ITV’s Jekyll & Hyde: what we learned visiting the set

Coming to ITV this Sunday is Charlie Higson's new superhero take on Jekyll & Hyde. Here's what we learned on set this summer...

It’s not every day you see Richard E. Grant and Tom Bateman tussling in an underground bunker. Visiting the set of ITV’s superhero-retelling of Jekyll & Hyde in the outskirts of London this June, that’s exactly what we got.

The new show, a 1930s adaptation of the oft-retold Robert Louis Stevenson novel, focuses on Robert Jekyll, the grandson of Edward Hyde and inheritor of the family’s dark secret. It’s 19th Century literature with a modern superhero twist, and fully intends to take over Sunday-night family viewing.

The show, which premieres this Sunday at 6.30pm on ITV, filmed its first ten-episode series in London over the summer. With a gaggle of other journalists, Den of Geek visited the set and chatted with the show’s creator Charlie Higson, producer Foz Allan and stars Richard E. Grant and Tom Bateman. Here’s what we learned…

There’s a three-year plan

There was once a time when shows aired fresh from the writer’s mind, innocently thrust into the world with nary an idea where things could go. Now, TV is all about the ten-year-plan and, though writer Charlie Higson hasn’t worked things out that far in advance, there is scope for the show to continue for some time.

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It’s designed to be a returning series, and a three-year outline has been allegedly delivered to ITV in case it’s the hit that everyone’s hoping it will be. Then again, we’re told that the monster-of-the-week format ensures, even if the plug is pulled, audiences also won’t be left on any kind of cliffhanger.

We could have had a modern-day Jekyll & Hyde

Updating classic stories to modern day isn’t exactly unheard of and, ever since Steven Moffatt flung Sherlock into the modern day, it’s something that most showrunners have to consider at least momentarily.

Any steam-punk elements were apparently a no-go area on account of Penny Dreadful and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films having recently been released. But most other eras were mulled over when developing Jekyll, and the team settled on the 1930s if not just because of the rich history of British horror from the decade.

We’ll see some familiar monsters

The weekly monsters will be based on the classic Hammer Horror and Universal monsters of the era, so we can expect to see Jekyll (and his alter ego) battle some iconic beasties along the way. Bonus – there’s also one episode that features someone with a giant lobster claw.

The story’s still relevant, despite the time-period

There may have been a bit of debate about the time period of Jekyll & Hyde but, however it turned out, there was never any doubt that today’s audiences would be able to connect to the show’s themes.

“I went away and read the book, which I hadn’t quite gotten around to before, and a lot of things struck me about it,” Higson told us. “It’s very much one of those books that pulled horror into the modern world. It took that 19th Century Gothic tradition, took it out of crusty old European crumbling castles and brought it into contemporary London.

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“And it’s psychological horror – it’s about the monster in all of us. And that seemed very modern, that idea of someone with monstrous desires who’s trying to suppress them and keep them hidden – that’s what most modern drama is about, whether it’s Homeland or Breaking Bad.”

Dr Jekyll is a 19th Century superhero

According to pretty much everyone we talked to on set, Dr Jekyll and his dastardly better half are basically the 19th Century version of the comic-book heroes we loyally follow today. From Hulk to Beast, the show explores many of the same ideas now present in our superhero blockbusters, which can only be a good thing for the new series.

“It struck me that in some ways it’s the archetypal superhero story,” Higson said. “It’s someone who has a secret identity who can do all the things he wished he could do in real life, and people don’t put the two together. And that’s certainly an idea that’s been nicked by Marvel.

“So I thought, well, we’ve got the original here, and you could do a lot with it. You could open it out into more of an action-adventure superhero story. So ours is a kind of superhero Hyde where, when he turns into Hyde he becomes incredibly strong, he becomes invulnerable, he has heightened sense, but he is completely out of control.”

This Hyde isn’t such a bad guy

He might not be any kind of role model, but Hyde definitely isn’t the villain in this version of the story, instead occupying the role of the fun-loving antihero we all secretly want to be. This is an savvy update that, while obviously allowing the show to play well to a wider demographic, lets the two sides of the character be a little more fun, rather than harrowing and tragic.

“The guy we all think we are when we’re drunk,” Hyde is what emerges when Dr Jekyll throws off the constraints of society and a good upbringing, and Tom Bateman admitted to subconsciously basing some of his performance on Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight Joker.

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Producer Foz Allan also compared the character – the most charismatic man in the room – to Game of Thrones’ Jamie Lannister, sans the sister bit. Jekyll? More of a Hugh Grant type.

Charlie Higson was originally supposed to play Roger Bulstrode

Higson wrote the part of Roger Bulstrode, the show’s main antagonist, with every intention of playing him but, after being convinced that there would be no time to both work behind and in front of the camera, the role went to Richard E. Grant instead.

But there’s a reference in there still – the character’s name is carried over from Higson’s part in his remake of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).

Jason Statham could have played the lead (sort-of)

Not many actors can pull off both sides of the show’s titular character, not least because of the change in physicality required to convincingly make the transition.

Though Tom Bateman was ultimately the final choice for this version of the story, the list of British actors who could pull off Hyde is pretty short – basically, Jason Statham and Tom Hardy, we’re told.

There will be call-backs to the original story

Despite the updated time period and generally high-budget production, the original story will be present and correct for any eagle-eyed viewers who want to look for Easter Eggs. The mythology has been overhauled, but little clues and references have been scattered throughout, Higson assures us.

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ITV was very keen to get into the genre business

Even though Jekyll & Hyde is Higson’s brainchild through and through, it didn’t hurt its chances that ITV was extremely eager to find a new fantasy property that they could turn into a mega, worldwide hit. Contacting Higson with this vague outline, they apparently went for the first half-idea he pitched.

He said: “They said they wanted something that had strong fantasy/horror/drama/comedy/action/adventure – all the stuff I love doing – and they wanted to do a big-budget, bold series. Ten hours that they would be able to sell around the world. Ideally an existing name so that it’s an easier sell, but something that’s a strong enough idea that you can play around with it but it will still be recognisable.

“Our fantasy, Gothic, horror books are the ones that everyone does, so I just said in passing, ‘so you’re looking for something like Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde?’ and they said, ‘Brilliant! Can you write us a treatment?’.”

It’s still a family show

From the outside, the show looks a lot darker and more ‘adult’ (whatever that means) than your Doctor Whos or your Primevals, but Jekyll & Hyde is a show intended for a family audience. Citing Indiana Jones as a major inspiration in terms of tone, the horror elements will take the form of bad guys that need to be thwarted, and Hyde’s misdeeds are suitable for viewing pre-watershed. Indeed, it’s been scheduled at 6.30pm, making it a true teatime family drama.

The weekend calls for light action-adventure, series producer Foz Allan told us on set, mainly because the episodic nature of the show doesn’t fit with the big US imports than tend to air on weeknights.

We need to get British TV back to the 1960s

One inspiration for the new stab at the Jekyll and Hyde mythos is an attempt to get back to the 60s heyday of sci-fi and fantasy content on British telly. Shows like The Prisoner or The Avengers have never successfully been replicated, says Higson, and it’s really just Doctor Who flying the flag these days.

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Maybe we need a new ‘outrageous”’show amidst the heavy realism and crime shows, at least so Doctor Who has some company on weekend teatimes.

The British public might not have been ready for 2000’s Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)

The 2000-2001 reboot of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) seems to be a big regret of creator Charlie Higson’s, even if the public perception of the show as a failure isn’t entirely accurate (it actually averaged around 8 million viewers, which would be cause for celebration these days).

“I think two things conspired against us,” he said. “One was that people seemed very resistant to Vic and Bob acting – though they weren’t required to act very much – and I’m not sure that people were quite ready for something that you couldn’t judge entirely as realism.

“That’s become how we judge British drama – how real was it? And when you’re making something that’s not supposed to be realistic and someone says it’s not, you think well that’s the whole f*cking point.

“What I really loved was when Russell [T. Davies] came in with Doctor Who and brought that back, and it was a hit, and I thought well he managed to pull off what I was trying to do and he probably did it better than me. But he actually used a lot of the same talent as I had on Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), and I do think that it slightly opened the doors for different types of stuff.”

Jekyll & Hyde is the third most adapted story in history

This is hardly the first retelling of the Stevenson’s novel, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde is the third most adapted story in history – only surpassed by Sherlock Holmes and Dracula

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Most recent television interpretations include NBC’s ill-received Do No Harm in 2013, and Steven Moffatt’s six-episode BBC series, Jekyll.

And finally, Tom Bateman’s favourite Jason Statham movie is…

Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, though Spy, having just come out in cinemas, received an honourable mention.

New 10-part series Jekyll & Hyde starts on Sunday the 25th of October at 6.30pm on ITV. Come back later this week for our interview with Charlie Higson in full.

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