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Penny Dreadful: Shazad Latif on Jekyll and Frankenstein's relationship

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Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

What do you do when raising the dead doesn’t quite go as planned? You enlist a friend. In its third season, Penny Dreadful has added to its arsenal of literary characters with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif), here an old schoolmate of the defeated Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).

“They were each other’s only friends, really,” Latif tells EW of the unlikely duo. “And then there’s a competitiveness with our characters, because we’re both very good at science.”

The appeal of Latif and Treadaway’s charged dynamic isn’t lost on Latif, who says, “I feel like we just have natural chemistry, really.” But fans hoping to see Jekyll and Frankenstein take it to the next level might be disappointed.

“There’s a lot of history and it’s quite intense,” Latif says, “so I think that’s naturally there, but it’s not a part of the story.”

Latif went straight to the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, after getting the part — and was surprised at what he found. “One of the first chapters, he stabs some guy’s head in Soho. It’s just a very horrible beginning to a book,” Latif marvels. “I think people assume that it’s an old novel, so it’s going to be very uptight, but there’s a darkness which is very open.”

But Penny Dreadful has a way of putting its own spin on classic characters, and Jekyll is no exception. “It’s a bit more prequel-y, because me and Harry are playing younger versions of these characters,” says Latif, “so it’s before you get to that point in the book. It’s John [Logan, the show’s creator]’s own take. My character, we’ve gone down a mixed-race route, which is very refreshing.”

Latif’s incarnation of Dr. Jekyll has a father in the English colonial military and an Indian mother, a vision Latif appreciates. “It’s just a completely new take,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a mixed-race Jekyll in this sense. Victorian England — historically, it’s correct. He’s already an outsider, which is a very nice way to start.”

And while the actor can’t say if we’ll see his character go full Hyde by season’s end, he can promise that viewers will see hints of the rage that Jekyll is working to repress. “There’s essences of his anger coming out,” says Latif, who teases that not all of his lab equipment makes it out of Sunday’s episode unscathed.

“That was quite a lot of glasses,” Latif laughs. “We broke a few in the rehearsal, and then we were like, ‘Alright, we can’t break all of these, because there’s only a certain amount.’ It’s quite weird, as an actor. You’ve got to time your freak outs.”

Latif can also tease “more and more intense, weird moments” between his character and Treadaway’s down the line. “We start doing a lot of experimenting, strapping more people to chairs,” he says. But beyond his storyline, Latif — who became a fan of the show after landing the role, when he watched the first two seasons in a matter of days — is in the dark, and he’s enjoying the chance to watch the action play out in real time.

“I’m really loving the relationship between Dr. Sweet [Christian Camargo] and Vanessa Ives [Eva Green],” he says. “I really love the music from the show, and those scenes are just very nice to watch as a viewer. It’s lovely acting and writing.”

“And obviously Dr. Seward [Patti LuPone] as well,” Latif adds. “I like those therapy scenes.”

Dr. Jekyll should take note.

Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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