EastEnders introduces a new character in tonight's episode (January 24) as actor Kristian Kiehling arrives on screen as Aleks Shirov.
Aleks is a tough new market inspector for Walford, who immediately makes an impact by putting Tamwar Masood on probation and warning him to prove himself if he wants to keep his job.
Digital Spy recently chatted to Kristian for his exclusive first interview about his EastEnders role and what's to come.
How does it feel to be part of EastEnders?
"I'm very glad to be here. First of all I was thrilled and terrified to be joining the show! I was thrilled because it's a great honour for me to be here, but then terrified because Britain is a country of such great talent in terms of directors and actors, so it was overwhelming.
"But it's been great so far. The main thing is that there's a sense of team spirit at EastEnders and everyone is very warm - that goes for cast and crew. Probably in the first two weeks I was kind of standing in the corner, because I was also very self-conscious about my language as my English skills were not up to everyone else's. But everyone was so warm and so welcoming and they embraced me with open arms."
How did the role come about?
"In the audition process, they have a way of doing it over here where they give you a page of dialogue and 15 or 20 minutes to have a read through of it. I sat there, tried to memorise the lines and then went in there trembling like a leaf! The casting team has been very supportive. They gave me the chance to do it a couple of times - I think we had two, three or even four takes. That took the pressure off me so I finally started to act, which was very helpful! I'm really thankful that they made me feel so at ease.
"Afterwards I went home again. I just came over to the UK for one day, because I was based in Berlin at that point. I started the waiting process, which as a seasoned actor I'm used to. I prayed to God every day, and he or she heard me! I was so excited to hear that I had the role - I think I even did a little dance!"
Had you watched EastEnders before?
"I first came to England in 2005 and I used to watch EastEnders to learn English! I really tried to perfect my English skills and this show helped me to do that a great deal."
What can the viewers expect from Aleks?
"Aleks is a Latvian character. He is very, very meticulous and he goes about his business in a very serious way, because he wants to achieve much more.
"Aleks joins the show as the new market inspector and he's very tough. He goes by the book, he's eager to get ahead and he's wheeler-dealing his way through his life. Aleks is also kind of a peacock - he's very vain and wears expensive clothes. He's very sweet to the ladies, too - he's got a soft spot for beautiful women.
"I can also say that Aleks is leading a double life. I can't give away too much about that, but there is something in his background that isn't revealed when he first comes on screen. Dominic Treadwell-Collins, the show's producer, said something very nice - he said that Aleks is like a Batman character when he's doing a job but then he's also Bruce Wayne! He's a two-sided character."
Could Aleks make a few enemies as he takes his job so seriously?
"From what I've been filming, he definitely already has! He's one of those people who has a capitalist attitude and thinks that money is the only thing that counts. His attitude is bound to acquire some enemies and so far I've been involved in some pretty interesting storylines.
"I'm also trying to give a realistic portrayal of this character - and it will depend on people's point of view on whether he's a baddie or a goodie. I'm pretty sure that some people will see him as a bad guy, but that depends on your perspective. Aleks is not a bad at all - he's just trying to do a job!"
Why does Aleks give Tamwar such a hard time?
"Tamwar is the market assistant and one of the first scenes I have on the show is me telling him off! What I like about working with Himesh is that he has a very beautiful style. He immediately collides with my character, who's really outspoken, energetic and says what he thinks. They clash straight away.
"Aleks also likes to be in charge. He's the boss, so he's introducing himself to Tamwar as that. I imagine it's a pretty terrifying experience for poor Tamwar!"
Could they get along better eventually?
"I think there might be a similarity between the two, because, like Tamwar, Aleks is a bit of an outsider. This was actually a subject in one of my first scenes with Kat and Bianca. So there definitely might be some common ground."
How will Aleks get along with Kat and Bianca, who are always breaking the rules on the market?
"His weak point is beautiful ladies, so in this case it's not roughish male characters who are breaking the rules but very attractive ladies, so that obviously causes some problems. Aleks doesn't deal with them in the same way he would do with guys. He tries to sweet-talk them on one hand and be firm on the other, but it won't be an easy relationship."
What have Patsy and Jessie been like to work with?
"I actually remembered Patsy and Jessie from my English lessons! It was again quite terrifying for me to meet them in real life, but as it turns out, they are both very sweet. Patsy has a great sense of humour and actually called me Robert Redford on my first day, which was very funny! Jessie was also lovely to meet with and not terrifying at all - quite the contrary, as she was warm and welcoming. I lost my terror the moment we met, which was great. It's the same with Himesh and the other cast members."
What have your career highlights been?
"The first time I came to Elstree, I was actually across the road on the studio lot where they make feature films! I was working on an American, British and Turkish co-production called Will. It was filmed with Damian Lewis, Bob Hopkins and Perry Eggleton. I was one of the co-stars and it was filmed right across the street from EastEnders! That was an amazing experience and now I'm back here on the other side of the road at the BBC studios.
"Another highlight was working at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008. To appear on a London stage is one of the things you dream of when you graduate. I'd been dreaming of being on stage in this country all my life, so when that came along, I was really flabbergasted.
"Now I'm really hoping that people like Sally Potter or Terence Davies might just flick the channels, stick to EastEnders and see me act here! Hopefully it will be another highlight for the future."
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EastEnders airs Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on BBC One.
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