So Jo, it seems that everyone has an opinion on Max’s secret and the identity of Kat’s lover. What have fans been saying to you?
I’ve been at work so much that I haven’t really seen the public! For the last two-and-a-half months we haven’t been out of studio. So I have no concept what people are thinking at the moment. But the best one I’ve heard is that it’s Tanya who’s having an affair with Kat. That’d be one in the eye for Max, wouldn’t it?
Has the filming schedule been quite hectic then?
Yes, the schedule around the Christmas episodes has been full-on Brannings. Usually, we get a heavy period for six weeks and then it subsides a bit. But it seems to have been heavy for the last 12 or 13 weeks. And we’ve done a lot of six-day weeks.
Plus my kids have been ill at home with croup and sickness. So that’s been lovely – up four times a night and then straight into work. I’ve got this twitch in my eye that I’ve had for seven weeks. It’s great on a duff-duff moment.
So tell us about those Christmas episodes then. Is Tanya feeling happy and excited about her wedding?
Yes, she’s the Christmas fool! She really is. Last year, Christmas was tainted with her cancer treatment and all the uncertainty. This year, Tanya and Max have got everything to look forward to, haven’t they? They’ve got the wedding coming up, so she’s very much looking forward to that. Plus the family’s all together at Christmas and everyone’s got their health. So who could ask for more?
And then Max’s secret comes spilling out…
Yes, it’s a real rollercoaster. There are so many strands to these episodes, so many different things coming together, so many storylines peaking. It’s just one thing after another. It’s everything people have come to expect from an EastEnders Christmas.
And how do the shocks compare to that famous Branning Christmas of 2007 when Max’s affair with Stacey was exposed? Will we be rooting for Max and Tanya to stay together?
It’s a very different kind of shock, a very different scenario. It’s very sad watching them fight for their marriage, but I do think they can get over this one. I really don’t think that there’s much worse than having an affair with the gorgeous 17 year-old who’s about to get married to your son. So anything that Max has now done, any possible flings or affairs, could they really hurt as much? And he had had affairs before they came to the Square.
If it’s an affair that’s the secret, of course! And not, you know, money! But it certainly felt different this time. The writer Simon Ashdown has always said that, with Max and Tanya, he’s trying to do a portrait of a marriage. And he really has. There’s a maturity to it. It’s not a marriage I’d want to be in though!
And we also have the death of Derek. How does Tanya react to that?
She has to put a lid on how she feels because, ultimately, her husband is grieving for his brother, so it becomes a difficult period. There are things she’d like to say and arguments she’d like to have, but she can’t at that point. She’s still in shock as well from Max’s revelations and Derek’s involved with that too. So she feels sorry for Carol and Jack and the grieving family, but she also feels quite remote from it. I don’t think she’ll miss him.
Tanya’s always had a deep loathing for Derek, which certainly predates his recent attempts at blackmail following Lauren and Joey’s car crash. Why do you think she hates him so much?
Do you know, I had started to think that Lauren was his daughter. That maybe he’d forced upon himself upon her when they were teenagers and there was some deep dark secret there. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case.
If you think about it, though, Lauren has got brown eyes. And Max and I have both got blue eyes. And I don’t think that’s even possible. So I’m just throwing it out there. Me and Scott Maslen always used to joke, back when Jack and Tanya were having their thing, that Lauren was his! But who knows?
The only thing I can think of is that, in the past, Tanya would have known that Derek knocked his wife about. And he slept with Rainie at our wedding when she was young, drunk and vulnerable. So he’s not a nice guy. In fact, he’s a different league of ‘not a nice guy’ – he’s been in jail for armed robbery, for instance. And so, it’s just a genuine fear of him and not wanting for him to lead her family astray.
Will you miss Jamie Foreman?
He’s such a nice guy. I think he’s wonderful – it’s a real loss. I worked with him years ago on a series called Family where I played his character’s mistress. So I already had an appreciation of what he does and how lovely he is. So yes, I’ll definitely miss him and we’re having a little dinner out next week. The Brannings are hitting Soho to say goodbye to Jamie.
And what’s it been like working with Ann Mitchell, who plays Cora?
She’s lovely. She’s such a fantastic woman and she’s incredibly generous to work with. And it feels really right. Because we look like we could be related. There was a scene recently in which me, Ann and Lorna [Fitzgerald, who plays Abi] were chatting in a line and it struck me how good the casting is. People constantly ask me if Lorna’s mine. And even I can see that she could be mine. It just feels incredibly natural.
Can you give us a clue as to what to expect from Tanya’s wedding?
Well, there are certainly a couple of wedding dresses. Various options, you know. And there are bridesmaids at the ready and a very pretty Square. The first one I chose, which actually gets ripped up by Lauren, is quite good fun. It had a touch of TOWIE about it. I maintain that she should have had a little Audrey Hepburn jacket – a more mature wedding outfit. But no – she looks like mutton.
But, obviously I don’t get to wear it because it gets ripped up. I’m trying to get hold of one for my little girl’s dressing-up box, actually. The second one is not very Tanya. It’s very romantic as it’s chosen by Max. It’s not necessarily what Tanya would have chosen.
So, how does Tanya react when Lauren rips the dress up? After all, it means that her Christmas Eve wedding has to be cancelled…
She copes with it really well. I thought she would have been more upset, to be honest! But I think she feels responsible for Lauren’s outburst, so there’s a general feeling that they should get on with having a lovely Christmas Day for the sake of the kids and we’ll worry about the rest of it after.
And if Max does turn out to be Kat’s lover, could there be a catfight? Or even a Kat fight?
Wouldn’t that be great? I’d love to have another fight. I haven’t had one for a long time. I had a nice one with Stacey and I haven’t had one since. It’d be great if Cora got in there as well and we wrecked that beehive a bit.
Finally, what do you hope happens to Tanya in 2013?
I’d love for Tanya’s friendship with Sharon to continue. I love working with Tish [Letitia Dean]. I think she’s fantastic. So that would be good. I’d like a little trip to Vegas, if the budget could stretch. Failing that, maybe Blackpool or Margate. Anywhere really. Seven years I’ve been here and I’ve not been on location further than the divorce courts of Walford. Next year, though, things are going to get really interesting in the Branning house. There’ll be a nice dynamic in the house. It could be quite female…