Less than a month after Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) announced that principal photography was underway on HBO's upcoming epic sci-fi drama The Nevers, we're now learning who will be joining Outlander's Laura Donnelly – and it's quite a few. Olivia Williams (Miss Austen Regrets), James Norton (Grantchester), Tom Riley (Dark Heart), Ann Skelly (Death and Nightingales), Ben Chaplin (The Children Act), Pip Torrens (Preacher), Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds), Amy Manson (Torchwood), Nick Frost (Fighting With My Family), Rochelle Neil (Death in Paradise), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark), and Denis O'Hare (American Horror Story) have all been tapped for the series.
Whedon will co-write the project with Jane Espenson and Doug Petrie, direct, executive produce (along with Espenson, Petrie, and Bernie Caulfield), and serve as showrunner on the series, which focuses on a gang of Victorian women who find themselves with unusual abilities, relentless enemies, and a mission that might change the world. Oscar-nominated production designer Gemma Jackson (Finding Neverland, John Adams, Game of Thrones) has also joined the project.
● Williams' Lavinia Bidlow is a wealthy spinster and champion of the "Touched" who funds the Orphanage (where Amalia and many of the Touched live) through her vast family fortune. She is stern and old-fashioned, but as strong-willed and clever as anyone she confronts.
● Norton's Hugo Swan is a pansexual posh boy whose charm has about five years left on its lease. He runs a secret club and a side trade in blackmail. He's devoted to fulfilling everyone's worst impression of him – and fascinated by the Touched.
● Riley's Augustus "Augie" Bidlow is a sweet, disarming nerd and Lavinia's younger brother. A keen ornithologist, Augie is happy to let his older sister take the reins of the family fortune. He finds the Touched unnerving, but is drawn to them by his increasing infatuation with Miss Adair, and by the schemes of his nefarious best friend, Hugo.
● Skelly's Penance Adair is Amalia's (Donnelly) dearest friend, and one of the first women to join her cause. A devout – yet heretically progressive – Irish girl, Penance has genius for invention. She is delighted by her power, and her default is love and acceptance. But she's firm in her moral sense, and will be guided by what's right over what's expedient every time.
● Chaplin's Detective Frank Mundi is big, gruff, and deeply moral. He trusts no one, least of all himself: his reputation for sudden violence (and excessive drink) is not unwarranted. Frank finds himself caught between the powerful, who ignore the the laws of the land, and newly empowered, who ignore the laws of physics.
● Torrens' Lord Massen is staunch, unflappable, and merciless in his defense of the British Empire A former General and now Peer, Massen may be the only man who sees clearly what havoc these few strange people can wreak upon the established order. Which he will protect – one way or another.
● Momoh's Doctor Horatio Cousens is one of the few successful West Indian physicians in London. Married with a young son, Horatio's fortunes took a dark turn when he met Amalia and discovered his own ability. Now he works with her, and with the Beggar King, those who don't care who is or isn't "different."
● Manson's Maladie was committed by her husband (and is genuinely unstable), warped by a power she can't understand and tortured by doctors intent on finding its source. She now lives underground, runs a gang and is on an infamous murder spree. She affects a theatrical parody of a bedlam waif, but mad as she is, she's a woman with a purpose.
● Frost's Declan Orrun aka The Beggar King is charismatic and brutal. Declan runs – or has a piece of – most of the low-level criminal activity in the city. He's perfectly happy to help Amalia and her cause – and equally happy to sell them out. He backs winners, and the Touched are long odds.
● Neil's Annie Carbey aka Bonfire is a career criminal who landed the ability to control fire and is happy to hire it out. Came up rough, stayed that way, but she's neither impulsive nor cruel – just looking out for herself. No matter who she works with or for, Annie trusts only Annie, and the fire.
● Tomlinson's Mary Brighton is gentle but surprisingly resilient, pursuing her dream of singing on stage. A disappointing career and a broken engagement haven't diminished her spirit. She's going to be great. She's going to be very surprised how.
● O'Hare's Dr. Edmund Hague is a gifted American surgeon who uses his skills in the coldest, most brutal way possible. But it's all in the name of "progress"…
Here's a look at Whedon's tweet from July 4, letting fans know that work on The Nevers was underway:
"I honestly couldn't be more excited. The Nevers is maybe the most ambitious narrative I've created, and I can't imagine a better home for it than HBO. Not only are they the masters of cinematic long-form, but their instant understanding of my odd, intimate epic was as emotional as it was incisive. It's been too long since I created an entirely new fictional world, and the HBO team offer not just scope and experience, not just 'prestige,' but a passionate collaboration. I could go on, but – I'm impatiently grateful to say – I have work to do."
– Joss Whedon
The project marks an interesting time for both Whedon and HBO, with The Nevers marking his return to television after years on the film side that included writing and directing The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. For HBO, there's the hope that series like Whedon's, J.J. Abrams's Demimonde, and Damon Lindelof's Watchmen will fill the global programming void left by the departure of Game of Thrones.
"We have long been fans of the incredibly talented and prolific Joss Whedon and we can't think of a better project than The Nevers with which to welcome him to the HBO family. We look forward to meeting the strange, multifaceted characters of THE NEVERS, to learn their stories, see them in action and share them with our viewers. We're honored that Joss chose HBO as the place to build his ambitious new world and we are excited to get started."
– Casey Bloys, President of Programming, HBO
Making his feature directorial start with 2005's Firefly-based film Serenity, Whedon also wrote/co-wrote films Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien Resurrection, The Cabin in the Woods, and Toy Story — sharing an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay for the latter. On the television side, Whedon is best known for creating series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse, and his 2008 musical internet series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a huge success with viewers and critics, winning an Emmy in 2009 for Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs.