Penny Dreadful Season 3 will introduce two literary giants. One character was teased, by name, in season 1, so you shouldn’t be shocked that we don’t reveal it here. The other comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’ 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which tells the story of a revered scientist who creates a serum to mask his inner demon from the prudish eyes of Victorian religious morality and instead unleashes his alter ego. The chemist, Dr. Henry Jekyll, will be played by Shazad Latif, who will also pull double duty in the role of Edward Hyde.
Shazad Latif grew up in Tufnell Park, North London. He appeared in productions of King Lear, School for Scandal, and Surface. He played Ricky Roma at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Roger Lloyd Pack, and starred in Mumbai Tales at the Blue Elephant Theatre in London.
Latif broke off studies at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to play Tariq, the Section D Technician and Data Analyst on the BBC TV MI5 series Spooks. Latif has made guest appearances on the series Fresh Meat, Comedy Lab and Silk, and had a recurring role as Dr. Nick Kassar in My Mad Fat Diary. In film, he played Kushal in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Latif will next be seen as Tybalt Capulet in Shondaland’s pilot Still Star-Crossed, based on Melinda Taub’s Romeo and Juliet-inspired 2013 novel.
In Penny Dreadful, Latif’s Dr. Jekyll is an old friend to Dr. Frankenstein, having both gone to school together at Cambridge, although the 1831 novel has Frankenstein studying at the University of Ingolstadt. Den of Geek took an international call from Shazad Latif so he could talk about the duality of nature and the secrets Mr. Hyde hides from Dr. Jekyll.
Den of Geek: You are one of the few characters currently on TV who could give three interviews, yourself, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. How different would those interviews be?
Shazad Latif: Mr. Hyde would be angry and do a lot of shouting.
Were you a fan of gothic literature before you took this role?
Yeah, actually, I took the old Robert Louis Stevenson out. I read the original novel, which is great. It’s very dark, very honest, and very horrible.
Did you watch any film adaptations to get ready for the role?
I watched the old German expressionistic 1931 version with Fredric March and then another one with Spencer Tracy. That was about it.
Did you do any occult studies in preparation for the role?
In Victorian times, occult study was normal alongside the standard Christian study. I am a big history buff so I did some background reading on the occult and knew a fair amount anyway!
I noticed Dr. Jekyll is introduced to the series under a racial slur. Will Penny Dreadful be dealing with the prejudices of the time?
Yeah. Dr. Jekyll is already an outcast. He’d gone to Cambridge with Frankenstein and even though they stepped up through that world, he’s still like an outcast. With all the respect he has. He’s not accepted in that society.
Dr. Jekyll is a chemist, did you study chemistry?
No, but the lab was so intricate. There’s a lot there. We actually knew a little of the science. The lab was so brilliantly done that a lot of the work was done for me. I just got used to the look and sort of made it my home.
So far, the characters have remained true to the intent of the authors like Mary Shelly. Does Penny Dreadful keep Dr. Jekyll true to Robert Louis Stevenson’s book?
He has jealousy that very visibly builds up, that will remain very much the same, the ideals, the ambition, the darkness. This show takes license with how the characters come together anyway but the character, yes.
What scared you as a kid?
When I was young, it was the darkness. There was a heavy sense of darkness that was always there.
Now that you’re playing on a supernatural themed show, do the shadows still get darker when you try to go to sleep or does this exorcize some of your inner fears?
I’ve been reading a lot of material on good and evil and the dark nature of being and all these things. I think it definitely creeps in on the subconscious, it conjures all this stuff. You see these images and you analyze your own good and evil, your inner darkness. I think that definitely affects you. It’s great to understand it more and then you act.
Do you like internalizing that sort of thing?
I think everyone likes a little bit of that. I think you need a balance of both to be a true human.
Today, better living through chemistry has a different connotation than it did in 1892. By the end of last season, your old friend, Dr. Frankenstein, developed a taste for heroin. How much of Jekyll’s chemistry is hallucinogenic-based?
It’s very powerful. It’s not taken in the same way. It’s more developed.
Is the potion habit forming?
In the first episode, you tell Victor that you can make the bride Lily purr like a kitten with your solutions. Isn’t this a tad creepy?
Yeah, what they’re trying to do to her is very creepy. Love drives the Dr. Frankenstein character very thin and it is creepy, yeah. He is obsessed and does horrible things, definitely.
Some actors internalize their characters through their changed physicality, do you know what the final image will be while your acting?
Luckily there wasn’t CGI, it was makeup. There’s all these things that are going into the makeup of the character.
I interviewed Anatol Yusef who was Boardwalk Empire’s Meyer Lansky, he also studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, as did Timothy Dalton, What did you get from that school that you don’t get anywhere else?
I think it’s the place. It’s such a nice building. It’s right next to the park. It’s next to nature. It’s very simple. It left a lot of the essence of the old great methods. It’s got the great Russian acting training, then you have the classical voice training.
Even if the school isn’t what it once was, there’s still an atmosphere. I mean, you create it yourself but, once you’re there, you see there’s a lot to live up to.
You left to join the series Spooks. Did you become a tech geek when you were playing Tariq Masood?
Yeah, I had to. Even though I’m not a functional tech user, I had to be good with it, really. It came with the part.
You played the role Al Pacino played in Glengary Glen Ross, Richard Roma, did you watch his performance in prep?
I’d actually seen the film years and years ago and I ended up doing the part very young for a college play. We took it somewhere else because were too young to play the parts but I’d seen the movie before that.
When you’re watching a film for prep, is it different from watching one for entertainment?
I think you’re taking it in either way and you shouldn’t let it influence you too much. It can be dangerous. You don’t want to watch too much while you’re prepping.
Do you have any scenes with Sir Malcolm?
In The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you played with Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. What are some of the things you’ve learned from working with the veteran actors?
I learned you just forget who they are just do your job. You’re naturally picking things up in your subconscious. They make an impression, rather than asking how do you do this how do you do that. You have just as much right to be there and you just have to be there, really.
You split your work between comedy and drama, do you approach it differently?
I don’t think there is much of a difference. I think comedy is a little harder. I think the strength and the truth of it is all that counts. I think comedy is definitely harder. There is certainly a difference in the rhythms of comedy that can be very hard to find. I usually play the straight one, anyway, I think being full out comedy you have to do quite a lot. But you just stay true to the moment. Tell the truth in every scene. You play in a comedy and it’s an incredible chance to act.
What are your diabolical plans for Dorian Grey? Is there something about his peculiar chemistry you might be tapping into this season?
We definitely have a connection. He and I join up with the boys in the woods. We say hello to him.
How does it feel to reunite with your old friend Dr. Frankenstein?
We knew each other for five years at Cambridge. He was already put on that path. He was also a loner. That was the only person he had. So try and imagine how alone you would feel in that era, it was the only friend you had in life and you see him give up five years. There was lot of emotion in your path. It’s a very heart-breaking story, really. There was a lot of death.
How extensive is the sound stage when you’re walking through it? Is it full enough in person to immerse yourself? Is there a full London?
Yeah, not a full, full London, but there is enough. There’s one set, there’s a full stage. The set is incredible.
What’s the most difficult part? Are there aspects you have trouble identifying with?
The difficult part is not overanalyzing something while you’re doing it. Just to keep going until the part finds you. Staying in focus is the key, something like that should be very obvious, but that’s the difficult aspect.
What is the most fun part of playing this role?
The fun part is just having a huge stage to walk around and shout and scream in and play with. It’s very theatrical. It’s a fun to be home with people of stage. My favorite part of acting is the exchange of energy between the people. The exchange of energy is very fun.
Penny Dreadful season 3 premieres on Sunday, May 1, on Showtime.