Laura Donnelly is nursing her wounds.
Making The Nevers, HBO's action–fantasy series about a group of Victorian women with special abilities, meant she spent a large part of the last year taking a pummeling.
"I play Amalia True," says the Outlander star and Northern Ireland native, who calls her character "sort of the leader of these women who have developed powers seemingly overnight."
Amalia kicks a fair bit of Victorian — and largely male — ass, but she takes her share of licks. "I did spend a lot of time recovering," Donnelly says, speaking from her home in London, "but I loved every minute of it. When I was a kid, I was a gymnast. I love getting physically involved and having the chance to hardcore train."
It's an aspect of her work she hasn't been able to enjoy in recent years. Mostly that's because she was starring, first on the West End and then on Broadway, in The Ferryman, the play by her husband, Jez Butterworth. He based the IRA–related story loosely on an incident in her family history, and when the production won best play at the 2019 Tonys, he dedicated the award to her.
Donnelly's own success — she won an Olivier in 2018 for her work in the play — took place while she and her husband were expanding their family.
"In the couple of years before I did The Nevers," she says, "I'd had two babies. So it felt like a new era, to come back and do all these stunts for real."
It's important, she adds, that they look real. "We're not trying to tell a superhero story — it's a human story. The Nevers is very much about where power lies in the world and what the consequences are for those who don't hold that power. So yes, Amalia is a good fighter, but she does lose a few battles — and she does get hit."
After Outlander and an arc on Amazon Prime's Britannia (which Butterworth cocreated), Donnelly wasn't looking for another big-budget fantasy drama. What convinced her was a conversation with Joss Whedon, creator of The Nevers, nearly two years ago. (He left the project late last year and Philippa Goslett stepped in as showrunner.)
"I thought I was going into his office for a 15-minute meeting, but I must've been there for an hour and 40 minutes. He told me all about this world he was creating, and I was hooked. I couldn't believe that that one person could hold all of that in their brain. It's just mind-blowing."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2021