Coronation Street fans have seen a whole new side to Karl Munro in recent weeks as his desire to win back Stella Price has driven him to shocking measures.
Last week, over 10 million viewers watched Karl set fire to the Rovers Return in a desperate bid to sabotage Stella's relationship with Jason Grimshaw. The destructive blaze led to the death of firefighter Toni Griffiths, while Sunita Alahan remains critically ill in hospital after being caught up in the incident.
Digital Spy recently chatted to John Michie, who plays Karl, to hear his thoughts on his character's recent antics and where things go from here.
How do you feel about Karl turning to the dark side?
"Well, the first thing is that it's really interesting to play. Karl now has these strange thoughts in his mind all the time. There's a lot more going on in Karl's head, so I'm enjoying that side of it.
"I suppose it's also enjoyable because it creates great situations with the other characters. At the moment, the audience knows what's going on but the other characters don't, and I think that's always fun for the viewers."
Were you surprised at this change in direction for Karl, or do you think this dark side was always lurking beneath the surface?
"I was surprised, because it was quite a radical and quick change, but I think it was always beneath the surface in some ways. For example, Karl thought it would be acceptable for him to go and have an affair, but not for Stella to move on with somebody else. As soon as Stella was with Jason - who's the type of person Karl used to be 20 years ago - then the jealousy and the middle aged angst all kicked in, and he just had to get his woman back.
"I can see that Karl would want to get Stella back at any cost, but the cost has been much, much greater than he thought. He wouldn't ever have wanted to be responsible for anyone's death, but he's in a situation where he is, because Toni has just passed away. Karl is finding that very hard to deal with, but he's just selfishly surviving as best he can."
Did you have much prior warning that Karl would start the fire?
"Yeah, I knew in advance that Karl would end up starting the fire and that he'd be driven to desperation in his attempts to kill the relationship between Stella and Jason. Once I knew what was coming, I had to try to build up the thoughts of the character to make that believable."
With Sunita fighting for her life in hospital, is Karl actively hoping that she will die?
"It's strange, because like I said, Karl doesn't want to be responsible for anyone's death. However, at the same time, he knows that Sunita has the knowledge to put him down. If she exposes what he's done, he'll go away for a long time - if not for life. Karl is struggling within himself and he is prepared to let Sunita go to save himself."
Have you had much reaction or feedback from Corrie fans since we saw Karl start the fire?
"Mostly it's been from people saying that the show is really buzzing at the moment. They've been really excited by watching it. Obviously there's a bit of a negative response from some people when you're playing a villainous character! (Laughs.) But you just have to let that go over your head. The general response is just that people are loving the show."
Will Karl find it easy or difficult to hide his guilt as the story moves forward?
"Karl's an operator - he always has been and always will be! He actually doesn't find it that hard to physically hide his guilt. The only thing is that he is suffering incredible emotional turmoil from the guilt that he feels."
That guilt must be particularly difficult for Karl to handle when he sees Dev and the kids…
"Really, really difficult! I just imagine Karl crying at night with the devastation that he's brought onto that family, and that's the hardest thing for him."
With Jason suspecting that Karl started the fire, can we expect more tension between those two?
"Jason tries to wind Karl up a bit, which is a bit dangerous considering the state that Karl's in! He's definitely someone who Karl is beginning to hate more and more. I think Jason needs to watch his step!"
Do you think Karl is becoming irredeemable, or does he still have some redeeming qualities?
"I always play it so that Karl does have redeeming qualities - he's just caught up in events. The trouble is how serious those events are, so we'll have to wait and see whether he can stay in the show or not. Obviously there has to be some moral retribution.
"I actually don't know myself how villainous Karl will become. Whether he'll ramp up his campaign to keep Stella at whatever cost, I don't know. I'll have to wait and see what the writers come up with!"
Karl and Stella will soon start growing closer again. Is Karl making the moves on her, or is it more of a mutual thing?
"Karl is definitely making the moves on Stella, in a slightly obsessive way. He's trying hard to calm himself and be as normal as possible. However, because he's in such an emotional state, he finds it hard to approach Stella in a natural, normal way."
If Karl did get Stella back, would he treat her better this time around?
"Definitely. Well, that's his intention anyway!"
Will Eva warm to Karl now?
"Yes, Eva comes round to seeing Karl as a potential stepfather who she can get along with. In the past, Eva and Karl have always disliked each other, mainly because they've been vying for attention from Stella. But Eva thinks that her mum needs a good man, and she's starting to think that maybe Karl is the right person for Stella after all, so she chills out a lot.
"Leanne, on the other hand, goes the other way and is very suspicious of Karl, his motives and him generally!"
How do you feel about being nominated for 'Best Actor' and 'Villain of the Year' at the British Soap Awards?
"It's great to be nominated. It's always good as an actor to have your work recognised, so I'm really, really chuffed. The other two Corrie guys who are up for 'Best Actor' - Alan [Halsall] and Jimmi [Harkishin] - are good mates of mine, so it'll be good fun.
"I've been to the Soap Awards once before and I remember that I had such a ball. It's a great night out."
Is there anything you'd say for why our readers should be backing Corrie in the voting this year?
"Well, it's the only soap that I've ever watched. I've dipped into it all my life. I think it's the writing - the writing team here at Corrie are fantastic. We've got very, very strong writers who tend to stay here for a long time, because they love the show. Of all the shows that I've worked on, this is definitely the happiest bunch of people that I've ever worked with.
"The writing is everything on this show - all of us are only as good as the writing. I would definitely doff my cap to the writers!"
> British Soap Awards 2013 - full nominations list and details of how to vote
> Read more 'Coronation Street' spoilers and news
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