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'EastEnders' Jo Joyner talks Tanya, Max, awards - interview

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Jo Joyner as Tanya Branning

© BBC

EastEnders fans see Tanya Jessop's troubles with partner Max Branning come to a head next week as she is finally honest with him about her fears.

As Tanya was given the all-clear from cervical cancer a few weeks ago, Max (Jake Wood) is keen to start moving their relationship forward again in the coming days. However, he's in for a shock as Tanya reveals exactly why she has been shying away from him.

In real life, meanwhile, Jo Joyner - who plays Tanya - has secured a string of nominations at this year's British Soap Awards, receiving nods for 'Best Actress', 'Best Dramatic Performance', 'Best On-Screen Partnership' for her scenes with Jake Wood and 'Best Storyline' for Tanya's cancer.

Digital Spy recently caught up with Jo for a catch-up chat about all things Tanya.

Congratulations on your British Soap Award nominations! How does it feel to have had so much recognition this year?
"It's a bit nerve-wracking, actually! I'm not particularly used to it and I certainly wasn't expecting it. Because I've been nominated for a few, I suppose I feel a bit of pressure to at least get something!"

It'll be a big night for the Brannings as Lorna Fitzgerald (Abi), Scott Maslen (Jack) and Jamie Foreman (Derek) are all up for prizes too…
"I know, I'm really proud of them and I think the nominations are all well-deserved. Obviously Scott is the sexiest male on telly! I'm really thrilled for Lorna, too, because every year at the Soap Awards my one disappointment has been constantly wondering why she isn't up for 'Best Young Performance'. I think Lorna genuinely deserves to win that one, so I'm delighted that she's up for it.

"I also think that Jamie is a fantastic addition to the Brannings - he's an excellent actor, a joy to work with and a lovely, lovely guy. The nominations are all very exciting."

Have you got your dress for the night sorted yet?
"I have! I'm not particularly glamorous, I'm afraid - I'm not very good at glamour! But I've got a very pretty blue silk dress for the night, which I love."

Tanya is told she'll have to wait another day for her results.
Looking back over the past year, are there any scenes that you particularly enjoyed or you're most proud of?
"I've had some really lovely stuff written for me in the past year, without a doubt. I think the material I've most enjoyed doing is possibly the moments in between - so the anxiety before treatments and the little quiet moments.

"I also really enjoyed doing the scene in the kitchen where Tanya told Cora and Rainie that she had helped her father to die. I enjoyed doing that because it was so difficult to film and I was really getting my teeth into it.

"Another scene that stands out is the one where Tanya was packing memory boxes and had written letters for the kids. I thought that was brilliantly written - it was so awful and I was in tears reading it, let alone trying to film it. I think the writers were really great at getting across Tanya's anger over the situation in that scene - especially her fear that Max wouldn't be able to carry on without her. It was such a complex scene and I really enjoyed it."

Now that Tanya's had the all-clear from her cancer, what's your take on the current state of play between her and Max?
"I think at the moment they're trying to live in a brave new world. Tanya wants to get on with things and seize every moment, because she's never been more aware of how precious life is. But at the same time, she is living with the damage that the cancer treatment can cause.

"I specifically asked the writers to look at that. I felt that very often in soaps, a cancer storyline is forgotten about as soon as somebody gets the all-clear. But chemotherapy and radiotherapy are very extreme treatments, and those have their own consequences on the body. You might be clear of the cancer, but you might be damaged in other ways.

"Because it's such a female cancer that Tanya was having treatment for, it's really hit her at the very heart of her relationship with a husband who already found it hard to stay faithful. So Tanya is in a very vulnerable position with Max at the moment.

"They're struggling with working out how they can be a couple when they're quite nervous and tentative about going back into the bedroom."

Tanya tells Max she no longer feels like the woman she was before her illness,
How do things develop between them next week?
"Well, it's now become such a big issue. Tanya hasn't been honest with Max about her feelings when it comes to their sex life. Instead, she's told him, 'The nurses say I should just wait a bit longer'. That wasn't actually the truth, so she's now got herself into a really tricky situation.

"Max eventually becomes aware that not sleeping with Tanya hasn't been under doctors' orders. Max reacts in quite a typical way, asking, 'What do you mean, you don't want me? What have I done wrong?'

"But by the end of the week, they do straighten things out and they enter a new world of trying to go back to the very basics of when they first started seeing each other. Max tries to be a bit more romantic and they reminisce. It's a great way to start their new chapter."

As you mentioned, you came up with the idea to explore these problems for Tanya's relationship following her illness. Did you feel a responsibility to ensure Tanya's journey was portrayed accurately?
"Yeah, you definitely feel very responsible. I've been at EastEnders for six or seven years, and I don't think I'd ever been up to the story team in all that time. That's because they're very good up there - they come up with the ideas, they're in charge of that department and I do my acting. I've never felt like interfering or getting involved.

"But when you're given the responsibility of a storyline like this, you have to justify it and talk to the press about it, so I needed to make sure that I was doing a good job and that we were coming at the storyline from the right angles. The team here always were - it's just that I had a more personal, emotional side that I could draw on.

"So it was a little bit more collaborative than it normally would be, and I really enjoyed that. They've been very good and humoured me, I suppose!"

Is there anything you would have done differently?
"Well, the fact is we work on incredibly extreme schedules here - it's not like any other television show that you would ever work on. On a three-parter, you'd do six or seven scenes per day, whereas here we'll film 17 to 20 scenes. You could be in every single one of those scenes, and they could be across eight different episodes.

"That means that a difficulty arises when you get scenes where you're supposed to look terrible due to the cancer treatment, but in the following scene in 20 minutes' time, you're supposed to look fine because you're pretending to your family that you're not having treatment."

Tanya confides in Lauren she already fears getting sick again.
Things are looking up for Tanya and Max, but is it true that things are going to get worse where Lauren's drinking problem is concerned?
"I think things are definitely going to get worse before they get better when it comes to Lauren. This is a storyline that the team decided to do a long time ago, and they've given it a nice longevity. They've been weaving it in gradually and slowly, which I think is always a great thing in our soaps. When they take their time with a storyline like that, you can pretty much guarantee that it's going to come to some sort of climax.

"Hopefully, as it's the BBC, we'll all learn something from that. But at the moment, Tanya is pretty ignorant of how bad things are with Lauren…"

> British Soap Awards 2012: Full viewer and panel shortlist revealed
> British Soap Awards 2012 airdate confirmed
> Read more EastEnders spoilers and news Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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