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'Holby City' Tessa Peake-Jones talks Imelda Cousins role - interview

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Tessa Peake-Jones at the Adidas Women's 5k Challenge, in Hyde Park, London.

© PA Images / Ian West/PA Archive

Holby City welcomes Only Fools and Horses star Tessa Peake-Jones to its cast this week as she makes her first appearance in the role of Imelda Cousins.

Imelda takes up the post of acting CEO at the hospital in the absence of Henrik Hanssen tomorrow evening (November 20). While the initial plan is for Imelda to stick around until a longer-term solution is found, she is hopeful that the position could become permanent - and as such wants to show that she is strong, capable and not to be messed with…

Digital Spy recently chatted to Tessa to hear what viewers can expect from Imelda in the coming weeks.

How have you found your time on Holby City?
"I didn't really know what to expect, but I've had an amazing time on it. I had been a guest on Holby quite a few years ago as somebody who died on the operating table, so I knew the way that the show ran, but that was only a fleeting two-week visit. It was very nice to stick around for longer this time, because I had time to get to know people and get to know the routine.

"I really enjoyed the challenges of new scripts coming through all the time, and I loved working with new directors each week - that's a complete novelty to me as I've never done that before. Also, the character I played went across all parts of the hospital, so I had something to do with pretty much all of the cast, which was great!"

Is there anyone in particular who you really made friends with?
"I have to say that I got on well with everyone! I can't even single anyone out, because they were all so unbelievably welcoming and friendly. I had a laugh with each of them. They're such a good team and they work incredibly well together. My admiration is not just for the quality of acting, but it's also for the commitment of those actors and everyone else working on the show too."

Did you audition for the role of Imelda or did the producers have you in mind for the part?
"I think they had me in mind, but I went in to talk to them about the role. There'd been discussions over other Holby parts in the past, but due to lots of different circumstances it didn't work out. This time around, it was the right time and it all came together."

How would you describe Imelda?
"Imelda is a really interesting character to play, and that's one of the main reasons why I had such a lot of fun at Holby. Imelda's background is that she desperately, desperately wanted to be a doctor. She didn't quite get the grades, though, so she went into the medical profession via nursing and also attended night school to work her way up.

"When Imelda met her husband, she put her ambitions on the back-burner and stuck to nursing, but later on her partner had an affair with somebody and their marriage broke up. After that, the only thing Imelda had left was her career. She realised that she couldn't then become a doctor as she'd left it too late to re-study, so she worked her way up through the CEO channel instead.

"That's where we meet Imelda - she's very fired-up, hungry and wanting to make a go of this job. It suits her down to the ground and she'd like it to become a permanent position."

Did Holby give you much room to put your own stamp on this character?
"I was given a few sheets of paper on her background, and it was really helpful to have that backstory. I guess once you're given a part to play, it does then become yours. The script pretty much dictates what you're going to be doing, but then the actor also puts their own interpretation on it.

"What I found was that Imelda developed all the time as new scripts came in. She'd be taken in different directions and I'd often be surprised, but that's the nature of a regular, ongoing drama series."

Imelda Cousins

© BBC



Do you think the viewers will warm to Imelda when she joins the hospital?
"I really hope they will. Imelda appears quite smilingly charming, but she can also be quite abrasive and bossy. She's a control freak and she wants things done her way. But at the same time, the writing reveals sides to her that are much warmer and softer. She's a very good person at heart, she isn't malicious and she doesn't mean any harm to people.

"There are also times where Imelda's behaviour is quite amusing. The audience will probably think, 'Oh God, I wouldn't want her as my boss!', but hopefully they'll also warm to her and feel sympathy for her. If they don't, I'll have failed at my job because I'd have made her two-dimensional."

Is it true that Imelda already knows Serena?
"Yes, they have a history, which is lovely! That is developed over the next few episodes, but you'll see that they worked together previously at another hospital. That provides quite a bit of fun between the two of them.

"In fact, Serena doesn't remember Imelda at first. The storyline is that Imelda has lost a lot of weight - she was huge before but she arrives looking quite different. Imelda knows exactly who Serena is because of their encounter last time, but Serena doesn't clock exactly who she is. It takes a little while for Serena to realise their shared memories!"

Which characters in particular will Imelda rub up the wrong way?
"I think she rubs all of them up the wrong way! The only one she gets along famously with and doesn't really ever challenge is Chantelle. She and Chantelle have a really interesting relationship, because Imelda is someone who will always back the nurses because of her own background. She has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder about consultants and doctors thinking that they're higher than everyone else, so she links in well with the nurses and takes a real shine to Chantelle.

"With most of the other characters, she does at some stage irritate them!"

After the problems at the hospital recently, does Imelda come in with big changes in mind?
"Well, she certainly comes in hoping to do her very best. She keeps saying that she's the acting CEO and not there permanently, but I think she's hoping it will go further. Mainly she feels that she has to improve what's already there. In her eyes, certain things need improving so it's a fresh viewpoint on everything."

We've heard that Imelda is also obsessed with following procedure…
"That's right! It's not that she wants to irritate people, but she is a stickler for ticking the boxes and following her clipboard. There are a lot of people like that - we've all met them!

"I think Imelda just feels that she's doing her job to the best of her ability, and she can't understand why others can't do that too. There are other characters at the hospital who don't go about things that way, so they're the ones Imelda will come up against as they don't agree."

Imelda Cousins

© BBC



Were you a fan of Holby City before joining the show?
"Yes, I've watched it over the years. I've had to dip in and out because it isn't always possible to watch when you're doing theatre in the evenings, but I have watched it since it first started. That meant that I was already familiar with the wards and the general feel of how it works as a programme."

Do you still get nervous starting a new job?
"Yes, that never stops! It's literally like first day at school, only with more enjoyment. That's the thing that I actually love, because it keeps you fresh. You walk in as a stranger and you always feel slightly like you've got something to prove, and you wonder if people will like it. That's part of the neurosis of an actor and that's what makes us better, because we never get complacent.

"It's always slightly nerve-wracking starting in a new job, and it seems to get worse when you get older. I think you're perhaps a bit more arrogant when you're younger and you expect things to fall into place! As you get older, you realise how tenuous life and work can be, so there's a lot at stake."

How did you cope with the medical side of things?
"I was actually amazed by how the actors perform operations, as I was in quite a few operating theatres for my scenes. They are definitely 100% convincing when it comes to pretending that they've been operating for years. Thanks to the medical back-up that you get on Holby City with real-life nurses and surgeons on set to give advice, you always felt safe.

"There were several times when I'd have to do something and I'd think, 'Oh crikey, how on earth am I going to look convincing?' But you don't need to worry because the people you're working with don't let it go until they're convinced that you've done it absolutely correctly, so you feel in very safe hands."

Will you be tuning in for your first episode this week?
"I won't be able to, unfortunately! I'll have to record it because I'm going to be in Manchester doing a pilot for a comedy show for the BBC, so I'll be up there filming. But I'll definitely watch it quietly on my own at some point!"

> 'Holby City': Tessa Peake-Jones joins show as acting CEO
> Read more 'Holby City' spoilers and news

Holby City airs on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC One. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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