EastEnders bids farewell to Zainab Masood next week, as actress Nina Wadia bows out from the role after five years.
Zainab's time in Walford reaches a sad conclusion in the coming days as her partner Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra) decides that their relationship is beyond repair and calls time on their life together.
Digital Spy recently caught up with Nina to hear more about her decision to leave the BBC soap, what's next for her career, and Zainab's exit storyline.
How are you feeling now that your time at EastEnders has come to an end?
"Right at this moment, very sad! But I'm also anxious and excited. It wasn't an easy one for me - it was a very complex decision to make. It took a few months to make the choice to leave as I was going back and forth in my mind, but then I finally decided that I needed to be brave."
How did the bosses react?
"I think they were a bit shocked initially. Lorraine Newman had just taken over from Bryan Kirkwood, and I had told Bryan not long before he left. But Lorraine was lovely and very understanding. I think being a woman helps, because she understands where I am at this point in my life now.
"Lorraine said that she'd keep the door open for me, which is possibly the biggest compliment a producer can give you."
What was your last day like? Were there any tears shed?
"Oh my goodness, it was very sad with lots of tears! I tended to stay away from everyone on the last day, because every time someone came to give me a hug, I'd burst into tears.
"I was keeping myself to myself, which is not like me at all - I love company. But on that day I knew that if anyone came near me, I would just cry! It was hard."
Did you have a leaving party?
"Yes, they did throw me a leaving party and they put on a little show reel of all the stuff that I'd done in the past five years. I'd forgotten how naughty Zainab was when she first came into the show! I could also see that there's a lot of love there between Zainab and Masood. To be honest, it's going to be difficult to wake up and not go into work at EastEnders!"
Who will you miss the most?
"I will miss Marc Elliott, Himesh Patel, Nitin Ganatra, baby Kamil and Diane Parish. Those are the core group who were around me. Also, Ricky Norwood was my next-door neighbour on our little dressing room terrace and I shall miss him terribly - he gives good massages! Sometimes there's a bit of a rivalry over who gives the best massages, but I'm sorry, he's number one for me!
"I'll also miss Tameka Empson, Chucky Venn, Linda Henry, Jo Joyner, Patsy Palmer… honestly, I could just sit here and name every member of the cast. The list is endless. I just didn't work with certain people as much, but we all met in the green room and around the set. And of course I will totally miss Rita Simons, who is just insane in the best way possible - she has a great sense of humour."
In Zainab's final week, she finally finds out about Ayesha's crush on Masood. How does she react?
"Zainab is obviously shocked, because she was so not expecting it - it just comes in from left field. Zainab had no idea that this was going through Ayesha's mind. But Zainab also shows her strong side. There's a great moment where Ayesha says, 'You don't know him like I know him!' Zainab just laughs and says, 'I think you'll find I know him a lot better than you, sweetheart!'
"The situation just knocks Zainab sideways, especially because she's been doing her best to help Ayesha find someone and be happy. It's difficult for her when she realises this girl has been going behind her back."
What else can we expect from Zainab's final episodes?
"Well, the Ayesha situation is not the real reason why Zainab leaves. She leaves because she and Masood have to finally talk to each other about their relationship. The last two episodes are so incredibly special. Pete Lawson and Carey Andrews wrote them, and they've really done Zainab justice. I can't thank them enough."
What would you say are the core problems between Zainab and Masood?
"I would say there's a lack of communication. There's a lot of love, but I think Zainab is so comfortable thinking this could never happen to them, and she forgets to take care of the relationship. So Masood has doubts about how he feels for Ayesha, and that makes Zainab realise that he has doubts about everything else too."
Do you think the Masoods will have a strong future in the show even with Zainab gone?
"Oh, I'm sure they will. This is a show that's going to go on and on. I don't think anyone's bigger than the show - EastEnders is an entity in itself. The Masoods will be fine."
How would you feel if Masood got a new love interest?
"It wouldn't bother me in the least, because we're just acting! I think there'd be a problem if I was affected by it!"
As you mentioned, EastEnders have left the door open for you. Do you think there's a chance you'd return at some point?
"Oh yeah, in this business you just never say never. You really and truly do not know what is going to happen. I'm very grateful that they have left the door open, so we'll see what happens."
What does the future hold for you?
"My husband and I have our own production company, and we're starting on our next film project. We did Four last year, and this year we're starting on Strangeways, Here We Come with Stephen Lord. My husband is going to produce the music for it, so we're really, really looking forward to that project.
"I did Keith Lemon: The Film last year and the director for that is now making his next movie, and I received a text on Christmas Day saying, 'Keep next year free for me' - so that was nice!
"There's also a few other projects that are not acting-related. There's something called the Food Education Trust, which I'm part of, and there's my role as ambassador for Barnardo's. So there is a lot - I have a lot of commitments and people who I've not been able to give my full help to while I've been in EastEnders, so now I'll have the capacity to do that."
By coincidence, you cast Kierston Wareing in Four and now she's in EastEnders as Kirsty! Are you pleased to see her on the Square?
"Oh gosh yes, she's amazing. Kierston has got a real energy about her, and she looks incredible on screen. I think it was the right move for her and for the show. I also think it's a great pairing with her and Max."
How would you like the EastEnders fans to remember Zainab?
"Well they've already been tweeting me to go back, and I haven't even left on screen yet! I just hope they remember the fun stuff. I think what they've liked most about her is that she's quite unique with the way she gets to do a lot of comedy as well as drama. Not a lot of the characters on the show get to do that.
"Hopefully they'll remember some classic lines. Anything to do with 'Fatty Boy' would be good! And my favourite line so far: 'Why can't she just like Tamwar? He has such shapely legs! Did AJ have rickets as a child?' It took a few takes to get that out, I can tell you!"
Do you have any final thoughts about your time on the show?
"I think the show is incredible. Like with Corrie and Emmerdale, they find ways to make the machine keep going, and the viewers will keep watching because they love the characters.
"I feel really, really proud to have been in the show. I've been there for a fifth of the show's time on the air, and it was Ricky Norwood who pointed that out. It made me realise how special the show was to me. EastEnders is an incredible part of British TV history, and I feel very honoured to have been part of that."
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EastEnders airs Nina Wadia's final episode as Zainab on Friday, February 8 at 8pm on BBC One. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad