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29 October 2014
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Michelle Ryan


Michelle Ryan plays Katherine Reimer

Michelle Ryan became a household name playing the part of Zoe Slater in the perennially popular EastEnders.


However, since leaving the soap in 2001, she has hardly stopped working, and was recently seen in Mansfield Park and in the feature films I Want Candy and Flick. And, in February this year, she was cast as the new Bionic Woman for Paramount Pictures.


Michelle was thrilled to be offered the part of Katherine Reimer: "When I first read the script I thought 'Wow! This is incredible!' The part of Katherine for a young actress is a dream job.


"Before I went along to the audition I thought: 'I'm too young to be doing this' until I saw in the stage directions 'she looks way too young' so I thought 'well, maybe I'm in with a chance!' Steven's writing is so good and when I got the call to say I had the job it was just so exciting."


She describes her character, the psychiatrist Katherine Reimer, as: "Very steely, sassy, incredibly sharp, intelligent, very feisty, opinionated, ballsy – she's a really brave character. There are lots of layers to her. She comes across as so strong, but also has her vulnerable moments.


"She is brought in to help Jackman understand what's been going on. He's been trying to cope for so long on his own, but he's got to the point where he's beginning to struggle. So she is hired by him to monitor his behaviour and tries to work out what triggers the change, to help him with that.


"She never knows who it is that is going to walk through the door; Jackman or a drunk, flirty Hyde. Although she lives in the house, she's never fully asleep, but always has an eye open, just in case. Steven points out that Katherine always makes a note of all possible exits from the room."


But Katherine conceals her fear well: "Douglas Mackinnon, who directed the first block of three episodes, sat us down to watch the David Mamet film The Heist, as he wanted us to get this kind of fearless attitude on set – that we all know what we want out of the situation, and that was really helpful."


She continues: "I realised that I had to step up and be confident on set; it's so easy to be intimidated and a bit nervous, but I thought: 'No, I'm going to go in on the first day and match Jimmy and be just as sharp and on the ball and relaxed and able to have fun with it.'


"I think it worked, actually! We had a great buzz on set and Jimmy has so much energy and he's just so good at what he does, and when you're working with someone like that it has the most incredible effect on your own performance. He just made it really easy and we kind of whizzed through the scenes.


"When I told my mum I was doing Jekyll with James Nesbitt she kept on going on about how much she loves him – my parents got to meet him at the first wrap party and they were so excited!"


Michelle had the opportunity to work with some other terrific actors too: "Sitting in a room doing a scene with Denis and Meera and Gina you can't help thinking: 'Wow, I'm surrounded by all these brilliant actors and they are all so nice!' They helped me feel really confident and at ease and as if I could hold my own – which I guess is how the character feels, and that all helps."


Michelle came straight from the set of period drama Mansfield Park in which she plays Maria Bertram onto this most contemporary of dramas: "It meant I had a really busy, intense and demanding time filming on Jekyll, which was the most fun for me. It was such a huge adrenaline rush.


"My favourite scenes were in the first two episodes when Katherine first meets Jackman and Hyde. There's a huge sequence in that which was quite scary to film. When she first meets Hyde, Jimmy really made me scream – what you see is not acting, it's an absolutely real reaction – he was pretty scary!


"However, Katherine feels a particular affinity for and attraction to Jackman. There's something really vulnerable and unattainable about him and I think she finds that really attractive.


"Hyde's much more obvious – he's a real flirt, really cocky and unpredictable and she probably just feels that she's seen so many guys like him before. So although she's fond of them both, she has a real soft spot for Jackman."


Michelle sports a new and very distinctive hair colour for the role of Katherine: "They wanted me to look different from how I usually do, so I suggested dying my hair a deep red for the part, and it looks great, so different from my usual dark hair.


"I think it makes me look more mature and it's very sharp. That's also helped by the costumes which are quite fitted, which helped me hugely; you put on a nicely fitting jacket and it immediately makes you sit up straight and slip into character."


Michelle did get a few pointers as she prepared for the role: "I spoke to a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatry, which I thought would help me get into Katherine Reimer's mind.


"One of the things she said to me that really stuck was that when they go through training they are always told to re-read the initial charge of the patients because when you've built up a rapport with someone, you might start getting too comfortable.


"And Jimmy also told me to remember that Hyde is unpredictable and that he could break your neck at any minute, so it was important never to get too comfortable.


"The first time Katherine lets Hyde out of the chair, she holds her own – but inside I think she's actually really scared because she sees that he really is Jekyll and Hyde, she sees the transformation in front of her own eyes so she knows he's telling the truth.


"When that first happens there's a moment when you see she's found it pretty heavy going and he then does a little childish trick and she screams!"


Michelle concludes: "I think working on Jekyll has been one of my favourite jobs since leaving EastEnders. It's so unusual for a young woman to be as good as she is and for me that was a huge draw.


"But even if I wasn't in the drama, I would still be intrigued by it. Jekyll is a thoroughly modern thriller, which is completely gripping, looks really glossy – and I don't think there's been anything like it before."


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