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Emer Kenny talks 'EastEnders: E20'

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Zsa Zsa Carter in EastEnders

© BBC

Last year, Emer Kenny was brought into the EastEnders fold as a writer on the BBC soap's online spinoff E20. Soon afterwards, her involvement in the internet drama increased when she landed the role of outspoken Zsa Zsa Carter, who later made the transition over to the main show. This year, Emer returned to E20's 13-strong writing team for the second series and also filmed a fresh batch of E20 scenes alongside the show's four newcomers. Emer recently chatted to DS about her work on E20 and what to expect from the new series.

Given how involved you were in the first series of E20, were you proud when you heard that it had been recommissioned?
"Yeah, I was over the moon really! But I was most proud when we got such great viewing figures because it was more than anyone could have expected from it. For that to happen to something that I was so closely involved with, I was just overjoyed. And then having another series after that was just the icing on the cake - it was like, 'Oh my God, another chance!' So it was amazing."

You decided to return to the writing team along with your 12 colleagues from the first series - was that quite an easy decision to make?
"Yes, it was just automatic. Of course I wanted to do it - I loved doing it in the first series because it was an amazing learning experience for me, and I wanted to try out what I'd learned from the first series and see how far I'd come after watching it go into production and seeing my writing come to screen. I couldn't wait to do it again."

How does the second series compare to the first?
"I think in some ways it's more real, because in the first series, some of our characters like Fatboy and Zsa Zsa were quite extreme, and a lot of those characters had not necessarily come from the teenagers who were writing it, but from ideas from people at EastEnders. But this series has come entirely from the writers, so all the characters feel really genuine. The most extreme character would be Stevie, but I think that due to the way that Amanda's played her, she feels very real as well."

You wrote the first episode of the new series, which meant introducing the new characters and setting up the storylines. Was that quite a big responsibility?
"Yes, but I tried not to think about it too much! It is a bit scary, so I didn't want to think about people not liking the first episode and not wanting to watch the rest! And there are some really brilliant writers who do the following episodes, so I didn't want to let them down by not setting it up well! I think first episodes are notoriously tough anyway, but I had a lot of help and support. And it was also quite nice in a way, because I didn't have to follow on from anyone else or check with continuity - it was a fresh slate and I could write whatever I wanted. That was really nice."

Were you also very much involved in the series as a whole?
"Yeah, a couple of us did some polishing work over the series so I got to know all of the episodes. We just went through and made sure everything ran smoothly. Because of that, I got to know a lot of the other writing and other storylines, so I was involved from start to finish."

What can we expect from the first episode?
"The first episode is quite dramatic! I wanted to start it off with a real bang. So there's a couple of fights and there's a lot of energy in it, a little bit of romance right at the beginning - and they're all hints of what's to come, really. I also wanted to give each of the characters a really strong entrance, so hopefully that's worked."

Out of the four new characters, did you have a favourite to write for?
"Yeah, I loved writing for Naz! She's just really funny, and she was a challenge to write because she's not a clown in the way that Fatboy is - she's the clever one and she has similarities with Zsa Zsa. Although Zsa Zsa can be a bit of a bitch really, very mean and cold - Naz is cooler than that, she's really feisty and she knows what she's doing, and right in the first episode she outwits Fatboy, Leon and Zsa Zsa straight away! That was really cool so I loved writing and filming that. She's really sassy and I like her."

Eastenders: E20 Cast
What do you think of the new cast?
"They're brilliant, really brilliant. They really bring it to life and they look exactly like I imagined the characters! It's amazing to see them in their costumes and make-up, especially Naz - she just looks perfect. The best part is that they bring elements that I didn't even see before. Like I said, Amanda makes Stevie feel very real, and I'd been worried that Stevie was a bit away with the fairies and wasn't quite someone that people knew. I think it's important for people to think, 'Oh, I know that character', or, 'I can imagine knowing that character'. I think that Amanda really brought that to Stevie."

Do you think that any of the new characters are strong enough to move over to the main show?
"I don't know, it's a difficult question. I think they're all brilliant actors and they play their characters brilliantly, but I don't know. I hope they do - it'd be nice if they did and I think they'd enjoy it. It's nice to get involved in the Square with all those amazing actors and I loved it. I hope they get the chance that I did. But I'm not the person to say!"

Do you think that E20 could run for more series beyond this one?
"I hope so! I definitely think it can go for another couple, especially if the characters start crossing in again. I think it's got such a strong viewership - last time we got 4.4 million, coming up to 5 million viewers. That's good for any show but particularly for this kind of show. So I think if there's an audience for it, why shouldn't it run? And it's a really great outlet for young writers and young actors to get into the industry and have people mentoring them. It helped me an amazing amount with my writing and my acting, and I really hope that more young people get that chance."

EastEnders E20
What would you say were the particular strengths of E20's first series?
"I think it was fresh and I think that a character like Fatboy would never have been brought into EastEnders had young people not written him. Even Zsa Zsa - I don't think she would have been quite the same. Having that platform meant that you get a burst of something that is maybe truer to a youth audience. I don't know if we got it 100% right in the first series. I know that Bryan [Kirkwood] has said that he thinks the E20 characters' transition into EastEnders wasn't as successful as it could have been. There's definitely room for improvement and space to build upon that. But a strength of the first series was bringing something new to mainstream TV and bringing all these new writers into the BBC. I also thought that the episodes were funny and I found Fatboy hilarious to write. It had heart, I hope."

Would you like to continue writing for E20 in the future?
"That's a difficult one, because I think the purpose of E20 is to train young writers, so now I've had two series being trained by people, I think it's probably my chance to move on and hopefully do something else, and use the skills that I've learned in another format. It then gives the space to some new talent - younger talent, who can bring that freshness and create something even better. If it was to continue, I'd like younger people to come in and take those spots."

Would you like to write for the main show one day?
"That would be amazing. It's such a prestigious thing to write for and I think the writing can be so brilliant. I'd love to write for the main show but I don't know if I'm old enough yet, because I'd find it hard to write for some of the characters, like Dot. I obviously know people like that, but I don't have the experience to talk how they talk and know about the kinds of things that they're interested in. I think I'd prefer to write something more youth-orientated, or something to do with people in their 20s or even 30s. EastEnders spans so many generations that I think I'd find it difficult, but I'd love to have a go. But I've never tried writing an episode of EastEnders, even as an exercise."

And finally, do you see your future in acting or writing, or both?
"Definitely both! They're equal to me!"

The second series of EastEnders: E20 launches on Tuesday, September 7 at 8pm, with the second episode following on Wednesday, September 8 at the same time. After that, new episodes will become available for viewing on the show's official site every Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm, while 30-minute omnibus editions will be screened on BBC Three on Monday nights.

> Meet the new EastEnders: E20 cast
> A chat with E20 producer Deborah Sathe

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