Charlie Cotton is to swear vengeance on Phil Mitchell next week when the Walford mechanic is charged with attempted murder. Little does Charlie know though that Phil has been framed – it was actually Nick who tampered with the brakes on the car that crashed on New Year’s Day, leaving Charlie’s wife Ronnie in a coma.
So what will be Charlie’s next move? And will he be able to care for his newborn son while Ronnie remains on the critical list? Actor Declan Bennett tells us more…
What was your reaction when you first found out what was going to happen on the wedding day? I was shocked. Although I think I was more shocked that we actually got married, because in my head I thought these two have a really chequered past. Obviously, I’d heard in advance that the car crash that was going to happen, so I thought that’s going to happen and we’re not going to get married. So I was more surprised that they actually got a ring on each other’s finger before the crash happened!
What was it like filming the car crash stunt? It was cool! We did it quite a few times and the stunt people were the ones that blew me away the most. Normally, I’d do my own stunts, but given that there’s a car toppling on its side and bashing through some barriers, I thought I’d let those guys do it. It was incredible to see the technical aspect of a stunt happen. But yeah, it was awesome, really fun to do.
Have you found it difficult keeping such a huge storyline a secret? Yes, because nobody saw the crash coming. The whole point was that it was going to be a bit of a surprise. It was more about, “what’s going on with your dad?” People never in a million years thought that this crash was going to happen. I can talk to them about all the other parts of the plot because they think it’s all going to be about family stuff. But in the back of my head I was thinking, ‘you really don’t know what’s about to happen!’ Rather than difficult, it was actually quite amusing. It was fun to help keep a big secret.
What’s going through Charlie’s mind when he learns Phil is the main suspect behind the crash? He immediately goes into a state of disbelief, which then turns into rage. He’s always had a problem with Phil, and Phil’s always had a problem with him, so when he learns Phil is a potential suspect, it all sets into place for him and he thinks, ‘of course he did that because he never liked me to begin with’. Phil’s been incredibly well framed by Nick and on paper, it’s absolutely believable that he’s done it. So Charlie instantly wants to kill him. I think this is when we really see Charlie’s darker side come out, that he’s got his father inside of him. So definitely lots of rage, lots of disbelief and just absolute shock and terror at what’s happening.
We see Charlie really struggling to connect with his son. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What’s going through his mind? So much has happened in such a short space of time and I think with any situation like that, people imagine what that day’s going to be like and what their wedding is going to be like, they imagine the reception and what it’s going to be like when their baby is born. And they project all of these lovely, positive emotions of how they’re going to feel.
Half way through the reception, any images he’s dreamed up in his head are completely bashed and they no longer exist. He truly believes that his wife and his baby are going to die right there in front of him, so when his baby is actually born but Ronnie’s still lying there in a coma, he just goes into a very weird survival mode in that he becomes quite introvert and wants to protect himself because he feels like he can’t do this without Ronnie. To see this baby that’s been brought in amidst this horrible scenario is terrifying for him. He’s just really struggling to feel any kind of connection to this child while she’s lying there in a coma.
Can you tell us a little bit about Charlie’s relationship with Nick after the crash – do you think deep down Charlie might know that Nick is really behind it? I don’t think for a minute Charlie thinks his dad is behind it. I don’t think it crosses his mind at all. There’s a lovely scene and you see a really soft side to Nick and he’s there for his son in his hour of need. The horrible part is that you know as an audience member that he’s the one who’s actually caused it. But to see that connection between the two of them, and the possibility that the connection can actually exist, is a lovely part of their relationship that we’ve never seen before.
What impact do you think the storyline is going to have on Charlie and the Cottons in the long run? It’s really hard to predict with this one – I’ve thought about it a hell of a lot! One of the central things is that we now have a new baby who’s been brought into Albert Square and it’s a Mitchell-Cotton, so that’s quite a family that that kid has been brought into! It’s going to be really interesting to see these two families try and make sense of everything that’s happened. If Ronnie comes out of this coma, there’s a whole lot of stuff that’s going to need to be dealt with and even I’m not entirely sure where it’s going to go.
What has it been like working with June Brown and John Altman? Brilliant! When I first got the job, and they were telling me I was coming in as Nick’s son and Dot’s grandson, that was the big pull for me – to work with two people who play such big, iconic characters on the show. The two of them have been amazing. June’s been incredible and it’s been lovely working with John. It was amazing the first time John came on set. There was a real electricity in the air and everyone was like, “Nick’s back!” He’s a lovely bloke and he’s become a good friend.
So, what has it been like joining EastEnders – is it what you expected? Yes and no! It’s a lot harder and more challenging than I thought it was going to be. But, it’s also a lot more fun too. What’s nice now is that I’m coming up to being in the show for nearly a year and I’m really starting to feel quite settled. I’m bonding with certain people and you really do start to connect with people, particularly the people you work with quite a lot. People like Sam Womack, Rita Simons, John Altman and Pauline McLynn. Me and Pauline have such a laugh – she’s such an amazing woman.
You can re-watch the New Year’s Day car crash below: