarks on a romantic honeymoon at a secluded cabin with his wife Bea (Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie). Shortly after their arrival, Bea begins acting strangely: Is her odd behavior a reflection of Paul's paranoia, or is there something more insidious at play?
Despite Honeymoon's — spoiler alert! — distinctly supernatural slant, Treadaway was drawn to the same elements that attract him to any project, namely a script that goes far deeper than surface-level horror.
"There's gotta be something bigger than just maybe the actual story that attracts you to it," Treadaway said. "Those ideas of loving someone deeply and going from a place of complete knowledge of them and trust and faith in them, and dealing with someone that you think might be losing their touch with reality, or losing your sense of reality — those are elements, which I think are always going to be fruitful areas of drama."
While Honeymoon thrusts its audience right into the story — the film begins as Paul and Bea arrive at their cabin destination — it also offers psychological insight into their relationship, with direct-address wedding videos that have the married couple telling the story of how they met.
It's just enough information to get the audience invested in the honest, human relationship before the rug is swiftly yanked out from under them.
"You go from such a happy place to such a horrific place," Treadaway said. "Even though we think we might not take those courses, I think any of us could slip into doing any of the things that Paul and Bea get into — even though they seem horrific — in that situation."
Honeymoon is grounded in the reality of these characters, which is essential when the film is mostly just the two of them. But focusing on the characters instead of on the horror is an important distinction for Treadaway, who had the same reaction to Penny Dreadful.
"I feel like both [Honeymoon and Penny Dreadful] are grounded in a reality and character-based and coming from a kind of genuine place," Treadaway said emphatically. "Not that there's anything wrong with total spoof or pastiche or comedy, but I think to go along with — for the fear and the horror and the psychological elements, I think they become more pronounced when it's laid in a foundation of reality."
Even for those familiar with Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein or any number of subsequent film adaptations, Treadaway's take on the Dr. Frankenstein character is inherently unique to Penny Dreadful. The series seems much less interested in the method of reanimating corpses as it is in the relationship Frankenstein has to his creations. And while Frankenstein's monster has always been a complicated, misunderstood figure, Penny Dreadful imbues the character, played by Rory Kinnear, with tremendous sympathy, even when he's perpetrating horrific acts.
This all falls in line with Showtime President David Nevins said about the series at TCA in early 2013. He explained that it would be "very realistic and very grounded, not Bela Lugosi. All exist in human form in turn-of-the-century London."
These are the qualities that Treadaway believes unite Penny Dreadful and Honeymoon, and what made him confident about taking on both projects.
"My favorite type of horror would be one that is character-based," he said. "The horror comes from the reality of the situation, as opposed to the horror is the thing."
Part of the thrill of Honeymoon for Treadaway, in fact, was the ambiguity of a narrative in which the majority of the strange occurrences in the film could be explained away by natural means. There are long stretches in the movie where the bigger question seems to be not what's causing Bea's strangeness, but if these characters are in fact losing their minds.
"I felt like that constant indecision throughout the middle part of the film where you don't know which way it's going was the strength of it all, really," Treadaway said. "I felt like that was something to play with, and it's actually quite real, that thing. If the person you've loved and known and felt so close to starts to lose their sense of self, then that in its very sense can shift your whole perspective on reality as well."
As in Penny Dreadful, there is more at play than simple human madness. But for Treadaway, the explanation is less interesting than how the story arrives at that point.
Of course, filming Honeymoon did push Treadaway and his co-star Leslie to certain extremes, with some visceral, disturbing scenes appearing toward the end of the movie. Luckily, Treadaway is not squeamish, but it helps that his concern is always playing the reality of any scene.
"You filter it through the person you're playing, the character and their background, and the touchstones of their history and their past," he said. "We're all products of our upbringings and perhaps also of what's inside us innately."
And naturally, it also helps to have a co-star and a director who have the same mentality to approaching horror: Keep it real and keep it truthful.
"We were lucky and blessed that me and Rose got on so well, and had such a good relationship with Leigh," Treadaway said. "We just trusted each other and were able to explore very intimate, incredibly private moments … We had to be honest about it."