Hackney-born Michelle Collins makes Coronation Street debut tonight - exclusive interview
She’s famous for playing cheating, scheming, man-eater Cindy on Eastenders. But Hackney-born Michelle Collins makes her debut in rival soap Corrie tonight, pulling pints as The Rovers’ new landlady and following in the footsteps of Bet Lynch and Vera Duckworth.
It’s going to be tough to make another soap alter-ego as memorable as feisty Cindy Beale, who plotted to kill her husband Ian.
But ITV producers are hoping Michelle’s portrayal of the larger-than-life northern matriarch Stella will keep viewers hooked - especially with the explosive storyline they have up their sleeves.
Stella and her husband Karl - played by fellow newcomer, ex-Taggart actor John Michie - move into Weatherfield with their daughter Eva in scenes that will be aired tonight.
“Stella comes in with a secret as all good soap characters do and that will unfold fairly soon,” said Michelle.
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“It’s a great role so I would have been very silly not to do it, if you can get a strong role in a soap I think it can be really challenging.
“When this came up I liked the idea of a little bit of security - plus it was Corrie, if it was anything else to be honest I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
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“People often dismiss soaps and actors in soaps and say they’re not real actors,” she added.
“But you know, actually to be in something like this you’ve got to be very quick, because I can be doing 15 scenes a day with different directors, you’ve got to be really focused and really together to make it work and be on the ball, if you’re a lazy actor then forget it.”
It’s not just a matter of turning up on set either, because there are lines to be learnt after work too, and with this role Michelle has to concentrate on putting on a northern accent, which makes the job “twice as hard,” and for which she’s enlisted the aid of a dialect coach.
Michelle has been thrown in at the deep end with a heavy workload since filming began in Manchester six weeks ago, but is trying to get back home to Muswell Hill as much as she can to see her 14-year old daughter Maia Rose.
“I’m not just a working mum but I’m a single parent and that’s twice as hard because you’re mum and you’re dad and you’re working,” she said.
“But you know I probably wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m pretty much a grafter, so I just get on with it.
“If you spoke to (Maia), she would say yes she does miss me and it’s probably hard, but I think it’s hard for any mum being a working mum,” she added.
Maia Rose has appeared in acting jobs herself including the short film Play.
“I think secretly she wants to be an actress, but I want her to pursue an education first and then she can decide what she wants to do,” said Michelle.
In the 14 years since the glamorous 49-year old left Eastenders, Michelle has made a name for herself as a versatile talented actress.
Her favourite roles have been in Two Thousand Acres of Sky, as a mum who moved from London to a remote Scottish island with her children, and in Emmy-award winning, The Illustrated Mum.
A Granada/Channel 4 film it tells the story of two girls coping with the unpredictable behaviour of their depressed, alcoholic mother, who is addicted to getting tattoos done – played by Michelle.
In her last job which overlapped a week with Corrie filming, she played the wife of eccentric engineer Fred Dibnah in The Demolition Man, at the Bolton Octagon theatre.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have gone into another soap, but I left Eastenders 14 years ago now and I’ve done a lot of work since,” said Michelle.
“I think that’s why people leave soaps, they want to do other things, they want to spread their wings,” she said.
There were rumours in 2009 she’d expressed interest in getting written back into Eastenders, even though Cindy had died off-screen. Does she miss Cindy?
“No God no, I was desperate to move on and do something else,” she said, adding that she was careful to diversify and make sure she didn’t do any similar roles once she left - although she believes people really like Cindy still.
“People had this image that Cindy was this horrible woman, yes she was a man eater but she was a good character, people weren’t horrible to me in the street.
“Ok yes there was that story she tried to kill (Ian) for God’s sake, but fundamentally she wasn’t a murderer or rapist, she was a popular character which is why people still remember her and why they still like her.”
As well juggling home life with a busy acting career, Michelle still finds time to support lots of charities including Hackney’s own not-for-profit Anna Fiorentini Theatre and Film School, as its patron.
She attended April’s 10th anniversary celebrations at the Hackney Empire in Mare Street, and is urging people to support the school, which is struggling to provide bursaries to poorer children.
“I think it’s important for kids to get involved, whether they want to pursue an acting career or not - it’s good for them in every way,” she said.
“Actually I was quite shy when I was young, I wasn’t loud, and sometimes it can bring things out of kids, it might give them a bit of confidence.”
Michelle knew at a young age she wanted to be an actress, but didn’t admit it until she was at secondary school, when she started drama classes herself aged 14.
“I have no idea what makes me want to do it,” she said.
“It’s really hard to say what I love about acting as I’ve never done anything else, I can’t even imagine myself doing anything else except perhaps writing.
“I like putting a story across and making other people believe that what you are doing is true, entertaining people,” she added.
“I love being other people I suppose - taking on a character and making it believable, it’s very difficult to explain it, it’s sort of in my blood, it’s something that comes from within.”