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'We've all got a mask that we like to put on in public'

More than a century after the original tale was published, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde still has the power to captivate. Natalie Gumede, who stars in ITV's lavish new production, tells Susan Griffin we all have different sides.

Following her departure from Coronation Street, Natalie Gumede's popped up in the likes of Doctor Who and Death In Paradise - but Jekyll & Hyde marks an opportunity to really pack a punch on the small screen.

And the 31-year-old couldn't have been more excited by the prospect of having a starring role in the 10-part series.

"As soon as I saw the script, I just went, 'Yes, this is something to get my teeth into'," admits the actress with a laugh.

"I never thought I'd be cast in a period drama like this, but the wonderful thing about Jekyll & Hyde is how diversely it's been cast and the strength of the female roles," she adds.

The Burnley-born actress plays Bella Charming, the owner of a seedy East End pub called The Empire - who also happens to run a criminal gang on the side.

"I didn't know what Bella would be or what she would look like, but when I met with hair, make-up and costume and they said she's going to be glamorous with jewels and lashes, I knew it was going to be great fun. I don't usually get to play glamorous roles!" reveals Gumede, who starred as the abusive Kirsty Soames in Coronation Street from 2011 to 2013.

"Kirsty was a gift because it made me realise what I'm strongest at," she notes. "And what I'm strongest at is strong women with a bit of dark underbelly."

Jekyll & Hyde is a new take on Robert Louis Stevenson's iconic novel, first published in 1886, by the acclaimed writer Charlie Higson.

It follows Robert Jekyll's quest to discover his real identity, his true family history and the nature of his curse, whereby in moments of extreme anger or stress, the normally naive, sensitive Jekyll transforms into Hyde, a confident, risk-taking and ultimately self-destructive persona.

There's also something of a love triangle between Jekyll (played by Tom Bateman), Sir Roger Bulstrode - the head of secret government MI0 known as 'The Invisible Men', portrayed by Richard E. Grant - and Bella, the no-nonsense femme fatale.

Self-reliant and dangerous, Gumede observes: "Bella's feisty and funny, and it's the humour that Charlie injects into his scripts and characters that's just a joy to play. When you get a comedy line you have a little fist pump to yourself,"

A fan of The Fast Show, the Nineties sketch show Higson co-created with Paul Whitehouse, the actress admits it took all her restraint not to "be that person who's quoting back all the different catchphrases to him".

"He's a genius and the humour is very important, because there's a lot of high drama as well," reveals Gumede, who adds that Bella and Hyde's worlds collide when the latter literally crashes into her life after starting a fight in the pub.

"Bella just thinks this guy is trouble, until he gets injured and we think he might die. But then three days later he wakes up, and has reverted to the meek and mild Robert."

Curious to see how Bateman was going to transform from one personality to the other, she says: "Obviously, there's a couple of physical costume and make-up changes, but mostly it's done with his presence. Tom makes such a definite contrast between the two that there's no mistaking who he is."

She didn't meet Bateman until the read-through, and remarks, "I think it's a testament to him as an actor, how he has handled the weight of a lead role on his young shoulders. He deals with it with such ease and dynamism, and was so friendly and engaging with everybody he met on set."

As the East End's Queen Bee, Bella is physically, as well as mentally, tough, and the actress admits she was a little nervous about the kick-boxing required for one sequence.

"I think the fight director had seen me on Strictly (Come Dancing; Gumede took part in the series in 2013) and thought I was still at that level of fitness, and of course, I haven't tried to high kick for two years, so it wasn't easy!"

Bella's talents also extend to singing and downing pints, neither of which are Gumede's strong points - or so she thought.

"I had to sing a bit at college because it was part of my course, but I really wasn't a singer and have never sung professionally so I've just avoided it - until now.

"I said I would do it, because it was so frightening to me that I thought it was important to get past it.

As for sinking pints, laughing, she adds: "I said I hadn't done it before but I'd give it a go, and it turns out I'm a champion at it. It must be the Northerner in me!"

The pint of 'beer' was as actually "a disgusting blend of watered-down cola with a non-alcoholic lager top for the foam, so it was pretty vile".

"We had to do four takes, which is not good while wearing a really tight dress," she adds.

Of course, this isn't the first time the story has been adapted and retold, and Gumede has a theory as to why the tale, and its protagonist, remains so popular more than 100 years since the novel's publication.

"I think we're fascinated by Jekyll and Hyde because all of us have two sides," she reasons. "We've all got our public mask."

Jekyll & Hyde begins on ITV, next Sunday, 6.30pm

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