Tom Bateman - Jekyll or Hyde?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s a Tom Bateman takeover going on.
Currently playing both lead roles in ITV’s new flagship Sunday night show Jekyll and Hyde and appearing in not one but two West End plays as part of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, the 26-year-old LAMDA graduate is clearly doing something right.
Since his breakout role in the critically acclaimed stage version of Shakespeare in Love last year, he’s been hot property on both stage and screen. I caught up with him in Covent Garden to talk moustaches, monsters and swearing on morning TV…
May I say that is a very dashing moustache you have there!
It’s horrible isn’t it!
Is it for the plays you’re in at the moment?
Yes – and I’ve got no-one to blame but myself – it was my idea. It’s such a cliché, a man gets a part and says, ‘I’m going to grow a beard or a goatee or a moustache or shave my head or something’. I decided on a moustache. I’m massively regretting it now.
You weren’t tempted to have it whipped off during the photo shoot in the barbers?
Ha! Accidentally. Or get really drunk and shave it off. No…
Well, you’re managing to work it.
You’re kind. But I don’t believe you for a second.
So, you’re currently on our screens in Jekyll and Hyde – two characters for the price of one – that’s pretty intense. Did you approach it as one role or two?
At the start I approached it as two separate characters. Jekyll came relatively easily because he’s my age, even though he has a different background. With Hyde I was honing it as the audition process went on - luckily it was quite a long process – five or six auditions. By the time I actually got the part I knew roughly what they wanted. My first Hyde outing was a real stab in the dark, but in a way that was helpful because Jekyll himself is still coming to terms with what the hell’s going on. But as the series went on it did have to become one character, and the bridge between the two men became the most important thing. Them embracing and understanding each another, and the benefits of being either good or bad.
Do you think we all have a good and bad side? A kind of personality yin yang?
I think so. I think you’d be a pretty boring person if you didn’t! And it can be the smallest thing. Like this morning I did the TV show This Morning. My publicist said whatever you do, don’t swear. And so of course, I swore, accidentally. I said ‘piss’ which is apparently under their C-category… As soon as you’re told not to do something, it’s all you can think about. The temptation just to go FUCK is huge, and I think that’s the Hyde thing. Rather than making him just a horrible monster, we wanted to go down the route that he’s a liberated man, the man who does what he wants regardless of the consequences. There’s a part of us that would all like to live like that and get away with it.
Yes, there’s been a lot of media attention on the violence in the show – was it a tough balancing act making a gothic horror for a family time TV slot?
In a word, yes. You always want to push the limit, and from day one I was making some quite dark choices, which we decided to tone down. In the bar scene of episode one I wanted Hyde to be darker and worse than he was, and I had to reign it in a bit. In a way it was good because it became Hyde enjoying himself, rather than just saying ‘I’m going to slit everyone’s throats.’ But it is Jekyll and Hyde, it’s not a rom-com.
The screenwriter, Charlie Higson, said it’s good to scare children. I kind of agree. Doctor Who still scares the bejesus out of me…
Yeah, and that’s why we go to theme parks – we enjoy being scared. ITV wanted to revamp their Sunday night, and have something which got the blood going, rather than just relaxing into a Sunday night stupor.
So did playing such an explosive character make you angrier as a person, or was it kind of cathartic?
There are moments when pure anger comes out, and I think that’s cathartic - it’s part of human nature, everyone has anger in them. And anyone that doesn’t is more terrifying than anyone else. You wonder if they’re killing puppies in their spare time…
That reminds me of an ex-boss…
Ha! It’s all part of the rounded character I was trying to make, and not only in Hyde. Jekyll gets angry too, he just can’t rip the town apart.
So what makes you angry in real life?
Injustice. And I don’t like people being treated badly because of their station. For example both my brothers work in hospitality, and I’ve seen customers be so rude to them, it really makes me angry. Someone being rude to a waiter at dinner, there’s just no excuse for it.
So far the media has described you as a ‘hunky hybrid of Roger Federer and Orlando Bloom’ and ‘ITV’s answer to Poldark’. How does it feel to be a sex symbol?
It’s quite fun, but any of my friends and family would piss themselves laughing at that, as I do. If it gets attention for the show, or attracts a different audience that’s great, but we never set out to make me sexy. My mum thinks I look like a potato.
Well that must be grounding…
Yeah. Well Orlando Bloom is gorgeous so that’s a big complement. But the Federer comparison I’ve had for a long time. At my first day at drama school everyone was saying ‘that new guy looks like Federer.’ If they ever do a biopic of his life I’m there, but the problem is he’s the most boring guy in the world, all he does is play tennis.
Can you play?
No. But I’m good at squash.
Maybe it would be a good idea to brush up your tennis skills. Just in case Federer rocks out a big scandal.
Yeah, like he turns out to be a mass-murderer or something!
Absolutely. So talking of physicality, did you hit the gym to prepare for Jekyll and Hyde?
I’m allergic to gyms - I hate them with a passion. I have huge respect for people who do that, but I haven’t got the patience. I always used to say an hour in the pub goes a lot quicker than an hour in the gym. I mean I like to be active, but I just don’t like working out and I’m never that bothered about my appearance.
That’s refreshing to hear from an actor!
I think there’s a wave against it at the moment. The Poldark thing’s interesting – Aidan Turner worked extremely hard on his physique, he was in the gym for a long time. And Daniel Craig – my god it’s impressive. If it serves the character then absolutely – it works. There was mention of me maybe doing it, but at the end of the day I said Jekyll wouldn’t look like that.
Yeah – he’s a doctor – when would he have time to work out?
Exactly. It takes so much time to look like that – and mainly it’s about what you eat. And I enjoy eating! But I do play squash with my best friend and I love that. And I swim because I find that very therapeutic. But I don’t run. I haven’t lifted a weight in a good three or four years.
Well you’re getting away with it, so it’s all good.
Ha! Well I’m sure when my metabolism slows down I’ll turn into a fat blob! Good luck selling me as a sex symbol then!
There’ll still be parts for you, because you’re a man.
So how did you cope with all the physical scenes in Jekyll and Hyde? I hear you got to work with the Star Wars stunt co-ordinator Nick Gillard too.
Yeah, he was great. Very early on he said he wanted me to do as many of my own stunts as possible because it’s so integral to Hyde’s character. There’s nothing more empowering than destroying a bar and throwing people across the room. Behind the eyes you feel incredible. Those scenes did wonders for my self-confidence!
So does being an actor mean you have a life filled with VIP parties and glamourous events?
I’d love to say yes. But no, you go through peaks and troughs. The end of shows are always fun. And press night is like Christmas – everyone going round giving each other cards and presents and wishing each other luck. And you do get to do exciting things, like going to Sri Lanka for the start of Jekyll and Hyde. We’re very lucky as actors to do what we do and get paid for it. But I think I’d feel guilty if I was having a party all the time – it has to be about the work, otherwise what are you doing it for?
You come from a down to earth family – your parents are teachers, and your siblings aren’t in the acting world. How did they feel about you going into showbiz?
My mum’s a primary school teacher and my dad’s a music teacher. When I was 15 I did the National Youth Theatre, and when I came back I said to my mum ‘I think I want to do this’. But my family couldn’t financially support me. I remember getting letters back from Bristol Old Vic and LAMDA offering me places, Bristol was one of my favourite schools but LAMDA offered me a scholarship. I went to my dad as I didn’t know which one to take, and he took the Bristol letter and ripped it up - he could see the scholarship was my ticket to go, and I didn’t have another one.
Wow, decision made!
Yeah, they’ve always been very supportive and encouraging. But they don’t prize what I do above anyone else. At the dinner table, around a roast dinner, I’ll tell them about my week, then my little brother will tell them about being the manager of a restaurant and my other brother will talk about his job and my sister’s just had a baby so she talks about that. It all becomes one big mess, and that’s how it should be.
So the recent debate about working-class actors not being able to afford to go to drama school, would that have been you?
Definitely, my family don’t have any money so it wouldn’t have been a possibility. I spent my gap year working but I couldn’t have got through with just a few thousand pounds. Scholarships are hugely important, it’s a lifeline. Who knows, the next Daniel Day Lewis could get offered a drama school place but not be able to afford to go. I’m very lucky to have got that scholarship otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.
Where did you work in your gap year?
I worked in several bars and a deli in Oxford, at the same time as auditioning for drama school. Oxford’s great because there’s lots of amateur dramatics – I did lots of that – about three shows in that year.
Hmmm…Some actors are a bit sniffy about am dram.
No way. Was it Uta Hagen, a brilliant actress from time gone past, who said that amateur means ‘for the love of’? These people don’t get paid, and they have jobs and families and they give up their time to do it. You get maybe two hours a week to rehearse. For me it was great training for film and television because you learn to quickly get something off the page, with minimal rehearsal. I don’t regret a single show – I made friends for life.
So right now, you’re not just on our screens, but also playing in rep with the Kenneth Branagh Theatre company at the Garrick. How do you deal with opening night nerves?
I get them bad. A director once told me it’s a bit like holding a cow pat in your hand, and you have to be aware of this thing that you don’t like and it’s there in your way, but it’s not going to go away so you have to deal with it. Another director compared us to sportsmen, who get the adrenaline going to make their muscles a bit more pumped up. The focus on press night is amazing – it’s like the outside world doesn’t exist.
Do you ever get star struck by your fellow actors – working alongside the likes of Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh and Zoe Wannamaker?
Every day, it never goes away! And working with Richard E Grant, Donald Sumpter and Sinéad Cusack in Jekyll and Hyde. But that’s the joy of it – these are my gods. Judi has a thing where she says you should watch the play – the scene that goes before you – to know what play you’re in. So every evening I’ll come down and watch a couple of scenes. You’re sat four feet away from Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh, watching them and talking to them every day – it’s a huge privilege. It’s annoying when the star struck thing gets in the way – but them being the wonderful people they are you can almost forget it.
Was playing the role of Will Shakespeare in the stage production of Shakespeare in Love (a part played by Joseph Fiennes in the movie) the moment you thought you’d really made it as an actor?
I think fear came first! The role came along, and somewhere deep down I knew I could do it. I worked my ass off for the audition and throughout the process. It was a point in my life I thought I can really do this, and without really knowing it I became the lead in a West End show. I was very proud of it, it was a bit of a game changer.
The creator of Downton Abbey – Julian Fellowes - ruffled a few feathers by saying the Bard’s language is inaccessible without ‘a very expensive education’. Reckon there’s a truth in that?
I completely disagree. The Bard himself came from a relatively working class background - he didn’t have any special education – and he was a genius. Ken Branagh’s the perfect example, he came from very humble beginnings and he’s now the king of Shakespeare. So I respectfully, massively disagree. I think Shakespeare’s for all.
You have a twin brother – is there any truth in the twin telepathy theory? Do you feel each other’s pain?
No, I don’t think there’s any truth in the telepathy. But I think if you grow up with someone every day from birth you’re going to be more in tune with them. I’m more in tune with him, and miss him more than the rest of my family (sorry family!). He’s off traveling at the moment.
Quick fire round – are you passionately-expressive or Englishly-polite?
Cat or dog person?
Throthy latte or black coffee?
Do you have any recurring dreams?
The classic actor one, forgetting your lines.
Describe yourself in three words
Loud, jumpy… boyish. That’s rubbish! Add inarticulate!
Tell me something about yourself I’d never guess in a million years?
I was a vegetarian for 14 years. I eat meat now.
You get a last minute, surprise day off – how do you spend it?
BASE jumping in the wingsuits. You’d have to train, but I’d love to do that.
What piece of technology couldn’t you live without?
Gosh, I’m rubbish. I don’t like technology very much. I could live without all of it. But I couldn’t do without my feet, because I like walking.
Tom can currently be seen in Jekyll and Hyde, Sunday evenings on ITV.
Also appearing in The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s productions of The Winter’s Tale and Harlequinade / All On Her Own play in repertory at the Garrick Theatre. The Winter’s Tale will be broadcast to cinemas across the world live on 26 November. www.branaghtheatre.com
Interview by Bethany Minelle
Photography Yakub Merchant
Video shot and edited by Logan Irvine-MacDougall
Grooming by Hannah Williams
Shot on location at Murdock, London
18 Monmouth Street,