Kevin MacNeil - A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde
The classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde influenced the latest novel by Kevin MacNeil. Brian Donaldson hears from an author who believes there are at least two sides to every story
It’s often easy enough for a piece of art to imitate life but when life starts mirroring art, that’s when things can turn a bit strange. In his new book, A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, Kevin MacNeil begins with his complex hero, the aspiring thespian Robert Lewis (get it?) having a serious bike accident in Edinburgh on his way to rehearsals for a new stage production of Jekyll and Hyde. With that passage written and the book nearing its conclusion, MacNeil himself was involved in a bike accident, but chose not to rewrite the scene as he was happy enough with the end product in the book, plus there were legal ramifications to his own crash.
Yet, this incident merely adds on another unintended layer to a book riddled with meta-meaning and postmodern playfulness, terms which MacNeil is not entirely comfortable with. ‘I leave all that for the critics,’ says the writer in his Hebridean lilt from his Portobello home. ‘I write the best books I can; that’s my remit. People will have different interpretations on whatever you write and for those who say this is a piece of meta-fiction or postmodernism, there will be someone else who either doesn’t realise that or doesn’t agree or simply doesn’t care. Any single text is a hundred different texts to a hundred different readers.’
While MacNeil acknowledges the importance of RLS’ classic story of duality, science and the self to the literary canon and as an influence on his own writing, he insists that The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde is simply a starting point for his tale about the process of creating identity and ‘character’ through acting and writing; it’s not a direct retelling. ‘I read one day that it was the third most filmed story of all time and I was proud that it was a Scottish author who had created such a success. I thought of how many versions of this story there must be and how difficult it would be to have an original take on that. I had this idea simmering in my mind about a method actor starting to become a Hyde through his roles because we all have that in ourselves, whether we acknowledge it or not.’
So, when the previously meek and mild Robert Lewis takes a blow or two to the head, his character is transformed both physically and psychologically to take no nonsense from anyone, especially when he has just been humiliated in front of the play’s cast and crew at a lavish party. The plot thickens further when we appear to be introduced to a bed-ridden MacNeil himself in the novel’s second section. ‘I like my books to feel autobiographical even though they’re not. A lot of people think they are, which I take as a compliment in a strange way. Behind all the masks that we wear, what’s our original face? Whereas Stevenson’s premise is man is not truly one but two, my angle is that humankind is not two or three but one. The book has lots of allusions to Stevenson’s story, and I had a lot of fun making those allusions. Ultimately, I hope it will inspire people to seek out the original.
A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde is out now published by Polygon.