Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
11

Soaps Interview

'EastEnders' Jo Joyner talks cancer storyline, Tanya future: Interview

By
Jo Joyner as Tanya Branning

© BBC

EastEnders' Tanya Jessop had a huge year on the show in 2011 with high-profile storylines including her big Walford wedding with builder Greg, subsequent affair with ex-husband Max, and most notably the challenging times she faced after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

In real life, meanwhile, Digital Spy readers last month voted in their thousands to name Jo Joyner as 2011's 'Best Soap Actress' in recognition of her portrayal of Tanya.

Here, in an exclusive interview, Jo chats to us about the reader poll result and what's to come for Tanya in the coming weeks.

Congratulations on being voted our readers' top soap actress of the past year!
"Thank you - I'd like to say thanks very much to everyone who voted. I really value the opinion of the Digital Spy readers, because they're the best judges - they're the ones who are always watching and have been with the show for a long time. It's a real privilege."

It's been a big year for you on the show, so how would you sum it all up?
"I'd say the cancer storyline has been the main thing for me in the past 12 months - it has been all-consuming and most of my time has been spent on it, because EastEnders gave the story quite a long time to build and the viewers have been on the journey with Tanya.

"Before that, Tanya was having an affair with Max and getting back together with him, and I even had a wedding at the beginning of last year. It's definitely been a big year - I've gone from the extremes of a big soap wedding with all the trappings, to Tanya being incredibly ill."

Tanya is told she'll have to wait another day for her results.
What kind of a reaction have you had from viewers over Tanya's cancer storyline?
"I've had some really great feedback about how awareness of smear tests and cervical cancer has been brought back to the forefront again. That's what the BBC and everyone here hopes for when we go for a big storyline like this - that it becomes an educational tool and awareness is raised. I've also spoken to people who are going through the illness who have found Tanya's story to be really positive and a real relief.

"As well as that, I had some more great feedback when I met a woman from Macmillan Cancer Support who was working with the Government. They did two studies focusing on how women with cervical cancer felt about going in for chemotherapy and radiotherapy - one took place before Tanya's story had started, and the other took place afterwards. She told me that in the second study, the reaction was so much braver and more positive - people knew that they might not lose all of their hair and that there's a really good chance of survival. I think that's a really great thing."

How is Tanya feeling about everything at the moment?
"Well, Tanya has confided in all of her family now - and previously it had been a lot for her and Lauren to carry on their own. Things are a lot easier for her now as she has so much more support. She can ask people for help with the salon and the kids now, which is great."

There's always lots of magazine speculation about where Tanya's story could go next, including recent suggestions of a 'deathbed wedding' or 'Max killing Tanya to end her suffering'. What's your take on all of the wild rumours?
"I think there's bound to be stuff like that - it's a soap, so people want the extreme spectacle! But actually, EastEnders have been really keen to stick to the truth of the situation, which is that cervical cancer has a great survival rate when it's caught early.

"Hopefully the outcome will be positive for Tanya - she's having the treatment, she's feeling a bit better now and she's coming out the other side of it. Even if things did take a turn for the worse, I think it's extremely unlikely that there would be a mercy killing or anything like that."

Max wants to make Christmas special for Tanya
We've seen Tanya reunite with Max, but does she still have insecurities when it comes to their relationship?
"There's massive insecurities there, and I think it's going to be really interesting to explore that over the next couple of months, as we're filming it at the moment. From my research, I did discover how invasive the treatment can be for cervical cancer. So I spoke to the storyliners and we talked about how very often in a soap, somebody will survive cancer and then it all gets forgotten about. But when I spoke to survivors, I heard that the side-effects from chemotherapy and radiotherapy are quite big - and people can be left with life-long issues because of the treatment.

"Because of the type of cancer that Tanya's got, those issues will inevitably affect her sex life with Max and their relationship. Tanya's relationship with Max has often been based on how she needs to keep him on his toes, as she fears that he could stray at any second. But Tanya's not feeling like the same woman at the moment, so I think it'll be quite sad to watch."

How are things between Tanya and her mum Cora at the moment?
"I think that now we've explored all of the history with Tanya's father, the two of them are in a new territory. Cora can sometimes be distant and cold, but you have to remember that they hadn't spoken for a long time. At the moment, because of Tanya's illness, Cora is being supportive and quite 'mummy' - but there's always the possibility that things could take a turn for the worse with their relationship, so I think that could change."

Tanya confides in Lauren and tells her she has Cancer
We're also currently seeing Lauren go off the rails a bit. How does Tanya cope with that?
"At first, Tanya wasn't really aware of it as much as she should have been. It amazes me when people say that Tanya is a great mum, because so often she just doesn't see what's right under her nose when it comes to her kids! Lauren's problems are news to Tanya and Max - and Tanya feels incredibly guilty about it.

"Now that Tanya is coming to the end of her treatment and hopefully she'll be okay, it's time for her to take a look around her and see what's changed. She's been in this 'cancer bubble', but now she sees that she's been neglecting some of the people around her."

Tanya will also soon lose her best friend, as Jane is leaving the Square again…
"It's awful! Laurie Brett has already filmed her final scenes and I miss her hugely, and Tanya definitely misses Jane. Tanya has also lost Rainie in the past couple of months, so a lot of the females in her life are leaving. I think she needs to get close to Bianca or Carol or somebody, because she's short on a female friend!"

Max and Derek squabble over who should be head of the table
Are you enjoying having Derek in the Branning clan now?
"Jamie Foreman is fantastic - I played his mistress years ago in a show called Family. So when they said that the new Derek Branning would be Jamie, I just thought he was a perfect choice.

"And Tanya definitely has issues with Derek, as he had a fling with Rainie at her wedding, when Rainie was only 17 and a bit of a drunk. As far as Tanya's concerned, Derek took advantage of her sister. And who knows, he might have tried to take advantage of Tanya in the past. He's a wrong'un and she's not keen!"

Do you think there's still some secrets to be revealed about the time that Max spent with Derek away from the Square?
"Of course there will be - and it makes me sick just thinking about it! I think that's another reason why Tanya doesn't like Derek - she knows that Max was with him when he was missing. Tanya knows damn well that Derek will know some secrets and that they'll be about Max - because Max always has secrets! That'll be eating away at Tanya as we speak."

How did you feel about being involved in Pam St Clement's final episode recently?
"It was really lovely and a very emotional time for everybody on the set, as she's such an icon. Pam did some lovely work and in her final days on set, there was a lovely feeling because she'd requested particular directors and crew to work on her final block. It was a real privilege to play a part in Pat's final episode. Funnily enough, I hadn't really worked much with Pam in the time that I've been at EastEnders, so that was the most that we'd ever worked together."

Abi admits it is Lola who is pregnant and not her
Would you like to see more from Lorna Fitzgerald, who plays Abi, this year?
"I think it's going to be an exciting year for Lorna. She's been a natural on the show ever since she was younger, and I think she's one of our best actresses. What's lovely about this year is that she'll be doing her GCSEs, and then hopefully once that's out of the way, she can get something that's a bit heavier and a bit bigger. She'll be old enough to work longer hours, so I think they'd be mad if they didn't give her something to sink her teeth into at some point this year."

How do you feel about Jacqueline Jossa, who plays Lauren, being up for the 'Best Newcomer' prize at the National Television Awards?
"It's fantastic - we're all so proud. I think Jacqueline has done a brilliant job and she's great to work with. We'd be so thrilled if she won, because she totally deserves it."

Do you think EastEnders also has a good chance for the 'Best Serial Drama' prize?
"I hope so - we've got so many great families in EastEnders at the moment. We've got the Masoods, the Brannings and the Mitchells - so there's some very strong characters and fabulous families. I think we cover every generation really well, so I think we should win!"

How long would you like to stay on EastEnders for?
"I'm really, really happy here. Hopefully I'll be around for this next year, and I'd love to be able to stay for a long time, actually. The practicalities are that I'd love to be with my kids a bit more as well, so who knows? But at the moment I'm extremely happy, as I'm in a great family on a great show!"

> Read all the latest EastEnders spoilers and news

EastEnders airs Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on BBC One. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

You May Like

Comments

Loading...