EastEnders: David Witts on life as Joey Branning, fame and what he makes of being labelled "sexy"

"It's very important not to believe the hype. Otherwise you will turn into an idiot," says the actor

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EastEnders: David Witts on life as Joey Branning, fame and what he makes of being labelled "sexy"
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He’s been on the Square for little more than six months, but already David Witts has made quite an impact. His character, Joey Branning, has charmed Lucy, Whitney and – more recently – cousin Lauren, while Christmas 2012 saw him dealing with the aftermath of dad Derek’s untimely death. This week, Witts was rewarded for his efforts with a National Television Awards nomination for Best Newcomer – so what better time to talk to him about life in the soap spotlight?

So, David, when you start in a show like EastEnders, do you become famous overnight?
No, not at all. I think people expect that to be the case, but it takes a while. It only really happens once you’ve been on people’s screens for a few months. But I still tend to do everything the same as I’ve always done. I get the bus to the gym and the train to work. When you’re on something like EastEnders, you can afford to be as famous as you want to be. If you were to drive down the street in a stretch limousine with your window down, then people would scream. Because people totally buy into the hype. But if you do normal things, then people will treat you like a human being. 

Is there a responsibility that goes with being in EastEnders? After all, the fanbase is enormous and it must make a fan’s day when they bump into someone from the show.
There is a definite responsibility there, but it’s not one I find much of a burden. Sometimes you can’t give people as much time as they want because you might be running to catch a train. But you can’t complain when people are nice and tell you they enjoy the show. That’s really lovely. Obviously, some people are slightly less nice because there are some people in this world who are less polite! 

Has there been some confrontational moments? 
Not confrontational. It tends to be young, very impressionable lads who, if they were on their own, might have come up and just asked for a photo. But, in a group, it’s sort of embarrassing for them to do that, and less embarrassing for them to shout out things like “Oi Joey! Lauren’s fit!” And I’m not sure how to react to things like that because they’re talking about fictional people! But generally, you don’t get abuse. It’s just young kids who are a bit silly when you walk past. 

I always thought that people confusing reality and fiction was just a myth… 
Well, EastEnders is shot in this natural-looking way. And, often, people in the show do resemble their characters, even it’s just in the way they speak. So I’ve often had conversations with people who are perfectly nice, but who haven’t once asked me my name. They’ve just called me “Joey”. And that is somewhat bizarre because, obviously, you never think of yourself as the character. Even when you’re at work, you’re being called “David” right the way up to the actual take, which may last, say, a minute! So that’s very odd. 

So what was your initial reaction when you were told that Joey was going to be paired romantically with his cousin Lauren? 
When you’re an actor in the show, you’re just thinking how fun it’s going to be to play the storyline rather than thinking, ‘Oh no, that’s disgusting!’ You’re seeing it from a different point of view. And anyway, you’re looking at two people who have only just met as adults. It’s not like they grew up together and were playing in the sand aged three. If that had been the case, it would have been very strange. But Joey didn’t think of Lauren as family because he didn’t actually have her in his family until he was in his 20s. So, I didn’t see much of a problem with it. And it is legal!

What will Joey be up to in 2013?
It does lighten up for Joey. Obviously, he doesn’t change completely. He’s still got an edge to him. But I feel that Joey breaking down in the aftermath of Derek’s death is a turning point in his life. When you have a moment like that, you’re forced to reassess things. I also think it would be nice if he were to stay with Lauren. It was such a long storyline to get them together and it would be a shame if, just at the moment that viewers had finally accepted them, it was decided not to go on with it.

Is there anyone on the cast who you admire and would like to work with more?
I’ve always really admired the work of Gillian Wright, who plays Jean. It’s such a shame, though, because even though as an actor I’d love to work with her, I don’t think there’s much to be done between Jean and Joey. I enjoy working with Letitia Dean a lot. We have a really good laugh. And getting scenes with Fatboy or Kim offers some light relief, especially when compared to the heavy stuff I often get. 

How did it feel being part of a Christmas episode that ended up being watched by over 11 million people?
You can’t sit there thinking, ‘Oh my God. Everyone’s watching’. You hear the viewing figure later and think ‘that’s mad’. But because you’re doing what you do for work, you’re always seeing it in a different light. It’s very important not to believe the hype. Otherwise you will turn into an idiot. 

It must be quite special, though, to get the nomination at the NTAs for Best Newcomer?
I’m absolutely over the moon. Especially as only one person from each show is up for it. It’s not something I was thinking about or anything like that, so it was a really nice surprise. 

And, of course, we’ll have the Soap awards later this year. Will you dethrone four-times-winner Scott Maslen in the Sexiest Male category?
I couldn’t do that to him! 

But how does it feel when these ‘Sexiest’ accolades come your way [David picked up a Sexiest Male prize at the Inside Soap Awards back in September 2012]?
It’s a very difficult one to answer because, obviously, there’s an element of flattery. But it is quite an awkward award to receive, mainly because I think the word “sexy” is very strange. I never use the word “sexy”. Had the award been named “Nicest Looking Male”, you’d say, “thank you very much. That’s very kind”. But there’s something slightly disconcerting about the thought of people calling you “sexy”. I don’t know anyone who is comfortable being called “sexy”. But the way I have to look at it is that the public has taken the time to vote, so that is quite lovely, actually. 

But would you prefer to get a Best Actor prize?
Of course! Everyone would! But it is definitely flattering, nonetheless. 

David Witts is nominated as Best Newcomer at this year’s National Television Awards. To vote for him, please head to www.nationaltvawards.com or vote by phone on 0901 888 2013