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Claire Cooper (Jacqui McQueen, 'Hollyoaks')

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Claire Cooper

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Jacqui McQueen faces a testing time on Hollyoaks this week as Gilly's rape trial plays out in a special block of five episodes. Determined to get justice in the court case, the feisty barmaid starts the week by taking the stand and reliving the ordeal of Valentine's night as she speaks of how Gilly sexually attacked her in their drunken state. However, as the trial unfolds, the uncertainty remains over whose account of that night can be believed. Off screen, meanwhile, the outcome of the case is being decided by a real-life 'jury' of 12 people who have looked at the evidence and deliberated the case before reaching a verdict. Here, Claire Cooper - who plays Jacqui - chats to Digital Spy about the compelling storyline.

What has it been like to film this big plotline for Jacqui and Gilly?
"Well, first of all, Anthony Quinlan who plays Gilly is a pleasure to work with. I've been really lucky to work with him on this particular storyline because he's been giving it everything. It is a really sensitive subject and we've found it really hard with long intense filming days. But in terms of how we've worked together, I think Anthony's been really generous with me and I hope he feels the same way in return."

What kind of feedback have you had from viewers so far?
"It's been pretty mixed. One week I'll get people saying, 'Oh, Jacqui's not lying', but the next I'll see someone saying that she is lying. I'd never respond to what people say, but I have got my own opinions on the situation and sometimes it's really hard to explain what we're trying to achieve at Hollyoaks - we're trying to create this debate, provoke discussion and make people aware of the situation that we're exploring, which is the grey areas when it comes to the issue of rape. We're also in a position where we can direct anyone affected by the issues raised to the fantastic charities we've been working with - SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) and Rape Crisis."

3016: Gilly and Jacqui
Is it annoying when you see people saying that Jacqui is lying?
"Well, it's difficult because Jacqui is very tough and I think a lot of people judge her on the way she looks. It's been interesting that some of the feedback I've had is calling Jacqui a 'slapper', when actually she's had three serious boyfriends and she's not slept round the village or anything like that. But people just take people on face value, which is really sad - though that is what they're trying to highlight with this form of storytelling. Jacqui's story is an interesting one and it's very sad and very tragic that this has happened to her. I do feel that she is a very strong character but she's certainly not vindictive."

Are you proud that the storyline seems to be provoking discussion and making an impact?
"Yeah, I've felt quite responsible for how the story has come across and I think I've done as much as I could, and I hope it helps people. I hope it helps people come forward and helps people understand what consent is and what it means."

What do you think of the decision to have a real-life jury deciding Gilly's fate?
"It's a unique concept and, again, it was done because we wanted to provoke discussion and get people talking. The jury have got the evidence and they can take it from there, deciding what the outcome will be. We don't know the outcome ourselves, as we've filmed two endings and we don't know what's going to go out on the night."

3017: Jacqui and Rhys
Are you pleased that Hollyoaks is working so hard to explore this complex issue?
"As it's such a sensitive and delicate subject, I think Hollyoaks and Channel 4 have been incredibly brave in exploring this topic at 6.30pm. Due to the timeslot, there's only so much that we can show and so much that we can explore for our viewers, but we are telling it as truthfully and respectfully as possible. We tell stories of education at Hollyoaks, so I hope it will help people but we do feel very responsible. I do personally as well, and I hope that I have helped people out with this storyline through Jacqui."

What can viewers expect from the trial week?
"What we wanted it to do was make people constantly flip sides between Jacqui and Gilly all the way through the proceedings, and I hope we've done that. The viewers will get an insight into what happened on that night, and they'll be able to make their own decision. Ultimately it will be about leaving it up to the audience to decide. There's some great barristers at the trial, some great actors involved and I hope that it'll be a really strong week."

Are there any flashback scenes revisiting the night in question?
"Yes, there are. We're going to see both Jacqui and Gilly's versions. There's one story but there's two perceptions of it, and that's what the viewers are going to be given. But the jury won't get those scenes - they're just going to get the trial scenes, no flashbacks or anything."

3046: Jacqui
Is it an emotional experience for Jacqui as she gives her testimony and relives that night?
"Yeah, very much so. She takes the stand and explains what happened to her, but she still doesn't understand why it happened herself, so it's going to be very uncomfortable for her. Also, she's asked her sisters not to be there as she doesn't want them hearing all the details of what happened so she feels alone, although Myra is there to support her. All in all, it's very, very difficult. Jacqui is quite a closed-off person at times and she perhaps deals with her problems differently to other characters on the show, so it's hard for her. Jacqui is a bright girl and she's not daft so she knows what's going to happen - she knows that she's going to be tested in the courtroom."

We've also heard that both characters will be forced to face their pasts during the caseā€¦
"Yes, both Jacqui and Gilly are going to have their histories brought up, and again that's a way of reflecting what happens in real life as people's pasts are brought up in trials. It's there for the audience to mull over with both characters - we'll be seeing some of Jacqui and Gilly's pasts revealed and revisited."

Your performances as Jacqui could influence which way the jury goes, so has that affected the way you've played the scenes?
"Well, for some parts of the filming, I didn't know what the procedure was going to be with the trial. But all I can do with my scripts is respond to the other actors and what they're giving me at that moment, and that's how I play Jacqui. I didn't really take into account that an independent jury would be watching - I could only play what was true for Jacqui, otherwise it wouldn't have felt real and would have been too confusing."

Because you've experienced the storyline through Jacqui's eyes, do you hope that Gilly is found guilty?
"It's a really tough one, but for Jacqui, I hope justice is served. I strongly believe that she was raped and therefore Gilly should be punished. But to be honest, it's not about the verdict, it's about all the story we tell through the trial and the fallout is huge so the subject keeps being explored. I just hope that we get the right outcome - whatever that may be."

> Click here to read the second part of our interview with Claire Cooper in Soap Scoop Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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