EastEnders spoilers: “Michael’s exit is ghastly and gruesome” – Steve John Shepherd interview

"Viewers are going to really enjoy themselves. It is suitably epic," says the actor of his departure

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Michael Moon’s evil plot to get Alice (Jasmyn Banks) to kill Janine (Charlie Brooks) is set to reach a crescendo in next week’s high stakes episodes.

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When a distraught Alice turns up with blood on her hands and believing that Janine is dead, Michael is quick to reassure his admirer that he loves her.

Alice is a dishevelled wreck and advises Michael not to go to Janine’s house, but he is adamant he has to clean up the mess. He puts Alice to bed and tries to sneak out of the house but Kat (Jessie Wallace) catches him.

Michael makes his excuses and leaves, but once at Janine’s house, he finds his bitter enemy is still alive. In a dramatic turn of events, Janine and Michael’s final showdown takes place – and Alice finds herself in the middle.

One of them will die and as a murder takes place, the lives of the other two individuals will change forever. Here, actor Steve John Shepherd tells us what’s in store as events reach their horrifying climax:

Do you think Michael once loved Janine?
There was the germ of something remotely approaching love once, but any warm feelings were extinguished when he realised what a corrosive woman she is.

And now he wants to kill her…
Yeah, he hates her. Because she is a ghastly human being. I think Michael is much maligned and misunderstood – beneath the façade lies essentially a good man.

How does Michael feel about Alice?
He truly believes that Alice is the only one who can save his tortured soul from the abyss. He’soverwhelmed by this desire to save his own skin and get his daughter back. But he’s haunted by both his mother’s suicide and his bullying father. There is a weird revenge thing going on. It’s very curious and dark.

So why does he choose pills as a murder weapon?
It’s non-gruesome and he’s tying it into the fact that Janine is quite isolated. Doing things this way means he can create some scenario where she’s depressed on that night and tries to kill herself. If he goes in and strangles her, he’ll have things like forensics to deal with.

Embroiling poor innocent Alice in his plans does seem like a very low move…
Well, she is innocent, but over the coming weeks you will see she is not perhaps as compliant as everyone believes. Jasmyn Banks is wonderfully gifted – her performance in that end-game stuff is astonishing. She’s a real talent.

Have you enjoyed these final weeks?
I’ve always enjoyed playing him, but I guess he’s been at his best when he was at the very edges of his behaviour. That’s the exciting stuff to play. That’s the stuff you want to go and visit – in real life you don’t explore that dark murky stuff.

Were pleased with your exit story?
I was. I feel very fortunate that they think him important enough to give him this kind of exit. Not everybody gets that, so I feel very blessed.

Have you enjoyed your soap experience?
Yes, but it was harder than I imagined. I have never worked so hard in my life and I have nothing but respect for the actors who can pull this stuff out of the bag every week. You have to nail a cliffhanger in one take: it may be that your mother has killed your father and you have one the lottery or something really hard.

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. 

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Steve John Shepherd’s final episode of EastEnders airs on Friday 1 November