So why are you leaving?
I’ve got other things in me. I want to write, I want to keep acting and do other stuff. I don’t want to just be Michael. As brilliant and fun and interesting as he is, I feel that if I stay there much longer, he will become diluted. To retain the potency you have to withdraw. He has to go. I don’t think you can sustain someone like that.
Plus I love the theatre and I want to do some plays again. I did quite a lot of stuff in the theatre before I went into EastEnders, so I want to see what else is out there. I have a few ideas bubbling in the pot that will hopefully come to fruition.
Can you tell us about your final week?
It was really intense and fraught with emotion and risk. I felt a sense of unbelievable excitement at leaving, but there was a sadness there, too. I spent three years of my life working with people only to suddenly leave them. It is a large chunk of my life and I learned so much - working in soap is extraordinary.
And what have been your high points from these past three years?
Playing with the best people like Jessie Wallace, Jasmyn Banks and Charlie Brooks. They’re so good that it didn’t feel like going into work. I love Sam Womack too; she’s brilliant fun. That stuff with Ronnie is so arch - I have had such a great time with her. And with Rita Simons as well. Michael doesn’t seem to play much with many men. Pretty much all of them found him odious.
Are you auditioning now?
I am currently back to being a jobbing actor, which is a nice place to be. It’s exciting. I lived 17 years of my life as a jobbing actor, only three were spent being employed every day. I was lucky to have somewhere to go in the morning.
Do people recognise you?
Even my close friends call me Michael now! Lots of people used to remember This Life [where he played law clerk Jo], but I rarely get that now. It’s all Michael stuff and people are always incredibly complimentary. I have never had a person be abusive; they have only ever been really nice.
So, does Michael die?
It is the end of the line and I’m happy with that. I worked very hard and pretty much built him from scratch. I was very lucky that [former controller of BBC Drama Production] John Yorke gave me someone and said make him what you want to make him. I didn’t want him to be a wide boy, which he was at first. I wanted him to be much more curious than that, and that is what I built.
How would you describe your exit?
Viewers are going to really enjoy themselves. It is suitably epic, ghastly and gruesome and tinged with a gothic, diabolical, loathsome flavour. It is dark and corrosive and tenebrous and it will be shocking and hideous. I hope that viewers will have as much fun watching it as I had playing it.
Steve John Shepherd's final episode of EastEnders airs on Friday 1 November