He recently bowed out as Corrie killer Karl Munro, but next week John Michie will be saving lives as new Holby consultant neurosurgeon Guy Self. Here, the 57-year-old actor talks about getting to grips with his new career in medicine and what he really made of his departure from Weatherfield.
So, how have you been finding the medical jargon? Some of it can be complex, but I’ve got some medics in the family, so I’ve been around that terminology quite a lot. There was one occasion though when I was holding a medical instrument the wrong way around during a bit of brain surgery. One of the real-life medical consultants was signalling to me off set that I was doing it wrong. I think we did another take, but if we didn’t, then hopefully nobody will notice.
Are you squeamish? No, not at all. I find it all really fascinating, actually. When my wife Carol had our first child, she had to have a caesarean and I was there watching the knife go in. I think it’s because my mother is a nurse and she’s always treated medical things in a very matter-of-fact manner.
So it’s really fantastic to see the levels of realism that the prosthetics department achieves on Holby. They certainly don’t hold back: already, I’ve seen a piece of a skull coming off and the interior of the brain being exposed. And when they do heart surgery, there’s someone underneath the table pumping the heart and making sure the blood is coming through. It’s very exciting, actually.
Tell us about Guy Self – he’s quite an arrogant character, isn’t he? Yes, but a lot of that arrogance is a defence mechanism because Guy is actually quite vulnerable underneath. He’s recently lost his wife, he’s spent eight months drinking too much and having a few affairs. And then he gets another shock to the system when – on his first day at Holby – he has to operate for the first time in more than half a year.
The only person to get underneath his skin is Colette Sheward [played by Louise Delamere], who’s the new director of nursing. She’s the only one who can knock him off his pedestal and take the piss out of him. But he won’t take that from anyone else.
Will he be shaking things up at the hospital? Yes, he makes a speech where he tells the staff that there will be changes. Guy wants to get extra funding to turn Holby into a world-class hospital. And in order to achieve that level of excellence, anyone who he thinks doesn’t make the grade won’t have a job. So he’s trying to keep everybody on their toes.
I saw an interview with you where you said you used to get lost on the Corrie set – have you orientated yourself any better at Holby? I did have to get one of the runners to shadow me for a while and push me in the right direction. When I’m at work, I am a bit of a space cadet. I didn’t even know where my character’s office was for the first couple of weeks! My excuse is that my head is just so full of lines. I’m not like this at home, I hasten to add.
Have you been rubbing shoulders with the EastEnders cast since starting at Elstree? This place is so big that I hardly ever see them. Corrie is so tiny and you’ve got 70 actors passing in and out of that green room. At Holby, there are only 17 regular actors and the wards are spread out all over the place. EastEnders is in a completely separate part of Elstree – in fact, the only cast member I’ve seen is Michael French. Here though, I do get a big dressing room, which is a nice place to hang out. Unlike the rabbit hutches at Corrie!
Which show has the more punishing schedule – Corrie or Holby? I loved playing Karl, but the preparation time for everyone on a soap is so much shorter. You’re fighting the odds on every level. And if you have a big story on Corrie that goes on for a long time, then it’s an absolute killer. A lot of people I know have been hospitalised after one of those long stretches because you are literally in every day and your weekends are spent organising scripts.
So the heavy storylines at Corrie are very difficult – you have no break and your sleep patterns are disrupted. Thankfully, my plots were never that intense: there’d be short, sharp bursts and they wouldn’t last a long time.
The good thing about Holby is that there’s more chance to chat about your lines while you’re filming and talk things through with the director. However, because my character is the big boss, he’s constantly initiating conversations and it can be quite long-winded. On Corrie, you’re usually reacting to other characters and you get a really good cue as to what your next line is going to be if you listen properly. So, in a way, they cancel each other out – the Holby lines are harder to learn but it’s more relaxed when you’re shooting the episodes.
Were you happy with your Corrie exit? When the current producer Stuart Blackburn arrived, I told him that I didn’t want them to string Karl’s story out too much. I am a fan of Coronation Street but I do think that things are sometimes spun out for too long. So I asked Stuart for a dramatic, short ending to my contract, which was what I got. It was a bit quicker than I expected, I have to say! But you know what it’s like with soaps – they needed an autumn story and Karl was the obvious choice. But not only did it work out well for the show, it also worked out very well for me and Holby City.
How long are you going to be on the wards of Holby? Well, my initial contract is for a year. So I’m looking forward to a year of great stories and we’ll see what happens after that.
John Michie makes his first appearance on Holby City on the 26th of November