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Amanda Drew

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Amanda Drew
EastEnders' Mad May storyline has dominated Albert Square for just over nine months now and with the character's recent neurotic behaviour having become increasingly erratic, Dr May Wright has finally reached the end of the line.

In a plot riddled with twists and turns, there was seemingly only one way that the Walford GP would leave the area. However, last month, producers made the call to axe their planned ending in which May ran off with Dawn's baby, resulting in most of the climax being re-written and re-filmed.

Amanda Drew, the 37-year-old actress behind the eccentric doctor, has continuously left viewers wondering as to exactly what lengths her character would go to get the baby she has long desired. But on Monday, time is finally called on May when she is arrested and sectioned.

Digital Spy caught up with Amanda to find out what exactly makes May tick, what the pills are that her character has been taking, what she thinks of her screen counterpart and a possible return to the Square…

Does May really love Rob, or is she just using him as a means to an end?
"Well, I think it's a very complex mix. It's desire, love, anger and also the need to punish him because of his betrayal of her. So I think, for me, she gets revenge - while satisfying her overwhelming desire for a child - by taking his child and leaving him. So there's definitely the fact of 'yes, she loved him' but she's so overwhelmed by the humiliation caused by his behaviour that there's an element of wanting to punish him and use him to get the real love of her life - a child."

Part of the storyline is a little puzzling – are the audience meant to think that May and Rob have been working together all the time, or was the turning point when they slept together in the surgery?
"Yeah. That was meant to be the turning point [when they slept together in the surgery]. I have to say it's fairly ambiguous and it was even difficult for us as actors to decide how clear it was going to come across. For Rob, he couldn't take May's controlling behaviour any more and had really left her. But because of the reality of living at the Millers', it made him suddenly have a re-think. So he came back. And then, of course, May took the opportunity to use him to get the child back. May's thinking one thing, Rob's thinking another thing and Dawn is completely in the dark about all of it. Now whether or not the audience are in the dark still…

"On EastEnders, you're told the storyline but when you get the scripts in each week, you can be surprised at how they manifest in the actual scenes that you're given… Hopefully the audience can make up their own minds as to what they believe and it won't spoil the plot if there is an ambiguity... I think the whole thing with the May-Rob-Dawn storyline has been based on a lot of to-ing and fro-ing…"

Your performance as May has been extremely convincing – did you research the role?
"Definitely, I did quite a lot. For a start, I went and visited a female GP just to get to know what May's daily career would be like. That's the sort of structure that crumbles underneath this personal desire for a child. And I read up IVF; how it affects the body, what the physical daily treatment is, and I've got two people that I know who I could speak to on a personal level who are going through IVF.

"Obviously neither of them has experienced the same levels of desperation that May went through and certainly didn't act in the same psychotic manner that May did. But they did experience very strong, overwhelming hormonal changes that affected their mood and state of mind – obviously on different levels - but certainly to a degree that they found it difficult to cope with, which is what I used as a springboard to keep May's increasingly bizarre, extreme and dysfunctional behaviour in a convincing manner.

"She's had a whole series of distressing events occur at a time where she'd just finished seven courses of IVF, so her hormonal emotional state was already very vulnerable and then to find out that her husband had not only betrayed her but that he and his mistress are having the child she'd always dreamed of…

"When I initially met the producer and the storyline editor about it all, we worked on the characteristics of May and we created a 'super objective' for her - to fix things; which is why she became a doctor, she wants to help people and make everything right. So, of course, in her personal life, if her 'super objective' is always to fix things, then if a situation occurs where she can take control and sort it out, she will do. But obviously under the influence of this emotional distress, she's following her 'super objective' to such a degree that she's acting out of all reason, she's acting away from her normal rational self and she's choosing to adopt the love child of her husband and his mistress. And anyone in their right mind would say 'that's crazy, that's never going to work'. But because of where she was when this situation hit her, those are the choices that she made at the time. Unfortunately, because she is a driven woman, instead of doing a U-turn, she sets her sights on something and will pursue it."

Click 'next' to find out what exactly May's pills were, how Amanda felt about the re-write and what it was like working with Kara and Stuart!
Have you enjoyed playing May?
"I really have. It's a real gift for an actor to play a complex role, to play somebody who goes through extremes of emotions and situations. As much as I've enjoyed playing her, it's also been a long time to play a character. I'm used to mainly working in theatre where you play a character for a month or so and then you move on to somebody else. In many ways, it's good that May had a finite storyline. She may obviously come back, but at the moment, it's quite nice to have had an intense experience working on her because she's a character that has many dimensions. That's much nicer to play, I've always found, than something less dramatic. Certainly, May has been a very dramatic person to play."

Do you think May's a psycho or just misunderstood?
"I think she's definitely got psychosis at the moment because of the emotional and mental disturbance she's under. But I hope one can understand where the actual springboard of that all came from.

"I think her intentions are always for the best, but she's acted in ways that were to suit her selfish motives because she became somebody who wanted to get revenge because of her husband's behaviour. And she wanted something so much that she was prepared to put her desires before other people's. So in that sense, I wouldn't say she's misunderstood as such…

"This is why I like May; she's so complex and some people will say 'yeah, she's just a bitch' and other people will say 'no, I really feel for her'. I've always tried to understand why she's done the things she has, but that's my role as an actor playing a character. I can't stand outside of my character when I'm playing her and judge her. I have to think 'she's doing this because she believes that she'll fix the situation: the baby will get the proper parenting it deserves, May will get the baby she's always wanted and it will heal her marriage…' So in a way, I've always had to understand her motives but I would say – I don't like the word 'psycho' – but she's in mental distress."

A lot of people have been asking, just what were those pills May has been taking?
"They're actually a prescription-only pain killer. It's just something that relaxes the muscles and the nerves. May took them originally because, in anxiety, there's a whole lot of nervous energy, adrenaline pumping through the body. As a doctor, she would know they would be calming to her. But they do have an addictive quality. She's sort of using them as a crutch. They don't have an influence on the brain, an hallucinatory influence, or anything like that. It literally is just a pain killer. But if you mix them with alcohol and take them too much a) they can give you constipation, so I've read and b) they can have adverse effect.

"May's using them to numb herself to the realty of the situation. So, in that sense, they're not good. The bad thing about them is that they're stolen from the patient - Mrs Patel, who's brilliant - that's where the real problem lies. The actual drugs themselves are just painkillers."

With the whole re-write of the climax of the storyline – 'Summergate' as they're calling it – do you think that the way they re-wrote your ending is a fitting end?
"I think the ending that was originally planned was probably more shocking and perhaps more dramatically engaging. However, I think they've re-written it in a way which is perhaps a better ending for May, in that she will seek professional help through whatever services she'll be experiencing. But in terms of drama, I don't know. It's very difficult for me to say."

How did you feel when you were told about the re-write?
"I thought a mixture of things. There was a sort of relief. I have to say, the public have been incredibly respectful and polite towards me and it was perhaps foolish of me to imagine that people would be rude in the first place. But because the character had the potential to be so nasty and bitchy, I was slightly dreading the ending being so shocking.

"When we were filming it, it was day three of the Madeleine [McCann] disappearance, and so I then started to think 'oh no, this is going to reverberate on another level' because of the public consciousness of such a dreadful situation. So there was a part of me that was relieved on a personal level that I wouldn't be walking around the streets of London with people heckling me. And I know that sounds far-fetched, but you do hear stories about people on EastEnders being strongly associated in the public mind with their character. I do think they made the right decision – it was too much a delicate situation to be doing it.

"No matter how much I really believe that drama should reflect life, a lot of time it can really be a cathartic experience. But if a child disappears, it's just too raw on the public's consciousness.

"However, I think it was a bit frustrating about the speed at which the re-write had to occur. You got the script the day before and you had to acclimatise with it [in such a short period of time]. And a lot of the time, the new director working on it didn't know which scenes were cut before, so you were thinking 'I don’t know the chronology of experience that leads my character to now, then getting caught etc', so it was a bit bamboozling to be honest. Everyone did their very best to make sure that it was re-done in the most dramatic way, but let's just say it was a little bit confusing."

What's it been like working with Kara and Stuart?
"They're great. Stuart is a very relaxing person to be working with. He's very chilled and I have to get into 'the zone' when I'm playing May. Depending on the scene, say if she's working in the surgery and she's in control, it's fine. But if she's in one of her states where it takes a bit of heightened emotion, then I really do have to get into 'the zone' and I do become quite focused, abrupt and maybe a bit sharp.

“But Stuart is so understanding of that. And because his character is often having to react off May, we've got a very good rapport where we can both respect they way each other works. He's probably been the best person to work with in terms of counselling me down from May. When May's becoming controlling and neurotic, it's difficult as an actor to chill out in between each take, so you have to be in that state and it's good that he can be very supportive.

"I have to say that I enjoyed EastEnders at a time where it's a very happy family. They're a lovely bunch of people and I've made great friends in the cast; the crew are lovely, the makeup girls have been great, so I'll really miss all that side of it. And if there is a chance for May to come back to the Square, I'd relish working there again, definitely."


Click 'next' to find out what Amanda's favourite scene has been, what the reaction's been like on the streets and a possible return for May...
What's been your favourite scene of the storyline?
"I think the one where May pushed Dawn down the stairs has to be one of them. I have to say I've always enjoyed doing everything with Kara [Tointon]. I find her character so funny and she finds my character funny, so we always have trouble not giggling. And I do think that the way they've written the characters, they bounce well off each other. Kara's a lovely actress.

"Anyway, when we did that scene, we both felt so exhilarated at the end of it. It was directed by one of my favourite directors on EastEnders, Pete Rose. We felt that we'd managed to do it as well as we could in the circumstances. You always feel on EastEnders that you're having to create something so quickly…and you've barely got used to the moves and what you're doing in the actual scene before they've moved on and you think 'I could have done that better'. But that was one of the few scenes where we thought we'd really hit it."

What's the most memorable funny moment while filming that you can recall?
"There was a time when we all burst into laughter because when we were filming Dawn getting pushed down the stairs, I didn't realise I was being filmed in this one particular shot and I kept saying 'am I going to be in this shot?' but the director couldn't hear me. So I just folded my arms and looked to the sky and thought 'well what the hell am I doing stood on the top of the stairs if I'm not in this shot?'

“Well, I was in this shot but when they panned up to me, my face was just saying 'what the hell am I doing here?' and my arms were folded – but it was meant to be me looking down at Dawn, gasping, going 'oh my God, I've pushed her down the stairs' but it just looked so funny that they went for this reaction on me and I was going 'oh well…' which would have been incredibly funny for May to have been thinking 'yep, done it, pushed her down the stairs!'. So we had to re-shoot that scene.

"But that whole day was very funny. The poor stunt woman who had to roll down the stairs – it looked fantastic. There was this big build up to her rolling down the stairs with her preparing herself and everything. When she did it, everyone was very quiet but I let out a shriek and everyone looked at me and I had to silence myself because I thought she was going to have to do it again because I made that noise. But they ended up being able to edit that out. But can you believe it – I was the one going around saying 'I don't think this poor woman should have to do it, these concrete steps are far too dangerous' and then I was the one who would have potentially messed up the whole scene!"

What's the reaction been like on the streets? Do you get recognised a lot as being 'that bitch'?
“Don't forget we've only just seen the worst of May. So I think there's the potential! But I have to say, people always do come up and say 'oh my God, May's going through such a lot' and 'you're doing the part really well'. So they do divorce me from the character, which is a great relief. But as I say, there's still time! I have had people shouting 'Are you stocking up on baby food?!' but people are all very respectful.

“However, I was sat next to someone on the tube the other week and she said to me with a smile 'what's it like playing the nastiest woman in England?' and I thought 'you just wait 'til you see what she does later!'"

Is it strange not to be filming any more?
"It is a bit – it was quite intense towards the end of filming as obviously we had to go back and do the re-shoot. But at the moment, it's been a nice chance to have a breather and catch up with people."

Will we see May again any time soon?
"I honestly don't know. Obviously she doesn't die and unless she seeks professional help, she may have another attempt at some point - who knows…

“Let's hope for her sake that she seeks therapy and sorts herself out…"

Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
"No, not at the moment. I'd like to go back and do a bit of theatre; that'd be nice. But as yet, I've not fixed anything."

Thanks very much for chatting to us, Amanda. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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