With less than two weeks before the Carter family arrive in Walford, actors Danny Dyer (Mick), Kellie Bright (Linda), Maddy Hill (Nancy) and Sam Strike (Johnny) gathered in The Queen Vic for an interview with renowned columnist Grace Dent. Here are the highlights of their chat. (contains very minor spoilers).
Just how does it feel to have joined EastEnders?
Danny: Very, very surreal… when you’re doing it, it’s a different process to seeing it, and to see your yourself on The Square is a moment. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m loving it.
Does it feel like an incredible amount of pressure to join EastEnders?
Kellie: I think you put yourself under a lot of pressure, generally, as an actor, you know? You want to come in and do the best you can do and we’ve been given some really great material. That’s where the pressure comes from really, rather than from anywhere outside of you.
Danny: it’s EastEnders, so of course it’s pressure. Obviously the cast are already here, so we’re taking over The Vic. It’s massive, you can’t hide from here.
Kellie: You’ve got to hit the ground running, that’s what it’s like. It’s like jumping on a rollercoaster that is in full motion - it doesn’t slow down. It’s definitely not going to stop, so you’ve got to kind of jump in - get on the ride. It’s amazing; everyone is very lovely and really welcoming.
I didn’t know you were given mentors. Can you tell me who your mentors are?
Maddy: Mine’s Jessie Wallace, Kat. It was so mental for me because she was my idea of EastEnders when I was watching it most avidly, so I was like, Whhhhaaaaaa!
Kellie: Rita Simons is mine. She’s fabulous and just brilliant and has obviously been behind the bar here, so has been a great help, actually. More than that it’s about having someone for me that’s also a mum, so she understands all that thing about being a working mum. The hours are long here and all of a sudden, you’re kind of like “Ooh I’m in work mode, I haven’t seen my little boy for four days,” and she’s been really great about all of that and very, very helpful.
Sam: I had Jamie Borthwick, and he was very helpful and accommodating. He gave me a call after my first meeting here, just to make sure I was feeling alright about everything.
Danny: I had Shane Richie, but I didn’t see him to be honest with you! (roars of laughter).He’s lovely, Shane, he’s really lovely. It is more just to show you around really, because when you first come here it is like being at a new school – I’m pushing 40, you know what I mean?
Kellie: Oh shut up, your 36! I’m sick of this! I’m older than Danny and every time he says he’s pushing 40, I’m like, “Well if your pushing 40…”
Tell us about who you are, what your character is and is there anything about that character that is at all like you in real life?
Kellie: Yes, there are definite similarities between myself and Linda. First of all they’ve been together since they were kids, like real kids, and they’ve really grown up together. It’s a weird thing when you’ve known someone practically your whole life. You’re more than husband and wife, you’re something else, so it was really that whole relationship has been incredibly important and sort of informative of who I am just as an individual. So she’s the hot-headed one of the two I would say.
Danny: She’s a nightmare…
Kellie: I knew I had to be careful how I answered this. She’s not a nightmare, she has a lot to cope with. She’s got a big heart. She grew up in a pub. She becomes friends with Sharon, who also grew up in a pub, so she eats and breathes this place. It’s her domain.
Are they good parents?
Sam: It’s a tight family unit, definitely.
Maddy: Ups and downs obviously, but it wouldn’t be EastEnders otherwise.
Maddie and Sam, were you EastEnders fans? And has it been fun working with your new mum and dad?
Maddy: Of course, of course, its unavoidable. We spend every waking minute together.
Tell me about your character Maddy.
Maddy: Nancy is boisterous. A little more boisterous than me… She’s a Tomboy.
Does she play sport as well?
Maddy: She’s pretty good at sports.
Sam: I think Johnny is quite an introvert. He’s very open and lively around his family because he trusts them. He’s by no means a lad, and even though he’s close to his mum and his dad. He’s closer to his mum in a sense that he was never the football kid. I think it’s kind of a case of like they’d go and see musicals together and stuff.
Kellie: He’s the youngest as well. He’s the baby.
And you have another son too?
Kellie: We’ve got an older son. He’s in Afghanistan. Lee. We are yet to meet Lee.
Danny: It’s good to come in together. It’s going to be a lot harder coming in on your own. We have come here and experienced it together. I think for me, the more you can make a character like yourself the better, as there’s nowhere to hide in this show – HD and all that! You know, it’s about being real – you can’t pretend. You know you’re acting all that – you’ve got to try and get as much as yourself in there. Makes the job a bit easier and all, doesn’t it?
What do you think your character is like though? Do you think you’re a nice person?
Danny: I’m just like a normal guy who loves his family and is protective of them, a grafter. But there’s definitely something there - you just don’t quite see it.
Whats this about a dressing gown?
Danny: He’s quite in touch with his feminine side. He likes [Linda’s] pink dressing gown. We have a big row if she wants it back. it’s showing a side to me that no one has really seen before, and that’s why I was so interested in the role.
I’m getting the feeling this isn’t a lovey-dovey relationship? What are they like?
Kellie: They are, I would say, madly in love with each other. Wouldn’t you?
Danny: Passionate. Filth, the pair of them! They’ve got that thing, that lust thing…
Kellie: There’s fire there – there’s real fizz – They’re either tearing each other’s heads off or they’re tearing each other’s clothes off. I don’t know, I think Den and Angie were Den and Angie. I think Mick and Linda are Mick and Linda.
Danny: I’ve got a bit of Butcher about me – I’m going to try and bring a bit of Frank back.
Kellie: Yeah, so Frank and Angie.
Tell us about Mick and Linda's dog.
Maddy: You remember the first scene we did with her in the car over the [headhpones] and we were trying to pick up cues? We were like, “We can’t hear anything cause of the dog. The dog is in the back, going, “Ugh, ugh, ugh.”
Kellie: She a sweetheart and everyone goes potty for her. When she’s in, everyone goes “Ahhh”. She’s great isn’t she? She’s lovely – it’s lovely to have a dog. I’im really pleased that we’ve come in with a dog. Feels great, feels right.
Danny: A bulldog and all – it’s old-school.
Do you like dogs?
Kellie: Yeah, we all do.
Sam: Dog lover. Lucky wasn’t it?
Does the dog like you?
Kellie: Yeah, it’s getting used to us. Yeah she does.
Danny: She’ll do anything for a bit of a cheddar , you know what I mean? Anything…
Maddy: She loves cheese.
I’m really curious how you prepare to look like you can run a pub – How do you do that? Did they give you any training?
Danny: A little bit. We learnt to pull pints and stuff, but it’s just the general day-to-day stuff. It’s not easy.
Who can pull a pint?
Maddy: We were better than Mum and Dad!
Can you not pull a pint?
Danny: Yeah, course I can – don’t listen to that - that’s not true! In the show, you don’t have time. I just top the pint off.
Kellie: Don’t ruin the illusion!
Danny: Just keep yourself busy in general, they can’t reach the glasses up here see.
Kellie: Yeah it is keeping yourself busy – it’s like anything you’ve got to make sure you look like you live and work…
Danny: it’s a stage, it’s a little stage yeah…
You really feel like that don’t you, you feel like this is your kingdom?
Danny: It is, absolutely, and it’s an honour because it’s the hub of the show.
Have you worked with June Brown yet?
Kellie: She’s just an incredible woman – I felt like I was in the company of royalty. She’s amazing and so good. You definitely keel over if you meet June – She’s is lovely and she is brilliant.
Danny: It’s harder doing it in the launderette with her – that’s her litter manor. I had a little scene with her in there and I couldn’t get my nut round it. She’s 86 and she’s so on it.
This isn’t your first time in EastEnders, Kellie. What else did you do?
Kellie: It was a long time ago.
Danny: You’re pushing 40 now, that’s why!
Kellie: I was at Michelle and Lofty’s wedding – I think it was 1986, and I was a little girl at the wedding and I had to ask to go to the toilet. I run up the aisle and back again. I was talking to Letitia Dean about it the other day, actually. Yesterday I had a scene in here and I went” I told you,” and she went “I was bridesmaid.”
And then you were offered a role before?
Kellie: No, I wasn’t offered a role. I’ve been up for numerous roles in EastEnders and the one I got closest to playing was Tanya Branning. I screen tested in here with Jake Wood and it was between me and Jo Joyner. It wasn’t my time, that’s all I’m saying…
Did you nearly take a role as well?
Danny: They came to me a couple of times. The last time was going to be Carl, I’m so glad it wasn’t the right time for me. The thing is, it was a good part, but there was no mileage in it.
Danny: Well, I think it’s the right time in my career. Like I said, it’s an honour to come in and do what we’re doing as a family and not come in as a character on a career freeze.
Kellie: I think it would have been an obvious thing for Danny to come in and play the bad guy. It’s much more interesting to have Danny come in as the family man. That’s what clever about it.
Danny: I loved Dominic’s energy and stuff. I was just sold within two minutes – it just felt right, you know?
Who were your favourite landlords?
Kellie: I’ve always said this, and I’ll stand by it. For me, it’s Angie Watts. I just think that she had... she epitomised for me what a landlady is. And also the great thing about Anita Dobson was that she played it strong, strong, strong, but she had this incredible fragility and vulnerability about her which made you love her. And I just think that that for me is just what makes her so special.
I loved her eye shadow. Teal, purple, blue…
Kellie: I might rock that look at some point!
Who was your favourite, Danny?
Danny: Frank Butcher. All day long. I just loved everything about him. I loved the fact that he was a real East Londoner. He was so funny, yet he was a really good actor and had a real presence about him. When he was behind the bar, you believed it. And he had that warmth. So, he was the one for me. I should say Den, shouldn’t I? But it was always a bit of Frank really. I’m trying to sound more and more like Mike Reid.
The Carters are hosting a New Year’s Eve party in here, aren’t they?
Danny: We’ve been told it’s one of the best ever New Year’s Eve episodes ever.
Kellie: It was great fun to film, actually.
Danny: It was early days for us as well, so we were still making our mark.
Kellie: There were a lot of people in the pub that night, so it’s like being thrown into the deep end.
Danny: We preferred that. Straight in at the deep end. All the characters in; we’re entertaining them. It’s a really strong episode and we loved it.
Have you met the new members of the Carter family, Timothy West and Annette Badland?
Danny: I’ve still not met him yet, but I’m doing it on purpose. Timothy West. He’s a great actor. It’s exciting. I don’t want to give too much away but we’ve got a mad relationship.
Kellie: She’s also wonderful. I would also say a little bit about Linda Henry and Luisa Bradshaw White. Because they have been so brilliant to work with. Linda has obviously been here quite a long time and she has just been the best to have around. She’s so good.
Was it difficult to keep your casting secret?
Danny: Basically, we had to get it out, so we had to do this press shot. We hadn’t even met. They only told me [about Kellie] two days before… The driver who came to pick me up didn’t have a clue who I was. She thought she was picking up Ryland. So not a good start to the day! So we got closer to the studio and she said “Right, put your head down. You’ve got to put this blanket over you.” It was kind of unreal, but we had to get it out. It was three months ago. It was the first time I met Kellie and I brought my old woman with her to keep her sweet, and brought my little girl in and showed her around. We met and we clicked and did the shot outside the Vic.
Kellie: When it was released to the press, I suddenly got random texts from people I hadn’t heard from for years. Or people weren’t even in my phone, and I thought, “Oh, wow!”
Danny: I had more random journalists knocking on my door. Very strange!
Will you be watching on Christmas Day?
Kellie: We’re not in Christmas Day. Danny is.
Danny: I’ll be watching a bit of Downton (roars of laughter). I’m joking! You’re having a laugh, aren’t you? I’m all over it.
You’re in it already, Kellie?
Kellie: You get to see Linda next Thursday, 19th, when Shirley and Tina come to our pub, looking for him. But he’s not there – I am. So you get to see a little bit of me next week. And then he turns up Christmas Day and then we turn up on Boxing Day.
Danny: It’s a great episode, I tell you.
There’s a bit of rivalry between you and other characters, isn’t there Kellie?
Kellie: Linda and Shirley don’t see eye-to-eye, but it’s brilliant to play.
Danny: I’m constantly in the middle of it. They’re constantly at each other’s throats. You don’t really like no one, do you?
Kellie: I do!
Danny: You’re lovable, but you graft, you’re trappy.
Kellie: Ooh, he’s going to be in so much trouble when I get him home!
Are you excited, nervous, and scared about the reaction to your debut?
Kellie: All of it.
Danny: We’ve done our job and we’re happy with what we’ve done. We’ve shot about 30 episodes, so it’s been intense, I tell you that.
Kellie: It’s been about seven weeks. It was Danny who said that the other day, and I said “No?
Danny: We’re hitting Valentine’s Day now and it’s all getting a bit mad. We’ve had our [fictional] Christmas and now we’ll have our real Christmas. We’re excited to see what sort of reaction we get, but we can’t be happier with what we’ve done as actors.
Kellie: You can only do what you can do and I think that everyone, not just us, is working really, really hard to make this show brilliant. And every day is like that. And that’s all you can do.
See more from this week's press conference with Dominic Treadwell-Collins: