Out of sight

Jasmine Hyde on taking on The Unseen

by Jennie Kermode

Simon Cotton, Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood at the Unseen première in London
Simon Cotton, Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood at the Unseen première in London Photo: Getty Images

The stars were out on Tuesday night for the London première of Gary Sinyor's new thriller The Unseen, which stars Jasmine Hyde as a woman trying to put her life back together after the loss of her young son. Attending in a magnificent gown by Miami designer Misha Kaura, Jasmine looked a world away from her character, who must wrestle not only with the pain of bereavement but with panic attacks that rob her of her sight - just as her husband (played by Richard Flood) is starting to hear voices.

A twisting tale with a heroine who is determined to control her own destiny despite the pressures she faces, The Unseen provided a big break for Jasmine, who has previously been seen in The Truth Commissioner and A Distant Mirage. "My first lead in a feature, so it's quite exciting!" she told me when we spoke about the role a few days earlier. So how did it come about?

Gemma learns to listen with a little help from Paul
Gemma learns to listen with a little help from Paul

"I'd previously worked with Gary, the director, on a theatre job, and he sent me a couple of scripts to read - initially to read just generally - and I though this was very, very interesting and intriguing. And then he asked me if I would be interested in playing Gemma if he could could get it off the ground, and I said yes! And that was it, really.

"Then he met with a quite a few people to find the other two. So for me, we'd already got a working relatiionship and knew that we could work together. I think I would have been a little bit more trepidatious if it was somebody I didn't know at all. I was thinking that it was going to be quite a difficult role for me in some ways, potentially quite a traumatic shoot. But fortunately I knew him and trusted him and thought 'No, he'll make sure it's okay.'"

Did that existing relationship help when it came to dealing with the difficult emotional aspects of the role?

"Yeah, definitely. I think Gary was very careful, very respectful and careful in setting up particular scenes and generally in acknowledging that there's some quite horrid stuff in there, subject matter-wise and action-wise. And I think he was careful in his casting of the guys. He met with them and made sure he knew them and that they would be the right types of personality to take on the project and the roles.

Will and Gemma visit Paul to gat away for a while
Will and Gemma visit Paul to gat away for a while

"Actually, the stressful scenes are stressful but the team - it was quite a pared-down team, quite a small crew - there was a really positive, jolly vibe on set. I think maybe it's a necessary way of coping with doing horrid scenes, to make sure that everyone is kind of upbeat when the camera's not rolling.

"I met Richard who plays Will, my husband, a couple of times before the shoot, and actually before Gary cast him - he wanted to make sure that we gelled and made a believable couple and were, you know, normal, sane, alright people who would be okay together. I actually didn't meet Simon [Cotton] before he joined us on the first day, but I'd heard so much about him from Gary and it became apparent very soon that he was a really lovely person. I remember when I read the script I thought 'Hey, who on Earth are you going to get to play Paul? This is going to be a tough one.' And Simon is such a lovely, gentle soul.

"I think the other think that was good that Gary made sure we did was to chat about all the scenes that we were thinking 'Oh God!' about. We chatted at length about what we worried or concerned about. So it felt like it was all out in the open, and they were incredibly lovely and respectful."

Paul and Will try to pick up the mood
Paul and Will try to pick up the mood

Richard's character is, of course, going through bereavement at the same time, and the intensity of his experiences leads him to behave in disturbing ways. How did Jasmine approach filming those scenes?

"It wasn't difficult to play because in the scenes where Will really loses it, it's terrifying for Gemma, so there's nothing difficult for me as an actor about playing that. It's terrifying when someone behaves like that, that you love and trust, it's devastating. And then you feel that you're not really together because they're crumbling, psychologically and emotionally, before your eyes. But at the heart of it, before they lost their son, you can tell that Gemma and Will had a very solid relationship. It's not a marriage that was on the rocks and then they lose their son, in which case I'd imagine they'd just separate, because I think it's rare that relationships go through this amount of trauma and survive.

"Richard's so fantastic that I found it very easy to play opposite him. He gives you everything."

And how did she research her character's experiences?

Gemma tries to support Will through bereavement
Gemma tries to support Will through bereavement

"The internet is a wonderful thing!" She laughs. "So yeah, lots of googling, lots of internet searches. And then lots of thinking about what it's like not to be able to see. Actually I myself have experienced not Gemma's condition but a while back I suffered from loss of vision in blackouts. My vision would go hazy and then completely disappear. It was basically blackouts and fainting but my sight would go before my legs would, and whilst it's not nice that I know what the's like, it was useful to have personal experience to draw from.

"In terms of the mental, emotional trauma of losing a child, I thankfully do not have that experience. I do have a child and that certainly colours how one approaches the role. It's not nice; you can go to some very dark places. I mean, gosh, being away, filming hundreds of miles away, making a film about losing your son and meanwhile leving your son back in London is not a great, well, I rang home a lot, put it that way."

It's rare to see what is, in many ways, a classic woman in peril role subverted because the woman in question is such a determined character, I suggest.

Jasmine Hyde showing off a £30,000 Misha Kaura gown at the London première of The Unseen
Jasmine Hyde showing off a £30,000 Misha Kaura gown at the London première of The Unseen Photo: Getty Images

"I think you're right. I think it is unusual, and that's one of the reasons why I really wanted to do it, because Gary didn't want it to be and I didn't want it to be watching someone who is really sad and upset the whole time, a victim basically. And let's face it, she is a victim in many ways. She's a victim of losing a child, she's a victim of being stalked, she's a victim of sexual abuse, but you're right, she's a phenomenally strong person and character. Hats off to her! And yes, it is rare, because often the women get cast as the weak one who needs to be rescued and that's just a bit boring and dull and undermining for me after a while - and for women generally! And for cinemagoers. So I suppose - nothing to do with me - Gary chose to write the central character as a woman, and as a woman who fights back and is strong. That's really good and I wish more people would do it."

So what's next for her?

"I have no idea what I'm doing next with my career!" She pauses for a moment to think. "I'd like to do something a bit light. That would be quite nice. And I have just finished filming on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, which is going to be on Amazon next year, which is a huge six-parter series, so it will be exciting when that comes out. But as for me now, I don't know. I've really got a taste for doing some nice screen work now but I like to mix it up a bit. My last project before Good Omens was a theatre job and I also do a lot of radio."

Will be seeing her on the big screen again in future?

"I hope so. It's a very particular medium and this was definitely a big learning curve for me. This helped me a lot, this shoot. It was relentless, with long hours because I was in virtually every scene. It was pretty full on and it felt like booster training - it was just go, go, go the whole time... I hope people like it."

The Unseen will go on general release in the UK on 15 December.

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