Ewen Leslie on bad guys and why public opinion is the true monster


There are only a few actors whose onscreen loss of life has been cheered as a lot as Ewen Leslie’s. That second in The Cry, when his manipulative husband is distributed crashing to his finish? By no means has the unclicking of a seatbelt introduced a lot satisfaction.

“Individuals hated that man a lot,” says Leslie. “It retains getting replayed on TV and you may inform when it’s on as a result of folks in parks go, [he whispers] ‘There’s that man from The Cry.’”

Do they transfer their kids away from him?

He laughs. “He was only a actually well-written narcissist. That’s why it was so plausible. As a result of everybody goes, ‘I do know that [type of] man.’

“[When we were shooting the first half in Melbourne], it was actually nice as a result of I used to be like, I don’t want to fret concerning the viewers, as a result of nobody’s going to go along with me on this. Nobody’s gonna go, ‘Oh, I form of favored him.’

Leslie and Backer will interact with an on-stage camera crew for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Leslie and Backer will work together with an on-stage digital camera crew for Unusual Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Credit score:Daniel Boud

“However in direction of the top, I began to battle with it. As soon as we had been in Glasgow, I used to be like, ‘F—, man. I simply have to get out of this man’s head.’ I discovered it actually difficult.”

The 42-year-old is sitting within the solar at Theatre Bar on the Finish of the Wharf. He’s quickly to begin rehearsals for Sydney Theatre Firm’s Unusual Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, through which he can be required to get into the pinnacle of not solely the upstanding Dr Jekyll however his savage alter-ego Mr Hyde.

Primarily based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella and tailored and directed by the STC’s creative director Kip Williams, the story is rooted in Gothic horror and considers the true nature not solely of people however of society.

“The true monster of doom is public opinion,” says Leslie. “He lives on this Victorian period, the place there have been all these social pressures and it was all about the way you offered your public standing and what the general public opinion was.

Ewen Leslie and Matt Backer, are the stars of the Sydney Theatre Companies’ production of Jekyll and Hyde.

Ewen Leslie and Matt Backer, are the celebs of the Sydney Theatre Firms’ manufacturing of Jekyll and Hyde.Credit score:Brook Mitchell

“However this man, who had all these secret needs and fantasies about the one that he actually wished to be, he felt that due to who he was in society, he wasn’t in a position to do it.”

Does Leslie suppose we must always all reveal our true selves?

“To a sure diploma,” he says. “All of us function with some degree of worry, proper? The quantity of occasions you look again and go, ‘Oh, man, I want I had the bravery to say that.’

“As an actor, I really feel that a lot of the time. Once I suppose again on a play, or take a look at one thing I did, I’m going, ‘I want I wasn’t scared once I did that.’ We’re all scared. So in that regard, completely. By way of murdering folks? I’m gonna draw a line.”

Unusual Case of Jekyll and Hyde bears similarities to Williams’ blockbuster adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Image of Dorian Grey. That present had Eryn Jean Norvill enjoying 26 dwell and pre-recorded characters throughout two hours whereas juggling a number of costume adjustments, 4 cell phones and an on-stage digital camera crew.

The books had been revealed solely 5 years aside and look at the Victorian fascination with duality: our public vs personal selves. In The Image of Dorian Grey, Dorian makes a pact of kinds with the satan, so his true age is saved hidden, whereas Jekyll hides his violent alter-ego, fearing what society will make of his actual id.

Kip Williams (right) during rehearsals with Leslie and Backer. “Terrifying”, is how Leslie describes it.

Kip Williams (proper) throughout rehearsals with Leslie and Backer. “Terrifying”, is how Leslie describes it. Credit score:Daniel Boud

“One factor that pursuits me in revisiting this story 120-odd years later is what was it that Robert Louis Stevenson couldn’t overtly say, again in his interval,” says Williams. “He was deconstructing a society that forces someone to compartmentalise themselves.

“The story seems on the damages of that compartmentalisation and the injustice and tragedy of it. And it’s attention-grabbing that over the course of that 120 years, society has co-opted Robert Louis Stevenson’s story into this notion of all of us have this monster inside.

“I don’t personally see Hyde as a monster, I see the Victorian social values as a monster, and I’m questioning how a lot we nonetheless maintain on to these values.”

For his half, Leslie likens the persevering with curiosity in Jekyll and Hyde to the craze for exhibits about serial killers, comparable to Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix.

“There’s a fascination folks have with the mild-mannered man that lives subsequent door that secretly does these horrible issues,” he says. “After which folks go, ‘It’s like a Jekyll and Hyde factor.’

“And I feel, in my head, I all the time thought the story was about somebody who by accident created this potion that makes up why would you wish to be a monster. Whereas it’s really somebody who desires to try this. It turns into this dependancy.”

Leslie with Jenna Coleman in The Cry, which was seen by 8 million people in the UK, his biggest TV audience so far.

Leslie with Jenna Coleman in The Cry, which was seen by 8 million folks within the UK, his greatest TV viewers thus far. Credit score:Lachlan Moore

That mild-mannered man who lives subsequent door may simply be Leslie. Everybody at STC goes to nice lengths to inform you how pretty he’s. Williams gushes “Ewen is likely one of the sweetest, nicest folks you may ever meet”, whereas Matt Backer, who performs Dr Jekyll’s good good friend Mr Utterson, calls him “friggin’ unimaginable”.

In individual, Leslie is gregarious and chatty, a a lot lighter determine than the furrowed forehead seen on display. He begins a narrative with, “I don’t know if I ought to inform you this …” (completely) after which checks later that I’m not going to print it (completely not).

In reality, the one one who appears vaguely unimpressed is Leslie’s six-year-old son, who received’t let his dad stroll via the varsity gates at drop-off and asks him to cease practising Victorian-era English accents lest anybody in school overhear.

Good man he could also be, however it could possibly’t be denied Leslie has developed fairly the knack for enjoying narcissists, rogues and, effectively, folks you simply wish to punch. He delivered an unhinged Cassius, certainly one of three roles he performed, in Julius Caesar at STC; he popped out of the bushes as a sinister dude in a go well with within the Toni Collette Netflix thriller Items of Her; was referred to as a “bizarro Basil Fawlty” in ABC TV’s comedian drama Operation Buffalo; and chilled as a violent rapist in Warwick Thornton’s movie Candy Nation.

“A lot of the time as an actor, you’re simply attempting to subvert folks’s expectations of what you are able to do,” he says. “It’s a trick. Like folks will go, ‘Ewen Leslie, he’s that, he can try this.’

“There have been a bunch of years there the place I performed a bunch of disaffected, tortured mental folks. And I used to be like, ‘F—, I’ve bought to indicate folks I can play an abnormal man.’ After which I did The Daughter, which was based mostly on the Wild Duck, the place I performed a very good man in a tough state of affairs.

Leslie as the sadistic station owner Harry March in Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country.

Leslie because the sadistic station proprietor Harry March in Warwick Thornton’s Candy Nation.

“After which on the again of that, I bought Prime of the Lake and Secure Harbour, and different roles like that. After which Candy Nation got here alongside, and I went, ‘Oh, this can be good. I can play a foul man, I can play an arsehole.’ Nobody’s seen that earlier than. After which I bought The Cry …”

Williams says it’s Leslie’s “distinctive capacity to plumb the psychological depths of the character” that attracts audiences in.

“He has that exceptional versatility as an actor,” says Williams. “Technically, by way of his vocal dexterity, but additionally within the comedian and dramatic interaction he has in all of his creations on stage.

“And I additionally simply love working with him. He’s a kind of actors who, on the ground, evokes you in a thousand completely different instructions you by no means considered earlier than.”

For Unusual Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Williams is returning to the cine-theatre strategy he used so successfully for Dorian Grey. Leslie and Backer will work together with a digital camera crew on stage and the present will use pre-recorded items.

“It’s a mash-up of science fiction, movie noir, Gothic horror and detective tropes,” says Williams. “Riffing off Hitchcock and Kubrick with a wholesome dose of Sally Potter’s breaking the fourth wall. We love the homicide thriller and this is likely one of the early iconic variations of these genres, so we’re actually leaning into that.”

The friendship of Dr Jekyll and Mr Utterson is at the heart of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The friendship of Dr Jekyll and Mr Utterson is on the coronary heart of Unusual Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Credit score:Brook Mitchell

It’s additionally a narrative of friendship, which Backer thinks can be a revelation.

“Everybody is aware of the mythology of Jekyll and Hyde and persons are coming to it realizing the twist,” says Backer, who describes Utterson as “somebody who doesn’t wish to go outdoors of his personal field”.

“Lots of people, having not learn the novella, can be shocked the protagonist is absolutely this dusty, dreary, austere man who’s combating to save lots of his greatest good friend. It’s really fairly shifting.”

Each actors have labored with Williams earlier than, so are already ready for the frantic juggling that goes on in a Williams manufacturing. What’s it like?

“This isn’t a two-person present,” says Leslie. “That is an ensemble present. Like there’s two of us however there’s additionally a three- or four-person digital camera crew and we’re all working collectively to try to get it proper.

“It actually made me rethink Dorian. As a lot because it’s this unimaginable one-person present, it additionally has this whole crew of crew working their arses off to convey all of it collectively. So, I suppose the one phrase reply could be terrifying. Terrifying.”


Backer, in the meantime, has distinctive coaching for dealing with the on-stage digital camera crew: his function as an everyday presenter on Play Faculty.

“Once you enter Play Faculty, the very first thing they inform you is to talk to the digital camera as if it’s one baby,” says Backer. “A lot of Play Faculty is about addressing the digital camera with a way of power and pleasure.

“You’re sharing a narrative however then, within the story, you’ll be Matt, you then’ll be Jemima, subsequent you’ll be Little Ted. You’re all the time leaping out and in of character. So, surprisingly, Play Faculty has really ready me for Jekyll and Hyde.”

Much less horror on Play Faculty, I hope?

“It’s the Unusual Case of Large Ted and Little Ted,” he says, laughing.

Leslie has additionally began to consider kids’s TV, too, particularly because the accents at house aren’t chopping it. In any case, he bought his begin as an actor on the Nineties kids’s present Ship to Shore.

“I wrote a letter to Bluey to try to get on the present,” he says. “It hasn’t occurred but.”

Certainly, that is what he needs to be utilizing his clout for?

“C’mon,” he says, laughing, pretending to learn the letter in a low voice. “Haven’t you seen The Cry? I performed the psycho.”

Unusual Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is at Roslyn Packer Theatre from August 5 to September 3.

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