Bleak House - press pack phase two
Starts Thursday 27 October on BBC ONE
Charlie Brooks plays Jenny
Charlie Brooks is no stranger to filming harrowing scenes, having been a prostitute and a murderer in EastEnders, in which she played Janine Evans (nee Butcher), but none were as harrowing as her first scene in BBC ONE's adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House.
She plays Jenny, a brickmaker's wife, who lives in poverty-stricken London in the 19th century.
"Jenny's got a baby in the first episode," says the 24-year-old actress.
"It was awful, though, because the baby dies in her arms. The baby was unbelievably realistic – it was silicone and the weight of it and the feel of the skin were so lifelike."
That's a distressing enough story for anyone to cope with, let alone someone who'd given birth to their first child just weeks before, and who was embarking on their first acting job since the birth.
"My emotions were like a rollercoaster anyway – I cried the whole day," says Charlie, who had her daughter, Kiki, in December 2004.
The scene is the catalyst for the unlikely friendship between Jenny and Esther Summerson, Bleak House's main protagonist, who is being shown around the slums by Mrs Pardiggle (played by another ex-EastEnder, Roberta Taylor).
"Roberta's character is showing Esther around the poverty area and Esther just can't believe what's going on and that this child just dies in Jenny's arms. That's where they form their relationship."
Jenny also befriends young crossing sweeper, Joe, who develops smallpox, and Jenny has a desperate struggle trying to find help for the poor boy: "She's very motherly towards him.
"She comes across him when she goes to find her husband, who is looking for work. She sees how ill he is and helps him along his way and finds a doctor."
Charlie wasn't familiar with the Bleak House story but has read Dickens before, primarily at school: "Just the usual Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby," she says. "I haven't read the book of Bleak House yet, simply because having had a baby I can't even get through a bloody magazine," she laughs.
"I wish I could say I'd read it but I'm going on holiday next week so I'm going to try to get into it then.
"The adaptation is great in the half-hour format as it gives the audience a chance to join in if they've missed some, and it gives them a chance to familiarise with the characters and get to know them."
While the role of Jenny is clearly not a glamorous one for Charlie, who was well-known for buying up all the latest market fashions as Janine in Albert Square, she admits that she really enjoyed it and that it was a great role to help get her back in the swing of things after giving birth.
"It was just perfect, it just gave me a taste of it. I was in rags and had dirt under my fingernails and grease in my hair but I really enjoyed all that.
"I'd love to do some more period drama with a more prominent role in the future. I want to wear the corsets!
"I loved Fingersmith which was on recently – I would have loved to have been in that. And the Pride and Prejudice film that's just come out. Something like that would be fantastic."
Charlie filmed most of her scenes for Bleak House in Luton Hoo, in Hertfordshire, and found the whole set-up quite different from the EastEnders lot.
"A lot more time is taken over it and it was quite bizarre to have an old street made up. There were lots of extras and kiddies running around in these period costumes with music blaring out from their mobile phones and Gameboys! It was really surreal!"
Since Kiki's birth, Charlie has been easing herself back into acting with Bleak House as well as a BBC Radio 4 version of Dixon Of Dock Green with David Warne and (new Doctor Who) David Tennant; and Golden Hour, an action-packed drama for ITV1.
"Dixon Of Dock Green was a nice job and my first radio job. I'd not heard of it before but my grandad filled me in – I didn't have a clue! I played Dixon's daughter. It was really enjoyable - obviously, a very different way of working.
"In Golden Hour I played Cara Wilson, who gets blown up! I was filming that at the same time as Bleak House so I was going from one place where I had prosthetics and cuts all over my body to another where I was covered in dirt and filth and poo!" she laughs.
"I'm officially unemployed and enjoying motherhood at the moment," she continues.
"You have days of sheer panic when you think, 'Aargh, I'm not working, what do I do?' and you have days when you think, 'You know what, just make the most of it!'
"I can't imagine someone else having to wean Kiki. I just loved all that. I just have to be there when she wakes up in the morning."
There is, however, one role in the future that Charlie does have her eyes – and heart – firmly set on: that of a bride.
"We're going to get married next year," she coos. "We're in the very early stages of planning at the moment but hopefully we've got a date."