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29 October 2014
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Gina Bellman in Jekyll


Gina Bellman plays Claire Jackman

It's not often an actress can strike a writer dumb in an audition, but that is exactly what Gina Bellman did when she was seated in Twickenham Studios in front of a semi-circle of producers, directors and the writer one day last summer when she was asked: "What did you think of the script?"


Steven Moffat laughs: "Yeah, like, no pressure! I mean, what are they going to say? 'Hated it, sorry, I'm off.' I've cringed through that question a thousand times, and sweated guiltily through all the barely varying responses – 'I loved it', 'oh, it's marvellous!', 'oh, it's so funny and clever and moving and epic and please can I have this job, my cat's dying' – and then, rather wonderfully, Gina Bellman took me by surprise.


"You see, Jekyll has everything you need for an evening's viewing – an ancient family curse that turns a good man into a demon, a secret organisation with a 100-year-old plan, an underground lair hiding a terrible secret, two lesbian detectives, four lions and a helicopter...


"The question had landed, and Gina had done her duty like a proper actress and protested her devotion, and then she sat there a moment, with my script on her lap, and said: 'You know, a lot of my girlfriends are going through problems exactly like these!'


"If I'd been sipping coffee, she would've been wearing it. I wasn't exactly expecting that. Hardly any of my friends have underground lair issues. Not one of them has complained of a case of lions.


"Gina was up for the part of Claire, a modern woman who lands herself a handsome doctor husband and discovers he can turn, in the blink of an eye, into a terrifying, libidinous psychopath.


"And what Gina goes on to say is this: 'Loads of my friends' husbands are going through mid-life crises!' Well, I had to cast her after that."


Gina, equally at home in drama and comedy, is probably best known for playing the dippy Jane in Steven Moffat's Coupling and as the eponymous lead in Dennis Potter's classic drama Black Eyes.


Gina takes up the story: "I have worked with Steven over several years and I'm a huge fan of his, so just seeing his name on the script made it exciting, and then, when I actually read it, it just blew me away.


"Claire is one of those parts that rarely come along, and I just knew I could do it – it didn't feel like an effort. I felt as if I knew the character and could really relate to what she was going through, in terms of fighting for something you believe in.


"I just identified so much with Claire, a character who goes from strength to strength. In the beginning she's completely bewildered as her husband has left without explanation. He is behaving in a completely mysterious way, this man she loves so much, and she ranges from being feisty and provocative to being hurt and vulnerable.


"When she finally meets Hyde she realises she is being mentally seduced by him and she starts to fight for her family, her children and Tom's life as it is being drained out of him by his alter ego. It is an epic love story of good and evil and the power of love."


However, Gina had to go through the agonies of a prolonged audition process, as she explains: "I'm really happy to work with Hartswood again; we have a long relationship. But I did jump through hoops for this part too!


"For all of us it was important that I really did test myself at the auditions – and I wanted to feel that I'd earned the part. By the time I'd met them three times I think we all felt we'd taken it as far as it could go in terms of an audition process, and that it worked well and that was that. It goes without saying that I was just blown away when I got the part!"


Gina describes Claire as "a mature, wise, experienced, cool woman – a great starting point for the character. I feel so in tune with her and it just feels so natural to me that she would get up and fight like a lioness for what she believes in."


She adds: "Steven and I were joking about lots of men having their classic mid-life crises and buying a sports car, whereas this guy wakes up and finds he has an alter ego.


"Claire has absolutely no idea what is going on – in the first few episodes she is fighting for her marriage, unable to understand why her husband has gone awol, protecting her children, and just generally having to be really strong. She's incredibly stoical and doesn't give up on him at any point, and I think that's wonderful, loving and passionate."


Gina enjoyed the heated domestic argument Claire and Hyde find themselves embroiled in: "Hyde is kind of perplexed because he's still new to human relationships and so he starts to play along with this wonderful marital scene.


"That's Claire's springboard, really, because at the end of that sequence she witnesses a horrific act and then she's on a mission to save her husband from this monster within."


She continues: "For a long time it's very hard for Claire to separate the two and it's very confusing for her – so every time she's with Hyde she's searching within him for Tom.


"And the stronger Hyde becomes, the weaker Tom becomes, to the point where there is a danger that Tom could be dying; she's always reaching out to Tom, trying to pull him out of Hyde. Hyde in turn becomes quite intrigued by Claire and by Tom's absolute connection with her, so it becomes a mental menage a trois."


Gina spent a lot of time working with the two young boys who play her twin sons: "I really enjoyed that – they're great little actors. Claire goes from being earth mother to Lara Croft with them, and towards the end Hyde becomes fascinated by her.


"Suddenly, this person who you think has no conscience at all starts feeling connected to her and the children and that's a great turning point. Hyde is fascinated by love, I think, by the end of the series."


Gina thoroughly enjoyed working with Jimmy Nesbitt: "He's a great influence on set, always up-beat and positive. He's had some pretty tough scenes, too – every time I look at him he's lying in a puddle or hanging off a wire, falling out of a window or scaling wire fences, and I've never heard him moan or complain.


"Hyde is incredibly charismatic and Jimmy has brilliantly perfected that as he himself is so charismatic – he's made Tom thoughtful and insular and pensive to play off against his Hyde who's quite Saturday Night Feverish in a way – quite John Travolta. Jimmy is playing the part incredibly physically – there's an animal grace to him."


She adds: "I've come to know Tom and Hyde so well that they've become two separate people to me. I think we do interact with each other differently depending on which one Jimmy has just played on set. I think he's a bit more strutting even off camera when he's Hyde so we have more of a playful rapport, and then more sensitive when he's in Tom or Jimmy mode.


"I've really come to admire the way in which he has physically manifested as that part of Hyde – this wonderful physicality to the role that Jimmy has captured perfectly. The Hyde character is incredibly funny so Jimmy will just become naughty and salacious and funny... "


She adds: "As the series develops Tom and Hyde develop a mutual grudging fascination and respect for each other – but Hyde is repelled by Tom's sensitivity and commitment to his family and at the same time Tom is repelled by Hyde's violence and aggression and lack of morality."


All in all Gina relished the emotional and physical challenges in playing Claire: "I've had to do lots of running around and being chased, searching for my children and banging on walls, confronted by intimidating soldiers dressed in balaclavas and riot gear. Claire gets to slap a few of those around!"


She also got the chance to impersonate Jimmy playing Hyde: "There was one scene where Claire becomes possessed by Hyde and taunts Tom, which was great fun to do."


She concludes: Jekyll has just got everything – action, relationships, science fiction, historical references and it is going to appeal across the board. It's an incredible, epic, witty story about good and evil and the power of love, with goodies and baddies, sex, drugs and rock and roll."


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