What was your reaction when you heard about your latest story twist?
"The truth? I practically burst into tears! From a purely aesthetic point of view, the thought of having to come in early to put on foam and then sweat while filming… I get very hot on set and we have to pretend that it's winter before it is, so we have to wear extra clothing. Just the thought of it made me cry! Because I'm quite a new mum in real life, to have to have kids at work as well also made me tear up!"
What happens during the episode where Zainab finds out?
"The Masoods go to a mosque, which I think is really huge for EastEnders. I don't think they've ever done scenes like that before - and it's going to look stunning. Zainab's been having fainting spells recently, but they don't show the actual moment that she finds out that she's pregnant. What they do show is the moment she tells Masood. I actually think it's quite funny the way it happens. It's very deadpan and catches Masood on the hoof. I love working with Nitin, so it just worked so well."
How long has she known that she was pregnant by this point?
"I think she's known for about two weeks, so not that long. Zainab's been very careful about what she tells everyone because she wanted to make a decision in her own head first, maybe even about what to do."
How does Masood react?
"He reacts quite strongly, but it's not the fact they can't go off on holiday together that upsets him. It's a bigger issue because he's confused by Zainab's reaction to the news. To him, there's no question about what will happen with the child - they'll compromise and have the baby and start again. He's then puzzled by Zainab's unhappy attitude about it."
Why is Zainab terrified?
"Well, it comes down to her age. I actually have a lot of friends around this age who have found themselves in this situation. It's a huge deal. It's not as if you're in your 20s having just got married and you actually want a child. It's more, 'I've been there, done that and I'm tired'. Zainab's quite a feisty woman and she wants to do a lot more than be a mother. She loves the fact she has a business to run and has a career. It's a terrifying prospect for her to have another child because it just throws all of her plans."
There's a touching scene between Jane and Zainab, too…
"Yeah, Zainab's just been to see Dr Al and found out that she's 15 weeks pregnant. I loved doing that scene with Laurie [Brett]. We came away from that scene and gave each other a hug. It's a real rare moment in that just by being women, they're close. That happens in real life, too - you may not be the best of friends with someone, but if you're going through a particularly emotional moment and there's another woman in the room with you, they're automatically empathic. It's quite hard for Laurie because she has to play the fact that she can't have children, so she has that added layer. I love Jane - I think that character's fantastic."
Then Zainab makes a shocking decision…
"She decides that she doesn't want the baby. I think Zainab's always had a level of anger in her because life's not gone the way she'd planned or hoped. So on top of the fact that she's struggling with the dilemma, she hates that Masood's okay with it - Zainab feels like the decision's been taken out of her hands. On top of that, she's been brought up within the Islamic faith where abortion's forbidden. There are several things going on in Zainab's mind and she decides that it's something that she can't do. The whole week ends with Zainab telling Masood that she doesn't want the baby. I didn't get the next lot of scripts until a week later, so I was sat there wondering what was going to happen!"
What are her options?
"She feels trapped. Zainab even says in one of the scenes that it's not like she has a choice in the matter. Whether she likes it or not, she knows that she will have this baby. At this point, though, she's questioning whether she should go against her faith and abort. That's a huge thing for her. Within the Masood family, she's possibly the most traditional. She's the more devout Muslim, even though she was married when she was younger to another man before falling in love with Masood.
"That's the great thing about Zainab, though - she's very conflicted. Being in this country at the age she's at, she has her traditional values but she fights terribly to be modern and to fit into Western society. Look at the way she dresses for a start. She only wears the traditional clothes when it's to her advantage, like if she has to meet the imam. So she does play the game, but deep down, Zainab's someone who'll come across as traditional but inside, she's a free spirit. That's what makes her so angry and conflicted, because she's constantly fighting herself."
Could you see Zainab as a new mum again?
"I can see her as a useless new mother! She'll come out with these traditional remedies for colic or something! I have a feeling she'll be a very funny mother."
Will she actually have the baby, then?
"Put it this way, I'm sat talking to you with a rather large bump on my stomach, so I presume I am! This will be the first time that I'll be playing a mother having been a mother. All the labour scenes - I'll be able to do them having had experience!"
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