Jack Branning is to leave Albert Square next week and leave lover Ronnie Mitchell behind. Their relationship looks set to be torn apart, but in real life it seems that the friendship between Scott Maslen and Samantha Womack won’t come unstuck so quickly.
“Sam and I are very good mates. We wind each other up and get on each other’s nerves, but we love each other deeply,” says Maslen. “That’s a great ingredient. We’re like brother and sister. I wish I’d had more to do with her since she came back.”
The actor may have been hoping for more screen time with his close friend Womack, but Ronnie is to play a big part in Jack’s departure. In scenes to be shown on Tuesday 15 October, Lola will ask Jack and Ronnie to look after baby Lexi for the afternoon, but the favour leads to momentous decisions being made about the future. With Jack wanting to have a family, but Ronnie adamant that she doesn’t want any more children, the pair’s differences suddenly seem insurmountable.
“When he sees her with Lexi, Jack realises that he and Ronnie will never have that together. He’s not prepared to go through all that again. It all gets very pressured, the truth comes out and words get said that are repellent to him. So it’s an instant decision – Jack knows that he cannot be around Ronnie. You know, Jack’s got kids all over the place and he feels the need to go away, see Penny and catch up with the family he’s neglecting.
“He’ll miss Ronnie but he has to be away from her. He’s drawn to her, the chemistry’s there, but it’s just not right between the two of them.”
Jack and Ronnie have, of course, been through the emotional wringer during their time on the Square – their most dramatic and controversial storyline being the death of their baby that led to Ronnie swapping her child with Kat’s and eventually serving prison time when the deception was uncovered. But what has been Maslen’s high point from his six years on the soap?
“I can’t name a particular scene. After all, there are 698 episodes featuring Jack. I enjoyed the baby swap stuff and all my scenes with Jake Wood [Max] and Sam. I also love it when you’re in the Vic and doing group scenes where every age group is represented.
“There haven’t been any low points. It’s like a school environment at EastEnders and you all become mates. I am one to enjoy myself at work because I know how lucky I am.”
So why call time on the role when he’s having so much fun? “I just wanted to have a go at other stuff. I never saw myself staying in one or two jobs as much as I have. I’ve been very fortunate to have loved both places I’ve worked at [prior to EastEnders, Maslen played DS Phil Hunter in The Bill]. I’ve had a great time and made lots of really amazing friends, so I’m very grateful.”
And what’s next on the acting agenda? “Panto in Bournemouth. A few mates who do pantomime say it’s a blast. Hard work but fun. When I chose to leave, I thought: do you know what? At least I’ll be working at Christmas time and now I’m really looking to it. I’m playing Abanazar the baddie and I’m going to work it! I really am!”
But what EastEnders will really want to know is whether we’ve really seen the end of heartthrob Jack? It’s a textbook ‘driving away from the Square’ departure, so is the door being left open for a return? “He’s not dead. He’s just gone away. So hopefully in the future – who knows?”