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'EastEnders': Perry Fenwick talks Billy's Olympic plot - interview

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Perry Fenwick as Billy Mitchell in EastEnders

© BBC

EastEnders regular Billy Mitchell gets a huge opportunity to make his family proud next week as the day of his Olympic moment finally arrives.

Billy is delighted to have been chosen as an Olympic torchbearer, and viewers will see him carry out the task as part of a short live segment which will be slotted into EastEnders on Monday, July 23.

Perry Fenwick, who plays Billy, recently chatted to Digital Spy about the challenges of a live broadcast and what's ahead for his character.

Are you nervous about the live broadcast?
"I am, but I think it'd be wrong if I wasn't! There's the little thing of an Olympic flame to worry about as you don't want it to go out or drop, and a bit of acting thrown in as well! I've known about this for a long time and it's always been in the distance, but now it's getting closer.

"Also, it's not even that I can switch off thinking about it, because everything on the radio and the telly at the moment is about the Olympics. It's all around me at the moment!"

Is there much you can do in the way of preparation?
"It's a bit like getting ready for the opening night of a play - all you can do is make sure that you're prepared for everything. For me that's meant running around the Square early in the morning and checking out any potholes, as well as the obvious thing of making sure I know my lines! I'm really looking forward to doing it, but I'm also looking forward to the moment when I've just done it and it's over!"

Will there be much rehearsal time?
"At first we'll have some tentative rehearsal time, but we are busy filming other stuff as well. Once it gets to Saturday, June 21, we'll have the weekend and most of Monday to rehearse. It's going to be eight to ten minutes of live footage, with maybe about eight or nine scenes in it. But obviously because it's live, they've got to be choreographed absolutely to the second.

"By the time the live broadcast begins, hopefully we'll all be clued up and we can just do it. When we did the live episode for the 25th anniversary two years ago, my memory of that is that it absolutely felt like about five minutes, and that was half an hour. Here, we're only doing about ten minutes, so I know that it'll be over before I can even think about it."

Billy Mitchell's Olympic storyline in EastEnders

© BBC



Were you pleased that Billy was chosen for this?
"Yeah, absolutely. I didn't see it coming at all myself. At first I thought, 'What's he done to deserve it?', but most people have pointed out to me that it's not what he's done, it's what he hasn't done! He hasn't cheated on his wife, he's not a greedy man, he's not trying to steal money from people - he's just an honest Joe who tries. That's basically what the whole Olympic ethos is - it's about trying your best."

Would you be interested in the Olympics even without this storyline?
"Yeah, I'm a big sports fan. To be honest with you, I'm more of a football and cricket fan, but at the same time, I get swept along with the big events like everybody else does. We've just had the European Championships in football and I watched every single game of that, I didn't care who was playing.

"I think it's great that EastEnders has done this storyline, because it would be totally wrong and remiss not to acknowledge the biggest event in our lifetime, which technically - in fictional land - is five minutes up the road from Walford."

Is Billy nervous about carrying the torch?
"I think I'm more nervous than Billy! He obviously wants everything to go right, but he's just absolutely delighted - this is his big moment and he's going to enjoy it. But as usual with Billy, you just know that nothing's going to go to plan. It's like the saying, 'Man makes plans and the gods laugh' - that's Billy Mitchell all over! If everything's all set for him, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's not going to go right…"

Billy Mitchell's Olympic storyline on EastEnders

© BBC



Danielle Harold has a big role in the live scenes too, as Lola gives birth! Do you think Danielle will cope well?
"I think she'll be fine. Danielle amazes me, as she started here at EastEnders just over a year ago with no real acting experience, but they saw something in her and they took a chance, because they reckoned they might have unearthed a little nugget of gold. To watch her develop and grow, even over this last couple of months, has been great. Every now and again, she just goes up another level.

"What Danielle has got is a gut instinct and she's smart. If you put those two together and you're prepared to listen and learn, you can't go wrong. I think she'll be fabulous - I think she's a cracking little actress."

After 14 years at EastEnders, do you still enjoy working there as much as when you first started?
"Yeah, I do! It's an interesting one, because you have highs and lows in this job and there are times when maybe you're not doing what you particularly want to be doing. It's very hard for the producers to keep everyone happy down here, because there are a lot of actors and everybody wants their time in the sun.

"I'm lucky with the character that I play, as I get to do some good comic stuff which I enjoy, but that goes hand-in-hand with pathos, sadness and dramatic material. I like mixing it up, and it's worked well over the years for me with writers because they can put Billy into a lot of situations.

"It's really nice to be busy down here at the moment. Me and Dani have been exceptionally busy, and it's going to carry on that way for us for pretty much all this year. I do really enjoy working at EastEnders, and to think that I only signed up for three episodes back in 1998, to still be here now I've not done too badly, have I?"

You used to have lots of scenes with Jamie Borthwick, who plays Jay, but not so much recently. Would you like Billy and Jay to become close again?
"Well, it's interesting you say that! Well pointed out, but just watch this space - that's all I'll say to you!"

Jamie's had lots of praise for his recent performances, so are you proud of how well he's done?
"Absolutely - you've got to grow up very fast on this show. We've had a lot of famous actors who've come in to do little stints, and after they've been here for a week or so, they're doffing their cap to everybody and saying, 'I don't know how you lot do this consistently at this pace'.

"So if you've got very experienced actors saying that and then you've got kids like Jamie, Danielle and Josh [Pascoe] who have barely left school, it's a pleasure to see how they cope with it and how they've come of age. They've got an instinct now when it comes to how the show works, and they become the most professional actors.

"To add to that, you have the fame that comes with this job - some adult actors find that hard to deal with. So they grow up really fast, and all of them have done brilliantly recently."

Lola and Billy meet with their social worker.

© BBC



Would you like Billy to find love again?
"Yeah, I would. I'd like him to find Honey again, to be honest with you. I think that'd be a nice one, and it'd be what Billy would love - to get his kids back. That's all he ever wants, that happy family thing. I think it'd be an interesting dynamic, but obviously we won't be doing it for a while because me and Dani are very busy already at the moment - they've got a lot lined up for us right up until Christmas.

"If any girl tried to get involved with Billy, whether it be Honey or someone new, I think that's when you'd see little Lola's claws come out! She would not let anyone near her Pops, so I think that would be a really funny situation."

Is there anything you haven't explored with Billy that you'd like to do?
"I suppose one thing is what would happen if you gave Billy Mitchell a load of money? We kind of did it once years ago when he had a short-lived romance with Janine. He had some money from a dodgy deal, and she basically fleeced him of it within about three episodes! I think that could be looked at, because a fool and his money are soon parted.

"I could see Billy getting a windfall and ending up giving it all away or investing it badly. The fact of the matter is, if you give Billy Mitchell money, you haven't got a character! He's always got to be looking for that break, and if you give it to him, you've got to take it away again…"

> 'EastEnders' Billy Mitchell to carry Olympic torch through Square
> Read more 'EastEnders' spoilers and news

EastEnders' Olympic episodes air on Monday, July 23 at 8pm and 9pm on BBC One. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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