Two years on from being jailed after kidnapping Kat Moon’s son Tommy during the high profile baby swap plot, Ronnie Mitchell is back.
Her release from prison kicks off a five-night run of EastEnders over consecutive evenings that sees Samantha Womack return to the soap for the first time since 2011. Here, the actress talks about reprising the role that created such controversy, being reunited with co-star Scott Maslen and what the future holds for Ronnie.
So, did you need much persuading to come back?
I felt that there was unfinished business. It had been bugging me because I felt like she’d lost her way so I wanted her to come back and gain strength. She definitely needed a rest – I felt that the character and her storylines had exhausted themselves and I couldn’t have stayed on screen with the situation that happened. There was nowhere for her to go. But it feels now that, because of the time away, I can come back with new boots on.
Did the controversy surrounding the baby swap storyline take you by surprise?
Not really. It’s that type of show. Some of the storylines we were doing were getting 14 million viewers, so attention goes with the territory. We were depicting the actions of one specific person who had endured one trauma and loss after another. I think that needed to be clarified more and I hope that towards the end we were able to do that.
Do you think that, in retrospect, EastEnders got it wrong?
It’s hard to say because controversy comes with any sensational storyline. I don’t know how much of it was press led. It wasn’t as if I walked out of my door and 3000 people were throwing nappies at me. The people who spoke to me were saying, “Oh God, you poor thing. All you do is cry! Pop in and have a cup of tea!” I didn’t get any animosity but when sensitive issues like that are dealt with in storylines, it’s very difficult to get it right.
Are you just staying for six months or will you stick around for longer?
I’ve signed a six-month contract because I didn’t know if the character was going to succeed. It’s really tricky trying to go back and recapture something that was successful and I didn’t want to be flogging a dead horse. So we’ll regroup in six months and talk about whether she’s succeeded or not.
So how is Ronnie going to be feeling when she’s released from prison?
I didn’t want her to come back as the same damaged creature. I think the audience has seen enough of that. I’m crying out to see that steely Mitchell sister back again, but there does have to be some echoes of what happened to her. So you get to see her gaining strength as she goes on.
Tell us about that moment where she steps out from behind those prison gates…
We did it at a real prison and I had to stand on my own in this courtyard where all the inmates were while the camera crew waited on the other side. So I could hear all these cries of “all right Ronnie!” and “get back inside!”, which made it all very menacing. Then you had the sound of the locks, the bolts and the keys, which really added to the mood. It felt quite surreal to be in that environment.