.] Oh yes, yes, that’s right.
I was there decades ago, when I was doing the backpacking-across-Europe thing. The place is insane.
It’s a very beautiful shop. It’s like being in a fairy tale or something.
I still see that spiral staircase in my dreams.
Me too, me too. [Laughs.]
Are you more of a Deyrolle window shopper, or do you spend serious money on taxidermy?
Well, I have a bit of a problem. I haven’t visited them in awhile, because it can be dangerous, I walk in and see a stuffed head and I’m like, “Oh, it’s calling to me. It wants to go home with me.”
“It’s got such sad eyes. It would be happier with me.”
That is simultaneously the best and the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.
Deyrolle is a dangerous place for me. I make some bad decisions when I’m there.
How close have you come to buying a rhino? Be honest!
A rhino? I would love one.
No you wouldn’t.
That’s a spectacular idea actually.
I was joking.
But I’m quite serious. I think it’d be lovely to own a taxidermy rhino. Don’t tempt me. The last thing I bought was a marabou bird. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but it’s kind of a weird-looking but beautiful vulture or something.
Isn’t it a stork?
It might be, but it looks like a vulture. It’s quite large; it’s almost five feet tall. And I believe it’s called an “undertaker bird” for some reason.
What else is in your personal collection? I’ve heard you’ve got a few insects and skulls.
Some of that, but mostly birds. I love peacocks actually. I’ve got an albino peacock, which is completely white, and a normal peacock, so they look like a beautiful couple. I’ve got an auroch, which is like an ancestor of the bull.
You’ve got a whole bull?
No, no, just the head. That’s more than enough. [Laughs.] It’s really special. I also have lots of birds and owls and stuff.
Do you keep them in a special room? Someplace where they won’t freak out guests?
.] Yes, that is an issue.
You have a dinner party and there’s a dead rhino standing there, it’s bound to make people uncomfortable.
Well, I keep most of them in my living room. I don’t really hide anything. It’s like a zoo in my house.
A dead zoo.
Yes, I suppose so. A dead zoo. [Laughs.]
I have no idea how you’ve gotten this reputation for being dark and gothic.
See, I don’t consider any of this to be morbid or anything. It’s just…. it’s really hard to explain. I don’t know. [Laughs.] It’s hard.
Vanessa, you character on Penny Dreadful, also has a thing for taxidermy.
Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Was that just a wonderful coincidence? Or did you show up on the set and go, “Happy day?”
It was a pure coincidence. But I wasn’t disappointed, obviously.
Was there anything among the taxidermied animals that you wanted to take home? Or anything you brought from home to the set?
This is kind of funny. Remember the monkey that Peter was working on?
Oh yeah. The one Vanessa told him to name, because all stuffed animals should have names?
Right, right. (Penny Dreadful creator) John Logan gave it to me. It just looked like such a sad little monkey. And he said, “That’s for you. Take that weird, sad little monkey home.”
And you did?
Of course! He’s in my home in London.
Vanessa said something about putting mirrors behind the glass eyes of her dead animals. That’s not how it works in actual taxidermy, is it?
I don’t think so. I should ask John Logan. But I don’t believe it is, no. None of mine have mirror eyes.
Good. Now I can sleep.
Maybe I’ll get mirror eyes for my rhino.
You’re seriously considering getting a taxidermy rhino?
Yes, definitely. It’s a good idea. I’m not kidding.
Where would it go in your house? The kitchen or the dining room or the master bedroom?
I’m not sure. A rhino isn’t a small creature. I need more room than I have now. I might need to buy a castle before I invest in any rhinos. Or I could just remove my bull, my auroch, and put the rhino in that room instead.
Some actresses obsess over where to put their award statues. You’re more concerned with taxidermy placement.
Well, awards take up a lot less space than a rhino.
We should talk about Sin City. This is far from your first green screen movie. Does it get easier? After big action films like 300: Rise of an Empire, are you accustomed to the unreality?
This one was greener than ever in some weird ways. We had no furniture, no walls, no windows. Robert (Rodriguez) and Frank (Miller) were very faithful to the comic book, and they used it as a storyboard. So I knew what it would look like in the end. But that means we were doing scenes with nothing but your acting partner. That’s all there was in front of you.
Did you try to visualize what the world around you looked like?
No, I didn’t bother with that. It’s really just about the other actor. You have to focus on them. To know that there’s a wall on your right and a clock to your left, that doesn’t make any difference. In some ways, it’s like theater. You’re not thinking about the props onstage. All of your energy and focus goes into the other actors. That’s all that’s carrying you through.
Have you watched Sin City with an audience yet?
No. I’m seeing the film tonight for the first time, with people. [Moans.]
You don’t seem all that enthusiastic.
I hate it. I try to procrastinate as long as I can, until I absolutely have to see it. It’s no reflection on the film, it’s just me. I don’t watch anything I’m in. Not even on set. I won’t go over to the monitor to watch what we’ve just shot. It’s too terrible. I think I’m just very self-conscious.
Are you sick of talking about Nipplegate yet?
The movie poster and ABC commercial that have been banned because of your nipples.
.] Is that what they’re calling it? Nipplegate?
I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure Janet Jackson still has dibs. I just can’t think of a non-stupid way to bring it up.
It really is insane. With the poster, I don’t really understand what it was all about. You don’t see much, do you? It’s only suggested. It’s not full on at all. And then there’s the trailer, which is just a lot of shadows, so again you don’t see anything. The whole thing is just confounding and weird and stupid.
It’s fascinating because you’ve come full circle. Your first film, The Dreamers, came out exactly a decade ago, and it had its own nipple controversy.
That’s right, I’d forgotten about that.
But that was probably more to do with the whole sibling incest thing than the boobs.
Well yeah, that had something to do with it. It was a very different film than Sin City. With The Dreamers, it was young kids expressing themselves, and discovering their sexuality. And this is more….
It’s pulp noir.
Yeah. But it’s not vulgar. That’s what I don’t get about it. It’s not depicted as realistic. It’s art. It’s like when you go to a museum, and there’s a painting of a naked women. It’s not raw sex. It’s an artistic rendering.
And if the poster freaks people out, wait till they see the movie.
I know, right? They should take it as a warning. The poster’s incredibly tame by comparison. They’ll have a heart attack when they see the film.
Why is the United States still so terrified of women’s nipples? What’s wrong with us? As an outsider, do you have any perspective?
I honestly have no clue. It’s kind of bizarre. I think they should be more worried about weapons. Maybe spend more time on that problem.
Nipples aren’t killing children.
Exactly. Nipples aren’t killing children. They should be more concerned about the wars that are happening. There’s so much violence in the world right now. There are so many legitimate things to be upset about besides nipples.
I read somewhere that while shooting your sex scene in 300, you ended up with a lot of bruises.
I’m afraid to ask. Bruises where? Like, on what…. body part?
It was mostly on my back. I bruise very easily, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Did you get any sex bruises while working on Sin City?
Not really. I didn’t move much in this film, weirdly. It was an easy shoot. The last time I got bruises from acting was on Penny Dreadful. There’s an episode where my character is possessed, and I’m thrashing about and getting really banged up. I was totally covered in bruises after that. Like, everywhere.
Did that make it awkward to go out in public?
Well, it’s funny, because after that shoot I had to fly out immediately to do two days of press junkets to promote 300. And I had to wear very conservative clothes because the makeup artist was like, “These bruises are insane. I can’t possibly cover these.”
There was one junket where I had this shirt with big, frilly, ruffley things on the wrists and neck. It was just because I was covered in bruises. It’s quite funny. That one episode of TV was so much more physical and violent and bruise-inducing than 300 or anything else.
Do you prefer doing your own stunts?
No. If I can avoid doing stunts, I will. I don’t want to die just for a movie. It’s not worth it. They’ve got CGI. They’ve got professional stunt people. There are ways of doing it without me. I get no pleasure putting my life in jeopardy just to get the shot. Life is too short for that nonsense.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)