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Tony Hirst talks 'Hollyoaks' exit

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Barnesy bids farewell to Hollyoaks in a few weeks' time when he heads off on his European travels with Zoe and co.

I recently caught up with Tony to chat about the reasons for his departure, his thoughts about his exit and what's on the horizon beyond Hollyoaks?

Was your decision to leave based on the lack of storylines for the character?
"I'd be lying if that wasn't part of the reason but in fairness I always said to Bryan and to Lucy that I'd rather have quality than quantity. I've been lucky to be involved in some really great storylines and I'm really grateful. That's always been the nature of the show and it's probably right for that. We can hold our heads up against any of the other soaps but what's the point in doing another adult-oriented show? One of its strengths is its youth and vitality. In terms of the adult storyline, I've always known the score really and I've always trusted Bryan and Lucy in their intent."

Do you think the show should use older characters more often?
"There is potential there and I read recently that Lucy has said they are going to utilise the older characters more. It's rather ironic that I lose my timing this late in my career, to quote Sondheim, but I'd made my decision. I had other reasons really; I've been there four years, I've had a great time, I love the place and I love the people dearly - but I need to freshen up.

"I need a new challenge, I need to play different characters, and it would be very easy for me to stay there for a long period of time and I don't think that would be any good to anybody. It also fitted in with the timing of the storyline of Sarah's death and Kathy being continually sectioned and mad and Amy growing up. It would be difficult for them to shoehorn storylines in for Mike.

"The only storyline I thought was that he would be the best agony aunt in the whole of the Hollyoaks College - he'd be the most qualified! It's a whole combination of things but the primary one is that I don't want to get stale and I don't want to get bored. I'm fearfully proud of my work on the show and I don't want to let that drop so I need a new, fresh challenge."

Are you pleased with Mike's exit?
"Yeah - I think the logic of it is lovely. He finally gets to do the thing that he's been saying he was going to do all those years ago and I think the fact that he goes off with Zoe - not romantically but as friends - is fitting, proper and logical."

Do you think Mike still loves Zoe?
"Absolutely, yeah. He's more than got over the fact that they're not together. I don't think he harbours any romantic desires for her anymore, they've gone beyond that, but there's real profound love. I think it's actually made stronger because of what he now knows Zoe meant to Sarah in a strange kind of way."

What's been your favourite Mike moment over the years?
"My favourite Mike moment? There are several actually. I adored break dancing with Brian Bovell. This is the irony as well - Mike's lived next door to Leo Valentine for four years but I've only ever had one scene with him! It was fun, though. Any moment that I had to embrace Zoe Lister was obviously a deep struggle [laughs] I'll wipe those from my memory as soon as possible! I loved the mike and Michaela scenes as well. The storyline recently with all the stuff around Sarah's death from an acting point of view it's been great.

Your reaction as Mike to the news of Sarah's death was very moving...
"That's lovely that you say that. It was such a brief moment and everyone knows what the situation is and as an actor I also knew what the situation was. I think it was Ken Loach who said 'surprise is the hardest things to act' - it's not often Ken Loach is quoted on Digital Spy but he's one of my heroes. I didn't really have a great deal to go on other than that notion that it takes your breath away, it's an utter shock to the solar plexus, and you just have to be open and vulnerable to that and then don't hold yourself back. It was great."

What do you plan on doing next?
"I've been lucky enough to keep my voiceovers up. I've missed a lot obviously but there's always been a balance so I'll continue to do that. In the immediate future, I don't know. I'm part of Fink On Theatre in Manchester with Chris Coghill and Nick Clark. Chris is great - he's also a very, very fine writer and he's written with Nick Clark a play called 'Crying in the Chapel' which I'm co-producing with them at the Contact in April. It's the 20th anniversary of the Strangeways riots in Manchester, so it's a play about those events over twenty years ago, which is incredible, really. It's a great play and it's on for three weeks."

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