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29 October 2014
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Denis Lawson in Jekyll


Denis Lawson plays Peter Syme

Denis Lawson plays Tom Jackman's close friend and confidant, Peter Syme. "A scientist who isn't what he seems at all, he's probably Jackman's closest friend and they are also colleagues and have been for a long time," says Denis. "I think they met when Jackman was a graduate and Syme taught him.


"Syme then joined a big corporation which deals in genetics and he took Jackman with him. Syme has quite a dry, throwaway, highly ironic humour which I love. I also found it very curious – I asked Steven the writer (perhaps egotistically!) whether he'd written the part for me as it fits me so well – and he hadn't which is really annoying!"


Denis just loved the scripts: "It was the writing that really attracted me to the part – I mean they are really exceptional scripts – very witty, really scary, sometimes both at the same time, which makes it a phenomenal drama.


"It's unusual when you get scripts not wanting to change things – I'm one of those actors who writers must hate as I'm always wanting to rewrite or swap bits about. But not this time – Steven's scripts are so skilled and the rhythm is fantastic – it's unusually brilliant writing."


Denis was also pretty impressed with James Nesbitt's performance: "It's quite extraordinary what Jimmy does with a minimum amount of change to the face. His transformation into Hyde is much more to do with the level of performance – it's fantastic to watch and to be with.


"One thing that's unnerving about Jimmy playing Hyde is that he wears black lenses so it takes the expression out of his eyes. For various reasons Hyde is very, very dangerous when he changes but for equally varied reasons I'm very pleased when he does – without giving anything away! I'm not what I seem, and that is what attracted me to the project."


He continues: "Syme is a genetic engineer and I have to give credit to my son Jamie who's doing a PHD in Evolutionary Psychology at St Andrews at the moment. So I rang him up and told him I was playing this part and he laid out the whole Institute for me – what I would do, how I would do it and so on.


"We talked about the fact that geneticists mess around with fruit flies, because they have such a rapid reproductive cycle you can get a whole stream of generations in very little time, and you can then breed them to have no legs, no wings, blind – and they do this again and again and this was very, very useful to me. In fact when I approach Jimmy's character, I think of him as a fruit fly!"


He adds, equally cryptically: "To an extent my character is the key to the jigsaw, although there is another key which is a real surprise. Steven fills the story with contemporary twists which keep on coming right up until the very last scene.


"I wasn't that familiar with the original novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, but it soon became clear that Steven has really just taken that as his starting point and has given us a very, very different take on it all.


"There are references to the original period piece – but because he has given it a contemporary setting, he's been able to put in these really interesting twists and turns to get a really fresh look at the whole thing – we're at the cutting edge of technology."


Denis was pretty impressed with the sets he filmed in: "We shot in a massive country pile in Marlow, and the Institute set was also amazing, really high-tech; we had a control room that we built in an abandoned office block – almost like a James Bond set with great production values. I mean they really pushed the budget to the maximum to get these extraordinary depths of field and design."


He adds: "Working on Jekyll required a lot of concentration and energy. The script is written in a very filmic way most of the time; unusually for television there are a lot of descriptive pages, tiny little fragmented scenes with no dialogue but huge energy.


"Then Steven will hit a big set scene and it will be six to eight pages long and that's quite unusual too and they're great to play as there's all that humour going on."


Denis concludes: "I see Jekyll as a very scary comedy thriller, partly because Hyde is violent and frightening as a character but at the same time he's very funny – and that's quite an achievement."


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