Tom Bateman plays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in ITV’s highly anticipated re-imagining of the classic Stevenson novel, here he reveals all about the updated to the 1930’s setting, his superhuman strength and filming in Sri Lanka.
Q: What were your thoughts when you heard about this series?
“I absolutely loved the idea and the 1930’s setting. I had read the original Robert Louis Stevenson novel and thought the re-imagining writer Charlie Higson created is so much fun. It’s something we haven’t seen on TV and I had never read anything like it. I loved the dual character and Robert’s struggle to come to grips with this evil – or liberated – side. The auditions were great because I got to keep doing these really fun Hyde scenes. There’s nothing else like it on TV. The way we’re shooting it is so cool and original. We’ve got the fight guy from Star Wars doing our fights and the director of photography from Peaky Blinders. There’s an A- team on this. Everyone coming together and creating this amazing world. A really fun adventure.”
Q: Who – or what – is Dr Robert Jekyll?
“Robert is a young doctor who has grown up in Ceylon. He has spent his entire life there with his foster mother and father. Although he obviously knows he is not from that world he doesn’t know anything about his past, aside from that he has this hormonal imbalance that makes him go a bit funny. But he’s got pills that can keep him under control. Hidden away in Ceylon he’s slightly naive of the world and has concentrated on being a doctor and a good man. He’s aware of the Hyde part of his character but he doesn’t really know what it is yet or about his family history in London.”
Q: Tell us about the accident which reveals he is not like other men?
“Robert is busy vaccinating children at a local clinic when a lorry drives off the road and smashes through the medical centre. He sees a young girl has been pinned underneath the lorry and the good side of Robert tells him he needs to help and he runs straight into the centre without a thought for his own safety. When he tries to lio this truck Hyde kicks in, because Robert is under extreme pressure. Just when you think he’s a good guy and he starts to lio the lorry, Hyde takes over and actually threatens the child’s life. It’s pretty shocking and dark. But then the audience will see Hyde isn’t truly evil as he just out to enjoy himself and have fun.”
Q: So the locals think you have real super powers?
“We filmed in Sri Lanka and the local people were very interested in the filming. The scene where I lift the truck is done with the help of a crane but the roof of the clinic also collapses. The villagers watched filming all day and they saw the crane but thought that was only to lift the roof off and on. So when I was lifting the truck, obviously acting as if it was heavy, they thought I was doing it for real. In between takes the kids were running up trying to lift the lorry as they thought it was fake and really light. Which is when they discovered it was real and thought I must have superhuman strength.”
Q: How did you enjoy filming on location in Sri Lanka?
“That was absolutely amazing. I did a TV show set in Florence and we filmed in Swansea. So as soon as they said, ‘You’re going to Sri Lanka,’ I thought, ‘This job has just got even better.’ It’s brilliant for the show because the audience is expecting a dark, grim, smoggy London. Which they get, but then suddenly we cut to these huge open skies and beautiful countryside on the other side of the world. There’s a different energy and tempo about filming in Sri Lanka. It’s hot, you move slower and the surroundings are breathtaking. There are also elephants everywhere. It’s a different universe and people have a different mentality. You can imagine how Robert feels when he leaves there, arrives in London and thinks, ‘What is this place?’
We were in Kandy which is out in the mountains. We also filmed with a beautiful old steam train in a working train station. I had to jump on the train as it was pulling away. That was a real Indiana Jones moment with my trilby hat flapping in the wind. It was an amazing day.”
Q: Are we right to think Jekyll is on a journey of discovery because he doesn’t know the full truth?
“Yes. He is discovering things as he goes along. Robert doesn’t know anything about the monsters that exist. He’s been hidden away in Ceylon and then comes into this world where everyone is clued up and also knows everything about him. I discover secrets episode by episode, with the audience.”
Q: What triggers Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde?
“Stress, anger, rage, jealousy, lust provide the trigger for the transformation from Jekyll into Hyde. Mostly it’s anger when he just loses it. Charlie Higson has brilliantly explored the frustration of this character. Hyde is stronger than Jekyll and Hyde is a necessary ‘evil’ because he can do things others can’t. Robert can think and plan, but it’s Hyde’s strength and boldness that is actually required. He’s really struggling to hold everything together. All these secrets and double lives. It’s wonderful segng the story in the 1930’s because of the very British way people behaved.”
Q: How do you approach that transformation as an actor?
“Before we started filming I had camera tests with the director Colin Teague, the designers and the CGI team. That was brilliantly useful because they were trying to create a language for Hyde. The producers showed me what I was going to look and feel like which was great to see. So I can have in my mind what this creature is. We’ve got five stages of Hyde and a lot of it is through make-up. Five being the big CGI monster who we only really see in flashes. One, two and three are him fevering in and out. The audience will know something is wrong before I become Hyde. Stage four is when Robert has completely gone and Hyde has taken over. He can still pass as a normal person until the monster at stage five. And you really don’t want to come across that guy!!”
Q: Tell us about the links to the past?
“It’s very clever. Donald Sumpter’s character Garson is the link. He in the beginning with Jekyll’s grandfather and here he is now guiding his grandson. He knows everything.”
Q: Is Hyde necessarily a bad man?
“The writer Charlie Higson gave me a book about the Greek god Pan to read. Everybody hated Pan. Traditionally they were very threatened by him because he was an evil, powerful guy no-one really understood. But actually he’s the god of mischief. So Hyde is a nasty piece of work but, as he says in the series, ‘All I want to do is have fun.’ And when you’re that powerful it’s very easy to have fun. As an actor you can’t approach anyone thinking they are evil. You have to understand how they operate. It’s for the audience to make their mind up about whether Hyde is bad or good. Me, as an actor? I have to look why he does the things he does. Why he behaves that way. Why he has no regard for anyone. Hyde does have a place and a function. There are evil forces at work and Hyde isn’t one of them. He saves the day a lot of the time and is the key to solving things. It’s very interesting to have a ‘bad’ superhero. Superman and Spiderman are almost infallibly good. Having a bad, malicious or just a fun hero is more accessible to people. How would you behave if you had superpowers? You wouldn’t really want to hide it. You would want to go around the world going, ‘Look at me. Look at what I can do!’ I think people will enjoy watching it. He’s a maverick and works for no-one.”
Q: Did you have to trash a posh hotel room during filming?
“That was my first outing as Hyde and also the most fun day on set in my career so far. They gave me a beautiful hotel room and everything was breakable. It’s all about this monster coming out. Robert hates his reflection as Hyde because he’s a monster. He’s trying to fight it and destroy those reflections, but then he just fully embraces it. It was wonderful to shoot because suddenly we’ll understand why he decides to ‘accept’ Hyde. It’s not just a character trashing the room although it was fantastic fun. I knew I only had one go at doing most of it. I smash mirrors, break chairs, blow doors off their hinges. There was a big wardrobe with a mirror and that got absolutely destroyed. Hyde also destroys the Empire drinking hall when he is fully transformed. That was three days of shooting. The set designers are amazing and it looks so beautiful but by the end of the third day everything was broken. They had to re-build it from scratch. They were like, ‘Please don’t break anything else.’”
Q: Tell us about the Jekyll and Hyde sets?
“I remember walking in and seeing the lab for the first time. It’s so amazing. I couldn’t wait to get started on filming. Jekyll’s house is also beautiful and steeped in history. A lot of these places have been leo abandoned for decades because of the original Jekyll and Hyde. There’s a nice time lapse difference of modern versus the old which is really interesting. I love all the sets.”
Q: Can you explain the darkness and humour in the series?
“The humour is what brings people in. Even if a film is absolutely incredible, if it doesn’t have any humour it doesn’t quite draw you in as much. There are actually really funny moments in a film like Jaws, for example. Humour makes the characters more human. It also keeps you on the rollercoaster because it can get a bit repetitive if it’s always tense and dark.”
Q: Tell us about the look of Jekyll…and Hyde?
“The costumes help tremendously. They hold you in a certain way. I love the coat I wear. I tried on loads of things to see what worked and what didn’t. The costume designer Howard Burden came up with this one coat and as soon as I put it on it felt completely right.”
Q: Is Captain Dance, played by Enzo Cilento, a major foe?
“Enzo is brilliant. I was sat next to him at the first script readthrough and he blew me away. He gets the brilliance of the comedy and is funny but also dark. Captain Dance is a proper evil character. He’s a monster but we don’t know what he is or where he comes from. Bit by bit Charlie teases us and lets us find out more about him. You will want to know more.”
Q: Tell us about working with Richard E Grant, who plays Bulstrode?
“Richard is amazing. My mum said, ‘What are you doing today?’ I said, ‘Today I’m pushing Withnail up against a wall.’ He’s a lovely, warm, generous man. And I get to act alongside him.”
Q: Tell us about Jekyll’s relationship with Lily (Stephanie Hyam) and Hyde’s with Bella (Natalie Gumede)?
“Robert is trying to be an upstanding member of society. So Lily is the perfect candidate for him. There’s an instant spark and it’s love at first sight. Whereas Bella appears to be the only person able to handle Hyde. Everyone else just runs away screaming or gets beaten up. She meets him toe to toe and he really likes that. Bella is a kick-ass character. It’s interesting because he is not cheating. He is a different person so Hyde will be with Bella and then when he is back to being Robert he will be with Lily.”
Q: Do you think we all have a good and a bad side?
“Everyone has a Hyde in them. Sometimes you have to behave in a certain way. An example of that is when you come across someone you don’t like. I’ve been brought up to be very polite and I’m not very confrontational at all. And then walk away and think, ‘If only I’d said or done that.’ We’re working very hard on this series and you want to go crazy, let your hair down and feel like you’re not tied down to things or you have to behave in a certain way. It’s quite nice to go out and be a bit crazy. But I don’t go around trashing bars!”
Q: What was the reaction of your family when you got this role?
“They are all very proud. I’ve got a wonderful family. They’re so non-showbiz. My mum is a primary school teacher and my dad is a music teacher and I’ve got loads of brothers and sisters. They’re really excited for me and supportive but also stuff happening in their own lives which is nice and grounding. Also my mum and dad can actually see this series. They live in the dark ages and don’t have all the channels. So the TV stuff I’ve done before, they’ve never seen because it’s been on American channels or Sky. But they can tune in to ITV every week and see this.”
Q: You have a twin brother?
“We’re not identical twins. He’s called Merlin and he came to visit me on set for Da Vinci’s Demons. We’d been given these swanky flats and a posh car comes to drive you to work. So he thought, ‘This is quite nice.’ Then he saw that you get your own trailer and people bring you food and stuff. Then you dress up and walk on set. The day he visited I did a fight scene and he went, ‘I think I want to do this. It looks really fun.’ And I said, ‘If you’d have come on a different day you might not think that because it can be hard work. He asked to come on the Jekyll and Hyde set and wanted to be an extra. But, again, I had to warn him, ‘Look, it’ll be fun for about an hour. Aoer eight hours you’re going to be saying – Tom, can we go home now? And the answer will be no, because you’re in the shot. You can’t just disappear.’”
Q: Have you ever been really spooked by anything or had an unexplained experience?
“I have actually. I don’t think I’ve told anyone this before. When I was 16 or 17 I was doing some work with the father of my girlfriend at the time. He was an archeologist and we were working and camping in the fields. I was in a tent in the middle of the night when suddenly this bright light appeared. I thought it was a helicopter but it was absolutely silent. I stuck my head out of the tent, blinded by this light with still no noise at all. And then it just disappeared. And we were in the middle of a field. I woke up in the morning and thought, ‘That was weird. I definitely didn’t dream that.”