Penny Dreadful's Sarah Greene on Her New Drama, Ransom, and the Power of "Difficult Women"

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<i>Penny Dreadful</i>'s Sarah Greene on Her New Drama, <i>Ransom</i>, and the Power of "Difficult Women"

As Penny Dreadful’s Hecate Poole, Sarah Greene lured her audience into a world where evil reigned and malicious entities roamed freely. The daylight fooled many a man into believing there was nothing more to her exotic beauty, but come dusk, Hecate’s soft features morphed into the sharp angles of a nightcomer. It would take up to seven hours of standing in the nude while a team of make-up artists perfected this frightening get-up for Greene, which proved to be the most challenging aspect of the part. Fortunately, her role as Maxine on the new CBS series Ransom is less taxing, costume-wise.

Based on real-life situations, Ransom follows a team of top crisis and hostage negotiators as they solve intricate cases, usually kept from the public eye. Maxine, who’s been working toward becoming a top negotiator her entire life, joins Eric Beaumont’s (Luke Roberts) team and, while she’s determined to prove herself, dark secrets from her past begin to resurface.

As is true for Maxine, Sarah Greene is not one to shy away from the difficulties work throws her way. Balancing her time between the U.S., Ireland and the U.K., she’s currently preparing to film Lance Daly’s Black 47, an “Irish Western” set during the Great Famine, which has forced her to skip the scrumptious treats of the Christmas season in order to look the part. It can’t always be easy, but Greene embraces the good, the bad and the ugly of every job with relentless ambition and a sparklingly positive attitude.

Paste caught up with her to discuss Ransom, Penny Dreadful and the power of female empathy in a male-dominated world.

Paste: What attracted you to Ransom?

Sarah Greene: What attracted me most was the character Maxine. I think she’s very interesting and to work with someone like Frank Spotnitz is a bit of a dream. I was a big fan of The X-Files growing up, so when I read his name on the script I was like, “Yeah, I want to be part of this!” It’s a great story that follows the world’s top negotiator, Eric Beaumont, and his team as they go from case to case. It focuses on a different kidnap ransom every week and how to deal with and solve these problems. It’s fascinating because most shows focus on a lot of gun violence and these people don’t use violence; their job is to save lives. The show is inspired by real-life stories from negotiators Laurent Combalbert and Marwan Mery. We worked with them, which was pretty cool!

Paste: A lot of the scenarios presented on Ransom actually happened in real life. How did that affect you?

Greene: It can be pretty intense. I suppose I don’t really know how to answer that, I just concentrated on being honest and telling the story as best as I could. But it does open your eyes to it, because a lot of these kidnappings you never hear about, right? Because they don’t get the public involved, they don’t get the press involved, it’s all solved without anyone knowing what’s happened. These cases are usually solved within 24 to 48 hours, so that actually makes for great TV: it’s adrenaline, it’s fast paced. But yeah, it’s a dark, dark world we live in, that’s what I took away from it [laughs].

Paste: You’ve gone from playing The Cripple of Inishmaan’s Slippy Helen to Penny Dreadful’s Hecate and now Ransom’s Maxine—what draws you to these complex characters?

Greene: Women are strong and they should be portrayed as strong. They’re what make the world go around, they’re the backbone of every family. I think we should have more women in power. There would be less wars—’cause no woman would ever send her son off to war, you know? Women have great insight, and that’s actually something that the real negotiators, Laurent and Marwan, said: They really rely on the women on their team for their insight because they have the sensitivity that men mightn’t have in situations, a different kind of empathy and compassion that men mightn’t be able to access. Looking at the Golden Globes this year, I read an article the other day about “difficult women” winning awards—it’s really only been in the last ten years that women in cinema and TV are being shown as strong and not just supporting a man.

Paste: Right! It’s refreshing to see Ransom celebrate a woman’s emotional insight, as opposed to presenting it as an issue.

Greene: Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely a bonus to have us on the team. Emotions can be dangerous, especially in a negotiation, but I think you need to be emotional. You can’t be cold, because you need to have compassion for these people to figure out what made them do such a thing, what is happening in their lives, what has happened to lead them down this path and ultimately to a ransom situation. I think people only do that when their back is really against a wall and they see no other way. It’s a cry for help, you know? So yes, I think emotions are dangerous, but they are essential.

Paste: Complicated relationships seem to be another forte of yours. Penny Dreadful’s Evelyn and Hecate had a very loveless, competitive relationship. What attracted you to their story?

Greene: I think all daughter and mother relationships are interesting, right? At some point in life, every daughter hates her mother, and is mean to her growing up. I have witnessed mothers getting jealous of their daughters, which is exactly what happened in Evelyn and Hecate’s case. She had no love for her mother. She was sold to the devil so her mother could have eternal youth. Those relationships are horrible and sad and really interesting to play {laughs}. Working with Helen McCrory was a joy, I just adore that woman. She’s electric!

Paste: How did you disconnect after so many months of filming in such a dark, bloody environment?

Greene: I don’t really think about it that much. These characters do have a way to get into your psyche, but I don’t take them home, I don’t let them take over for want of a personal life outside of the job. It did the first year; I would start feeling a bit down playing Hecate. In my first big scene I had to kill a baby, so things like that’ll kind of affect you, but you just have to shake it off. I live in the moment, I’m very good at being in the present, and you have to be in this job. You can’t go thinking about the future because you never know what’s in store for you. So yeah, I’m just sort of enjoying my life.

Ransom premieres Sunday, January 1 on CBS.

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.