Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
37

Soaps Interview

Exclusive: 'EastEnders' exec Lorraine Newman on future plans for soap - interview

By
Lorraine Newman - EastEnders executive producer

© BBC

It's been all change at the top on EastEnders this year as Lorraine Newman has taken over the position of executive producer, accepting the post in an acting capacity in March before landing the permanent job three months later.

Newman has been part of the EastEnders team for nearly 20 years, starting out as a script secretary at the age of 19 before rising through the ranks to the top job.

Here, in her first in-depth interview since taking the helm of the BBC's flagship soap, Lorraine chats exclusively to Digital Spy about her vision for EastEnders and what's to come.

How are you finding the new job so far?
"I'm absolutely loving it. It's a real bonus having come up through the show over the years, as it means I have a good understanding of EastEnders, how it fits together and how everything works. I'm truly loving being at the helm."

What can you tell us about your overall vision for EastEnders? Are there any particular changes or differences that you'd like the viewers to notice as your episodes continue coming through?
"Absolutely. I've been reinjecting the show with love and warmth, we can occasionally have a happy ending! Families are obviously at our core but I also think that friendships are absolutely key - they've been somewhat lacking of late, particularly for our ladies.

"I'd also like to stop the revolving door of characters and find that next generation, which I think is very important for the show."

What do you feel is the current public perception of EastEnders, and is there anything about that perception that you'd like to change during your time as executive producer?
"It's positive at the moment, and as we start the run-up to Christmas, we're pushing forward a gear in terms of storylines.

"I think there's always a danger with EastEnders that the perception is one of doom and gloom, but I don't think that does have to be the case. The Olympic torch episode, the Fatboy and Denise story, and even 'Chryed' show that we can actually have a happy ending. I think we can have a balance of stories and the audience will enjoy that just as much."

You've been credited as executive producer for a while now. Does the work on screen at the moment fully represent your vision, or will it take time for the full picture to come together?
"The change in the on-screen credit reflected the last story document that Bryan [Kirkwood] worked on. Inevitably it takes longer for some stories to play out but we're beyond that point now."

Jessie Wallace as Kat Moon in EastEnders.

© BBC

Jo Joyner and Jake Wood as Tanya and Max Branning

© BBC



Can you give us any gossip for the Christmas episodes this year that the audience doesn't already know?
"I don't want to give too much away, but before Christmas the viewers will find out the identity of Kat's lover. That will obviously have huge repercussions, particularly for Kat and Alfie but also for the Branning family. As we know, the three Branning boys are left in the mix at the moment, and we'll discover which one of them is Kat's mystery man.

"We will also finally reveal Max's secret - the viewers have already seen that the pressure is rising for Max, and this will all come to a head over the festive period."

We've waited a long time to find out Max's secret. Do you think the pay-off will be satisfying for viewers?
"Oh, definitely. I'm desperately hoping that the secret won't be revealed before then, as I think it's one that the audience will really relish seeing on screen."

With Jo Joyner taking a break from EastEnders, are you able to say when Tanya will depart screens?
"I don't want to give away the exact timing of Jo's departure, as I think it will spoil some of the elements of the story in between, but it is a while off yet. We've got lots of Jo to enjoy before then."

Claire Perkins
Khali Best

[Left: Clare Perkins / Right: Khali Best]

What can you tell us about the upcoming arrival of Cora's daughter Ava, played by Clare Perkins? Is she definitely a regular?
"I've been watching some of Ava's scenes today, and the material that I've seen is fabulous. Clare, Jo and Ann just have a wonderful instant rapport, and some of their early material had me weeping in the edit - there is some really emotional stuff on the way.

"We regularly run workshops for actors on EastEnders, as we're always keen to see what talent is out there. Casting this way also enables us to build the character around the strength of the actor. Our recent workshops coincided with our search for a potential Ava, Cora's daughter.

"Clare actually came along to one of these workshops. At that moment, we were only looking at Ava for five episodes, but we were totally blown away by Clare and so offered her a long-term contract at that point.

"But it wasn't just Clare that we struck gold with at this particular workshop. We were also fortunate enough to find Khali Best who will be joining us in the New Year to play Dexter, Ava's son. Dexter is a force of nature: cheeky, forthright, confident but highly protective of his mum and vice versa. He'll work at The Arches and be a great mate for Jay, and Lola will adore him. I am sure he'll be hugely popular with the audience.

"Despite the speculation, we never considered Sharon as Cora's daughter!"

This year's festive episodes have been billed as a 'Branning Christmas'. Will the Brannings be the only focus this year, or will other separate storylines also be peaking around this time?
"There's always a few story strands around the festive period, but the Brannings are indeed the main focus this year, as the Masoods were last year.

"As the Brannings are such a huge clan now, there are actually several strands that run into the festive episodes, which have been building over the year. We'll have Max's secret, Joey and Lauren's relationship, Derek's departure, and also Kat's lover playing into the mix too."

Can you tease Derek's departure for us? Will it spark a 'whodunit' storyline, and will Alice and Joey be staying in the Square afterwards?
"Well, there's certainly been a huge amount of speculation about Derek's departure and the Brannings' Christmas storylines! We aren't going to commit to any of the rumours as we really don't want to spoil it for the audience.

"What we can say is that Derek does leave over the Christmas period, and it has huge ramifications for the whole family. I can also confirm that Alice and Joey will be sticking around beyond that."

Patsy Palmer as Bianca Jackson in EastEnders

© BBC

Lindsey Coulson as Carol Jackson in EastEnders

© BBC



What can we expect from Bianca and Carol's permanent return later this month? Will we also see more material for Liam now that actor James Forde is older?
"It's lovely having both Patsy Palmer and Lindsey Coulson back in the show. They really feel like key members of our Walford community.

"Bianca is just out of prison, but we've actually got some lighter moments for her initially before her big story kicks in. We'll find out that she has recently qualified as a hairdresser - although I'm not sure I'd let her loose on my hair! (Laughs.)

"With Liam, obviously the character is 14 but the actor is now an adult, so he'll definitely be featuring more in upcoming storylines as well. We'll also have Dot back on our screens in January, which is wonderful."

Recent new arrivals for the show have nearly always been extensions of existing characters and families. Would you consider bringing in an entirely new family during your time as executive producer?
"There will be new faces heading to Walford soon, and bringing in entirely new blood is certainly not something that I'd rule out - it's important for the future of the show."

After bringing back Sharon this year, are there any more major returns on the cards?
"I think we have to be careful not to reflect too much on the past. It's really important that we have a balance, and that we also look forward at the same time. Sharon has been a great addition for us, but we also have to take the show into its next era.

"If you look at the history of EastEnders, the only characters who are left from the very, very early days and have remained constant are Dot and Ian, so the show has completely refreshed itself since then. It has to continue to do that in order to keep alive."

Alfie isn't happy with Kat's flirting.

© BBC

Shane Richie as Alfie Moon in EastEnders

© BBC



When we asked for reader questions, there were lots about Kat's storyline. As Kat has treated Alfie so badly recently, viewers are keen to know whether she'll get a proper comeuppance for everything she's done?
"There's still a way to go yet with the Kat and Alfie relationship, but it's certainly safe to say that, as always in soapland, Kat will get her comeuppance in one way or another. When the truth does surface at the end of the year, there will be huge ramifications for all concerned.

"Viewers will see a completely different side to Alfie when the truth comes out. Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace are both terrific actors, and I think the storyline has given Shane the opportunity to shine, which the material doesn't always give him the chance to do.

"There's some really powerful stuff coming through from both actors."

Viewers have been very vocal about Kat's character being bogged down by so many infidelity storylines, and there has been quite a bit of criticism of the latest affair plot. Is this something you're aware of, and are there any plans to address it?
"This has been a particular bugbear of mine, as I'm very protective of Kat and I was working on the show when the Slaters were first put together. It's now been 12 years since we told the Harry story for Kat, and I think it is now time to let the character move on. The next chapter of Kat's story will definitely help her to do this. It's been a long time since we've heard Kat laugh, properly laugh. It's long overdue."

We noticed that many viewers enjoyed the chemistry between Alfie and Roxy earlier this year. Would you revisit this storyline?
"The viewers really took to Alfie and Roxy's partnership, and I think it's an interesting one to think about. But I'm not going to hint at what's coming up, because I don't want to spoil it!"

Viewers still see the Beale family as a really important part of the show. Are there any plans to continue rebuilding them, perhaps with the return of Peter?
"I totally agree with the viewers, as the Beales are absolutely integral to EastEnders. Adam Woodyatt and Hetti Bywater have been busy this year filming Ian's breakdown story, as well as Lucy's on-off romance with Joey.

"They'll continue to be an important part of the show and we have some interesting things coming up for Ian, which may well include expanding that family group. But I'm not going to say any more at this point!"

The Brannings have had a lot of screen time this year. Moving into 2013, can we expect more equal screen time for the other families in the show?
"I do agree that screen time needs to be shared among all of the main families. The Masoods were certainly the main focus last Christmas, and they've currently got a big storyline transmitting. The Beales were very busy earlier in the year, but I do think it's important that we find that right balance. At its heart, it's an ensemble show and it should always feel like that."

Nina Wadia as Zainab Masood in EastEnders

© BBC

Nitin Ganatra as Masood Ahmed in EastEnders

© BBC



What is in store for the Masoods after Christian and Syed leave?
"The Masoods are rightfully incredibly popular and we've got big plans for them. As well as the recent arrival of Masood's brother AJ, we also have a new female character joining the household in December. Let's just say that she's bound to cause a bit of mischief!"

With the departures of Ben, Christian and Syed, will you be bringing in new gay characters, or perhaps promoting Danny Pennant to a regular character?
"I think Gary Lucy's portrayal of Danny has been fabulous, and the door has certainly been left open for that character in the future…"

We often see feedback from fans who want to see more of Denise and Patrick. Can you tell us what's ahead for them? Will future plans for Denise involve Fatboy?
"Patrick will be at the heart of a touching storyline next year. We also have big plans for Denise, which will play out in the coming year. I can confirm that those plans won't involve Fatboy, as lovely as that story has been!"

Sharon's return has been quite low-key since her first week back on screen. What can you tell us about her long-term story arc? Will there be any references to Vicky and Michelle in her future scripts?
"Sharon does have a big part to play in the Lexi storyline and the battle to bring her back to Walford. There's also the triangle with Jack and Phil - which way is she going to go? And, of course, her ongoing struggle with her addiction to prescription drugs, which impacts everything and everyone around her. Sharon's story will remain constant and heat up again at the end of the year.

"Beyond that, Sharon and a couple of other characters are going to be a big focus for us next spring. That may involve references to her extended family as well."

Linda Henry and Shirley Carter in EastEnders

© BBC

Linda Henry as Shirley Carter

Steve McFadden as Phil Mitchell in EastEnders

© BBC



When Shirley returns, will she be tied in with the Mitchells' stories or go in a new direction? Is a return for her family on the cards?
"There's a great reappearance for Shirley, which I'm sure the audience will enjoy. It was felt that the character needed a break from Albert Square and Phil following the death of Heather, but she'll be back in a few weeks and she'll be back to settle some scores…

"Bringing back Shirley's family is not something that's on the cards at the moment, as we are keeping an eye on the amount of returning characters that we do have."

Does Phil actually love Shirley?
"I don't think he knows himself! I think it's a strong case of not realising what you've got until it's gone. Shirley is probably the person who has understood him most, and he misses that hugely."

What's coming up in Lola's storyline?
"Lola's storyline has a few more twists and turns remaining before we find out where Lexi will end up. Since the live Olympic episode where Lola gave birth, the audience have really taken Lola into their hearts, and Danielle Harold's performance has been absolutely wonderful to watch.

"Danielle's confidence has grown on screen and I think we're really benefiting from that. That performance has also made the story all the more heart-wrenching. I think the viewers will be very happy with the outcome of the storyline."

It's quite a way off yet, but we've had lots of questions about Janine's return. Can you give us any early hints on what the plans are?
"Janine is an incredibly popular character. She will be back on our screens in the spring, and it'll be really interesting to see what happens when she returns, particularly given how unexpectedly she left!

"Michael has obviously been left struggling to cope with Scarlett, so will he want Janine back? Will she want to go back to him? Or will she come back a bigger bitch than ever? You'll have to wait and see!"

Jay and Abi kiss.

© BBC

Rachel Bright as Poppy Meadow in EastEnders

© BBC



Are there more storylines on the way for Jay and Abi?
"Definitely. I think their romance storyline is a really popular one with the audience and an absolute delight to see. Their relationship will continue to blossom, but Jay is also due to be sentenced for his role in Heather's death, which will no doubt have a huge impact on their relationship…"

What are the plans for Poppy now that she's sticking around in Walford?
"We'll see Poppy become involved in a relationship very soon, which is progressing very well in the material we're working on at the moment. She'll become far more involved in the Square and the friendships within those groups. There's plenty more on the table for Poppy."

We've recently seen a refurbishment upstairs at the Queen Vic. Are there any more set revamps on the way? Also, a lot of fans would like to see The Vic right back at the heart of the Walford community again - do you agree?
"There are a couple more revamps which will come through in the next few weeks. The Vic is really, really important - it's absolutely the heart of the Square, as the market is the lifeblood. I think both are absolutely vital for the show, and that's where they should remain.

"We've actually taken the B&B back to more muted colours because I felt it detracted from The Vic. I think the pub should definitely be the central point of the show."

The younger characters on EastEnders have recently come in for some criticism in the press and among viewers. Do you think there was any truth in claims they were too prominent earlier in the year? Do you feel any of those characters need more work to make them more likeable to the viewers?
"I think what's really important with all of our characters is that they're distinctive. If they're not distinctive and there is overlap, you have to question their place in the show. But the younger characters have always been a popular part of EastEnders. Even when the show started, we had Lofty, Kelvin, Michelle, Sharon, Wicksy, Mark and Ian. Actually there were only around 20 characters in the show then, so that was a huge proportion of the show at that point.

"I think younger characters are a main staple of the show, and who knows, they could be the next Dots, Coras and Patricks of this world! It's always great to see those characters who continue through, and the audience gets a great sense of history through them.

"I also think it works better when our younger cast members are integral to the families that we have, as it means we can involve them in stories other than teen angst and love triangles. I think this is a balance which Tony Holland struck perfectly in the early days."

We often see comments on the forums from viewers who want the younger characters to have more storylines outside of their relationships, and to perhaps show more ambition. Is that something you'd take on board?
"I totally agree, as I think there should be characters right across the board who the audience can look up to. When you look back to when EastEnders originally started, there was always Ian who had his ambition, and at the same time there was Mary, who was the person at the bottom of the heap and really struggling.

"Some of our characters do have great ambition: Tam, Lucy, Whitney and Abi, all in very different ways (and even Lauren will finally head back to college next year). However, career choices do always present us with a bit of a conundrum as we inevitably get more from the characters when they can be around and interact during the daytime."

Letitia Dean as Sharon Rickman

© BBC

Danielle Harold as Lola Pearce in EastEnders

© BBC



Would you like to see stronger female characters in the show?
"The main staple of EastEnders has always been the matriarch. Occasionally matriarchs walk straight onto our screens, Angie, Pat and Peggy have all been amazing examples of this, whilst other characters develop and grow into incredibly strong women. Sharon and Stacey are examples of the latter and I have no doubt that Lola is following suit.

"I think it's vital that we're not purely telling relationship stories with our characters, male or female, as this weakens them and leaves them in danger of becoming two-dimensional. All our characters should be far more complex than this."

The show has lost some legends like Pat and Peggy. Would you be interested in expanding the older age group?
"It is really important to make sure that we have that balance. If we feel that we're missing characters in any area, it's certainly something we would look at."

Fans are often disappointed when characters disappear for a few weeks if they don't have a big story. Is this due to filming schedules, or is it something that could be looked at so that stories cross over more?
"It's a combination of story planning and scheduling. We film two or three units at the same time, which inevitably impacts our actors' availability considerably at times. If we could clone them, life would be so much easier! We storyline 12 to 18 months ahead at any given time so we always try to ensure that we have a balance of characters, with enough excitement sprinkled in to keep the audience hooked."

From the feedback we see on the forums, EastEnders storylines most fondly remembered among viewers often tend to be realistic, understated human drama like Billie's death, or the dark, gritty social storylines the show is known for. On the other hand, fans tend to be more negative about affairs and bed-hopping! What are your thoughts on what makes the perfect EastEnders story?
"It goes without saying that EastEnders does the social issues incredibly well, as we've seen with Whitney's abuse, Tanya's cancer, Billie's death and more recently Ian's breakdown. I think that's down to the amount of time that we spend researching things before we even put pen to paper. Ensuring we have a clear understanding of not only the factual research but also the emotional research too.

"However, when you look at the facts and figures, the most-watched episodes do tend to revolve around relationships - whether it's been Max and Stacey's affair, 'Sharongate' and Den and Angie's Christmas divorce papers. They still remain the most talked-about stories of all time.

"I think a primary factor is the pacing of stories and making sure that is right. We also need to make sure that we're not telling too many relationship stories at the same time, because I think it diminishes their value, particularly where affairs are concerned.

"The perfect EastEnders story will have me laughing and crying, desperately wanting to know what happens next. Most importantly it will leave me feeling far more connected with the character than when it began. When we're creating storylines, you can't beat the goose-pimple test, it tells you all you need to know."

> Read 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...