11:15am PT by Jean Bentley
Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne on 'Carnival Row' Fairy Sex and Committing to TV
Game of Thrones might have had dragons and ice zombies, but Amazon's newest drama, Carnival Row, has fawns, trolls, centaurs and faeries — and that's just in the first few minutes. The drama takes place in a fictional Victorian world where mythical creatures have fled their homeland and are living as second-class citizens in the human-populated city of The Burgue.
Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as Rycroft Philostrate and Vignette Stonemoss, respectively, a human detective and a newly arrived faerie who share a past — and reunite as Philostrate investigates a murder in the red light district of Carnival Row. Aside from the obvious immigration allegory, the series also touches on racism, classism and other serious issues — at the same time, it contains plenty of graphic fairy sex.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with first-time series regulars Bloom and Delevingne to discuss the show's mix of absurdity and seriousness — as well as the logistics of the aforementioned fairy sex. Already renewed for season two, Carnival Row, from creator Travis Beacham and showrunner Marc Guggenheim, premieres Friday, Aug. 30 on Amazon Prime Video.
You two sound very excited when you talk about the show.
Delevingne: It's hard not to be. We've always wanted to make sure that this show is pushing the boundaries as much as we can. It's always been a real passion for both of us. That drives us. It's easy to work with someone who's as passionate about the characters and everything as much as you are.
Bloom: The first season was quite challenging. There's a big world to build. This is really Travis' brainchild, and ... it's really been wonderful to see him come into his own. It's an exciting world. You've got this original content, this original idea. Nobody's heard of it. It's layered with loads of history, loads of detail for actors, but then you can also play in his sandbox. And he's really cool with passing spade and bucket so you can build it together, which is really what makes it a fun, exciting world to be in.
How do you even describe the series to people? Do you have an elevator pitch?
Bloom: I always say it's like a fantasy period epic, with a detective investigating the murder of a showgirl on Carnival Row so there's a noir thriller aspect to it. There's an aspect of Downton Abbey rich/poor class stuff. And it's this sort of steampunk, fantasy, Guillermo del Toro style.
What's it like to balance the serious themes — immigration, racism, classism, sexism — with some of the absurdity of the show? Even just the character names are wild.
Bloom: Yeah! Rycroft Philostrate.
Delevingne: Trying to talk about it in five minutes is impossible. It's an eight-hour show. A lot happens, but it does happen over quite a long period of time. If you tried to make it any shorter and put all of that in we would have been completely screwed. But the world is so huge, so it allows for this much to happen. If you are really looking at it in that sense, there's probably a lot more interesting storylines that we don't even get to see because this world is massive. And in the drama that is going on in the show — everyone fleeing their war-torn background, fleeing their homes — you look at this modern world where we are now, "Look how much crazy shit is going on." It makes sense. I don't honestly feel like there's any drama or lines or story things added in just for that reason [to be topical]. You've got the love, you've got the crime, you've got the parallels to what's going on in this world right now. It just has everything you would need.
You've both done fantasy and genre projects — Lord of the Rings, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — and you seem to geek out a little bit when you're talking about this one. Are you a fan of the genre, or are you just really into your work?
Bloom: Do other people not get enthusiastic about what they're doing?!
Delevingne: I'm not a "fantasy person." I like fantasy, but I don't love it more than anything else. I love all genres of movies. I like fantasy, but fantasies have more room for strong female roles. They just do. Because in this real world, real life stuff, they just don't write them like they do sometimes in fantasy, which is why I think I'm more drawn to it.
Bloom: There's larger-than-life characters across the board as well.
Delevingne: Larger-than-life characters in general. I think a lot of fantasy I've done is a lot of action, whereas this is a lot more drama and real, like, conversational and chaos, which I love. I think that's why it's so different for me.
And genre provides a window into discussing social issues.
Bloom: That's the great opportunity within the show, because you can look objectively. It's like stepping back and taking an overview. And because it's a fantasy, because it's a great story, because it's entertainment, you can guilt-free look at it all and get some kind of [message]. It's like art mirroring life.
Delevingne: If we're not doing that with fantasy, I just don't understand what the hell the point is. Especially since how much it costs and how much work has to go into it, unless you're really having a strong message —
Bloom: How about the mayor [of San Diego] not going through our activation [at Comic-Con] because he picks a creature card, and then realizes that he's being thrown up against the wall and screamed at, and he goes, 'Oh [no].' Now listen, I was told that. That was the story that was recounted to me: He took the creature card, realized what was going on, huddled in the corner and then left. Now, I'd still invite him to come and see, and invite any politician to come and see.
Delevingne: I'd dare them, almost.
Bloom: We want those people to see it. We want audiences to appreciate it.
Delevingne: Those are the people that I want to see it.
Bloom: People who like to be fed and fueled with and stimulated with some of the larger issues at play in the world today to appreciate what we're attempting to say — which is just a look at the whole subject; a look at the whole issue, the whole enchilada.
Delevingne: Obviously it's fantasy, but [it's showing] this is how people and humans and creatures or whatever were being treated a long time ago. Why the fuck are we doing it now?
Bloom: In some ways, as human beings we've really come a long way. And suddenly you go, 'Oh my god, it doesn't take that long. It's a couple of little moves and you're right back where you started.' That's the topic of conversation, and we mine it.
Why TV? Obviously when you sign on for a TV show there's the potential for you to be doing it for a decade.
Bloom: Not for me, I don't know about you. [Laughs] No — by the way, we would be lucky to be doing it for 10 years. If it was that great? Yeah, it's like, 'Hello, yes please.' I personally felt TV is the medium that is having its golden age, as it were. The writing in TV is just really exciting, and for me it was an opportunity to explore a long form of a character in a way that you don't get to do in movies for a long period of time. I just thought it was a cool character. And also it's in people's homes. The idea that TV has been a little brother to movies, that's just not the case anymore. As actors you want to have the chance to really go deep on stuff. And how many great movies are you seeing today? What was the last great movie you saw?
Delevingne: In terms of people in power and movies, I think when they started studios, people got too heavily involved in the creative process. On movies ... you see directors really falling because they're like, 'Why have I done this when producers are just going to come and go, "Let's change the whole thing" anyway?' They're not the ones who meant to be creating the shows. Whereas TV has been given back to the creators, to the writers, to the actors in a certain way. That's why it's so good. Movies aren't, because people with money take too much control over the things they're not meant to. You're not the creative ones.
Do you have time to watch TV?
Delevingne: I love TV more than anything.
What are you watching?
Delevingne: Killing Eve.
Delevingne: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, she's the best. I love Queer Eye, and Stranger Things is so good.
Delevingne: Good Omens is great.
Bloom: There's loads of stuff. I saw the end of Game of Thrones, that was—
Delevingne: I have not.
Bloom: Never watched it?
Delevingne: I don't like fantasy. I'm joking! One time I thought I could start watching it was during Carnival Row, and I was like "fuck that." Because if I'm doing this show and then [Game of Thrones] at night, I'm going to be lost in the world of complete craziness. So I watched RuPaul's Drag Race instead. All 16 seasons. I needed something opposite to what I was doing. It was great.
The third episode of Carnival Row flashes back to when your characters first met. What was it like exploring their back story?
Bloom: You meet the world through Phylo and Vignette's journey. Phylo is a detective; he's investigating the murder of this showgirl and it turns into a much bigger story as the show goes along. And in episode three you get to understand why he's this broken, dark, heavy-feeling character who's got the weight of the world on his shoulders and he has a complex relationship to love and connection and intimacy. And it was something that I thought, 'Wow, there's a lot to mine here.' If we get to do it more than once there'll be more than eight hours — because eight hours felt like a lot when I was signing up — and so we see as he navigates his way through the world of Carnival Row, we've got three fairly strong storylines [that] interweave. We meet Vignette first fleeing her home [that's] completely destroyed. And as we find out, there's this connection. I thought it was really clever the way they did that. It's almost like Doctor Zhivago, like that love story.
Delevingne: You realize the connection but you can't — People always have a feeling you know what it is, but you really don't. It gives you a taste. You're like, 'Well, that's obvious. We knew that.' But then it's not obvious.
Bloom: It's an unspoken thing that fae and humans don't get together. They just don't. And if they do, it's a tryst. When you start to investigate the love between these two people—
Delevingne: You ask many questions, you start to really wonder.
Bloom: There's a lot of places you can go with it — the way other people feel about interracial relationships and why — it's just endless. It's like an onion, you start to peel it and it just keeps going.
Delevingne: And how the people are against it, but why are they against it? If you actually try and find the reason it's just, "people just don't do that." But it's like, OK, well, we do now. So what's the problem? That's the whole thing about the world right now. It's like, you don't like that because people haven't done this before? They have, but you just don't know about it.
Bloom: And actually, we weren't around in Roman times when everything was out there.
In addition to the inter-species relationships, the show also establishes that Vignette is bisexual or pansexual, as Cara has said. What's it like to explore that aspect of the character?
Delevingne: It's not my character, it's all fairies generally. It's more that they just don't see gender. When I say pansexual it's because that has a relative to the [current] world. It's more like trysexual. It doesn't matter. They just love for love. That's it.
Was the fairy sexuality aspect already baked into the character when you got the role?
Bloom: The sexual nature of the show was baked in. It's not hiding, it's not pulling any punches. There's a brothel called the Tetterly Hotel, and it's on the Row, and it's where Burgish men will go and have these remarkable sexual experiences with some of the most beautiful creatures in the world and, you know, be levitated off the ground. Right there, that's something that was a selling point for a lot of people in the show, to sell the show, but it's so much more than that, obviously. You can easily just belittle it with that, but I think Cara is such a such an authentic human. I wasn't overly familiar with all your work; I saw a lot of it afterward.
Delevingne: Oh god.
Bloom: But seeing how she conducts herself in the world, it's something that I think it started to become real in the character too. I mean, it was there. When I read the first draft and knew that she'd auditioned, I couldn't see anyone else in it because it really was like everything I saw and knew about her as a person, I was like, "Oh, this is perfect."
About the fairy sex, though: So many logistical questions. Can the fairy ever not be on top? Won't her wings get in the way?
Bloom: The fairy levitating sexual thing is probably a bit like a gimmick, maybe. It's something that if you're paying for it you probably get it.
Delevingne: I mean, I'm sure if two fairies were having sex they might, like, shoot up and have sex in the [air], but you don't know.
Bloom: We haven't seen that yet. We might! The mind boggles.
Delevingne: That's the thing — that's what we sit there and do. We're like,"'what about, what if" — it's just so fun to play with that.
Bloom: Your imagination can go anywhere, really, and the great news is Travis is up for most of it. He's like, "Yeah, what a good idea. I hadn't thought of that." He's a great collaborator, and Marc too.
Delevingne: But no, fairies don't always have to be on top. If you have wings and they go in a corset, you can very much lie on them. Otherwise how could fairies sleep on their backs? Don't stress about it. We don't always have to be on top.
Carnival Row premieres Friday, Aug. 30 on Amazon Prime Video.