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Claire Cooper (Jacqui McQueen, 'Hollyoaks')

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Claire Cooper as Jacqui McQueen

© Lime Pictures

Jacqui McQueen takes centre stage in Hollyoaks next week as she faces a traumatic time in late-night special 'King of Hearts'. With Kathleen's demands for cash leaving her family in crisis, Jacqui recruits boyfriend Rhys to help raise the funds by scamming dangerous Danny Houston in a poker game. However, when Danny discovers the hapless plot, things get much worse for the pair as he orders them to repay the debt and more, leading to some sinister threats and terrible danger... Claire Cooper, who plays Jacqui, recently spoke to DS about the special episode.

When did you first hear that you'd be at the centre of this Hollyoaks special?
"We heard about it a few months ago and I was really excited but I didn't know what my involvement would be at first. As the weeks and months progressed, I heard that I would be quite heavily featured in it, but I still didn't know how much until I got the script. Normally in a script we get about 40 lines or 60 on a good day, but I had 147 lines! That's quite a lot for an episode, so I was really chuffed and felt very flattered and privileged to be given the opportunity to do so much."

Kathleen's return sparks the whole storyline - how does Jacqui feel about her being back?
"She hates her with a passion - her worst enemy ever has been dragged back! It's funny and comedic at times, but then it can get deadly serious. Kathleen's threatening to reveal the truth about Theresa being Calvin's killer and the McQueens covering it up - unless the family pay her £2,000. Jacqui just can't understand why she would do that - it's pure evil. It gets a lot more serious then and it just escalates. But Kathleen is such an interesting character and I think the audience will also see a different side to her in this late-night episode."

How does Jacqui get involved in the situation back at home?
"Jacqui, yet again, is left to pick up the pieces - the family all rely on her. Jacqui didn't even know that Kathleen was back - it's Myra that comes round even though she's still not on good terms with Jacqui, asking if she can come and sort it out. Jacqui will have to sort it out because she doesn't want to go down for it, but there's another part of her that can't help but help her family. She's very loyal - she's probably the most loyal one out of all of them, along with Myra."

Jacqui, Danny and Rhys
Trying to scam Danny Houston is a very risky move - why do Jacqui and Rhys make such a bold decision?
"It's pure desperation. At the end of the day, if she doesn't get this two grand, they're all going down because Kathleen will definitely follow through with her threats. There's a scene with Jacqui and Cheryl where Jacqui says that she's very good at poker - she's quite confident in the game but she wants to fix it as well. But then they say it's a men-only game, so she's screwed then and she makes Rhys play instead, which is definitely a big risk!"

Danny also offers to wipe the debt clean in return for one night with Jacqui. How does Jacqui react to his indecent proposal?
"When he makes it, Rhys is being hung from a great height by Danny and his heavies - but there are witnesses around. Jacqui's a bright girl so she thinks, 'You know what? I'm going to call his bluff'. She doesn't want to sleep with him and also she knows he's not going to drop Rhys in front of so many people. So when he says it, she considers her options, weighs them up and says he could be the last man on earth and she wouldn't sleep with him!"

Rhys Ashworth (played by Andy Moss) and Jacqui McQueen (played by Claire Cooper)
What happens next?
"Time ticks on and it gets a lot worse. Then she's thinking about her family, she's thinking about Rhys and she considers just putting herself on the line. It's quite admirable, but Rhys doesn't see it in that way - he sees Jacqui as his girlfriend who he adores and he doesn't want her to do something like that. Jacqui says that she can just see it as sex, but it causes a bit of an argument between them."

As the crisis comes to a head, Jacqui is held at knifepoint by Danny - can you tell us about that scene?
"Danny wants Jacqui to strip but she refuses, so he sends all these horrible heavies out of the room. She's not scared of him, but then he pulls out a knife. That changes the situation - the dynamic changes immediately. He could do something really horrible to her - it's not necessarily about killing someone, he could slash her face or anything. In a situation like that, your mind plays tricks as you wonder what someone could do to you, so when I was playing it, I wanted to show how horrendous it was for Jacqui. She wonders whether she could die like this - all to protect her family…"

Rhys and Jacqui
How does working on a late-night episode like this compare to filming an ordinary episode of Hollyoaks?
"Well, we get so used to the everyday ones, it's almost like we're taken out of our comfort zones. It's exciting. You can take it a bit further - there's a few swear words and we can do more things, as people will see in this episode. At 6.30pm, we have to be so careful because of compliance and things sometimes get cut out. With this, we get to tell a story in more detail and sometimes a bit more true to form - showing how people do respond, as obviously we can't show too much at 6.30pm! It's nice to have that freedom and the opportunity to play with it."

Is more time spent on a late-night episode like this, or is it still a similar schedule?
"Well, it's an hour-long episode so it took slightly longer, but the scheduling works exactly the same. We're on a tight ship here and we have a lot to do - especially as I was about to go on holiday to America when we were filming it! I was doing long days and was very grateful that they allowed me to get to America in the end!"

Did you film any scenes with Donna Air, who guests as a glamorous drugs runner in the episode?
"I didn't have any, unfortunately! But we did get to have a good chat and she's absolutely lovely. It was a pleasure to have her on board."

What's it been like to work with Darren Day, who plays Danny?
"He's been a pleasure to work with. You can sometimes have preconceptions about people because of newspapers and things like that, but I generally try not to read things like that and use my own judgement by taking people on their own merit. He's a fantastic actor and he's not what people think he's like. I've thoroughly enjoyed working with him and I wish he could be here more. He's a great asset to Hollyoaks. I think people give him a hard time and I just hope this is a fresh start for him because he's a very good actor and he deserves to be out there."

> Click here to read more Hollyoaks chat from Claire Cooper in Soap Scoop

Hollyoaks: King Of Hearts airs on Wednesday, December 16 at 10pm on Channel 4. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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