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Producer's Perspective 2008: Bryan Kirkwood

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Producer's Perspective 2008: Bryan Kirkwood
This year, Hollyoaks bid an emotional farewell to a number of its much-loved iconic characters including Max Cunningham (Matt Littler), Sam 'OB' O'Brien (Darren Jeffries) and, of course, John Paul McQueen (James Sutton). So, we paid a visit to producer Bryan Kirkwood to reflect on his final year as the producer of Hollyoaks and find out what's to come in 2009.

What's been the storyline you've enjoyed the most?
"It has to be the McQueen/Niall story, which ended up linking to the Newt/Osborne storyline. It dominated the year and culminated in the very successful church stunt in October, which was a really fantastic climax to a story. Barry Sloane was just amazing and proved that he is just as good as any other actor on TV. I honestly believe that. I hope he takes what he did on Hollyoaks as a launch pad for a long and successful career."

What's been your most memorable scene?
"Without question, it has to be Tom asking Steph if she'll be his mum just after Max died. It sums up what Hollyoaks is all about - lots of heart, relationships, friendships, love and loss. I thought that Carley Stenson was outstanding during that storyline and broke my heart during that scene. Ellis also took his performance to new levels."

Which storyline has been the most emotional for you?
"Max's death and the aftermath gets me every time. I'm shamelessly and sentimentally attached to it. It was a big risk killing off a character like Max. We knew Matt Littler was leaving and we staggered his exit to be six months apart from Darren Jeffries's to lessen the impact of such big characters leaving. I remember when the storyline conference when the writers pitched Max dying in OB's arms on his wedding day. The huge shocked reaction far outweighed anything I'd ever seen in my eight years of story conferences at both Coronation Street and Hollyoaks. It told me that we had to do it and then got the biggest reaction from the audience in over three years of storylines. It's some of the best material we've produced."

What's been your proudest moment this year?
"That has to be Emma Rigby winning the BEAT Special Award (from the easting disorder association), which was a brilliant recognition of a storyline that's in the dim and distant past now, but still matters in the eyes of the viewers. Emma was overawed by people at the awards ceremony that said she and the storyline had saved their lives. It's hearing stories like that that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It makes you realise that for a little tea time show, we can really punch above our weight sometimes. Also, the British Soap Awards this year saw Hollyoaks break through the glass ceiling - it was a sign that the show had finally grown up."

Have there been any other storylines from any other soap that you've envied?
"Yeah - in Coronation Street in the autumn, almost every moment on screen tied in to the same storyline. The main arc of the storyline was Liam, Maria, Carla and Tony. That fed into Rosie Webster disappearing, which fed into Janice and Leanne's lottery scam. That fed into Dan Mason, the bookie leaving the show. I thought it was really clever storytelling."

Which character's been your favourite addition to the cast?
"Jake Hendriks, who played Kieron, was a really important player this year and he played a brilliant and complex part. It took a long while for the audience to accept him because he came in off the back of the John Paul and Craig storyline. His achievements shouldn't be underestimated. Also Marc Silcock, who played Eli. It's a very tricky part to play the physical manifestation of someone's schizophrenia. Marc couldn't interact with anyone else on set because he didn't exist in the eyes of anyone other than Newt. You couldn't take your eyes off Marc when he was on screen. You completely believed in Newt's alter ego. With the Roy family, we've taken our time introducing them slowly over the last few months so as not to overwhelm the audience with too many characters at once. They really haven't had their chance to shine yet. Over 2009, the audience will see that we have six really strong, diverse and dynamic actors. I'm very happy with them. And Theresa McQueen's a little firecracker too. I can't wait to see what happens to her when I've gone. She's the one to watch.

If you were to do the year all over again, is there anything you'd have done differently?
"I definitely think we underplayed the romance element of 2008. You live and learn from your mistakes in this type of job. We overplayed our hand with crime and revenge storylines and underplayed the simple, straightforward love stories. That's something that'll write itself when we go into 2009."

Were there any storylines that didn't quite make it to screen and you'd have loved to have played out?
"No, not really. Occasionally some storylines don't quite work they way we want them to, but you have to trust your judgement."

Are there any departures that you regret this year?
"For as much as I loved their exit stories, Max and OB were big losses. You can't replace such original characters who have a special place in the audience's hearts. James Sutton was another big loss for all that he achieved during his two years here and I miss Roxanne [Mckee], too. It's easy to dismiss Roxy as just another Hollyoaks babe, but for someone who came in off the back off an open audition, she properly took control of her situation and turned herself into a fine actress and her departure left us wondering what to do next with Jamie Lomas. So we've taken Warren in a completely new direction by introducing his learning disabled foster brother Spencer, who viewers will see for the first time over Christmas."

What can we expect from the first part of 2009?
"Next year gets off with a bang as we blow Sarah and Zoe's late-night liaison out of the water. There was always a danger with that story that we'd re-tread the same ground that we did with John Paul and Craig. So we decided to play it completely differently. We started with a sexual encounter, which surprised everyone including the characters, and then we'll work in a completely different direction.

"This one's a story about Sarah. Long has both Loui and Sarah faced the criticism that she's there to react to everyone's situations, so 2009 will be the year where we see what she's capable of. She's an outstanding actress and it's about time that she had a storyline that puts her into focus. A girl who's always borne the brunt of other men's' decision-making and treatment of her is now a lost and slightly embittered girl who doesn't know her own mind. 2009 will see Sarah making her own decisions and taking control. I can't wait to see it.

"As I said, romance plays a big part in 2009, too. The key romance will be Justin and Hannah. We'll see them dancing around each other for quite some time. It's going to be an important relationship which sees them both running to escape their pasts. I've seen the first couple of scenes with them and you can see that their eyes are alive as they embark on this storyline. It's about time that both of them returned to the centre of the show.

"Also on the cards, Warren loses his grip and the walls begin to close in on him, courtesy of Calvin; Theresa finds herself a pawn in Ste's game to win back Amy, while Amy faces a choice between good and evil - and evil's not necessarily who you'd expect it to be; Darren's released from prison and pledges to win the pub back (again!); there's a newbie in town who Steph falls head over heels for; and Ravi's secret is finally exposed." Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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