It’s the world’s longest-running TV soap, which has nurtured some of our top female stars, including Katherine Kelly, Suranne Jones and the Bafta-winning Sarah Lancashire. But what does the future hold for Michelle Keegan, the latest Corrie fledgeling to fly the nest? After more than six years playing the gutsy but ill-fated Tina McIntyre, Michelle Keegan is leaving Weatherfield – to take acting lessons.
“I’m having more training, which I’m doing for confidence. I’ve been playing one character for over six years and I need to refresh. So I’m having one-to-one classes and some dialect coaching for accents.” Is that because she’d like to play southerners? “Maybe. I’ve got a very strong Manchester accent and it can be easier to get a part if you’re able to neutralise it. So that’s what I’d like to do.”
At the moment, the 26-year-old is in the process of auditioning and says that a recent call-back boosted her confidence. So what kind of projects would she like to take on? “I want to do some more TV, because the thought of going out onto a stage petrifies me. I’d like to do something with Ricky Gervais – I love his sense of humour and his writing. And I’ve always wanted to do a period drama.” So would she be upstairs or downstairs at Downton? “I want to go upstairs,” she says with a grin.
Of course, Keegan’s career will be closely tracked by the tabloids, which already get much mileage out of her relationship with former Towie star Mark Wright. In the run-up to filming Tina’s exit, he helped his girlfriend with her lines – “He was playing Rita”. But would she return the favour by fronting shows with him? “No, because he’d show me up. He’s a lot better than me because that’s his job. So, not yet. I’d need more training if I was to do presenting.”
Tina has been put through the emotional wringer during her years on the Street, but Keegan is touchingly modest about her skills. Pre-Corrie, she took six months of lessons at the Manchester School of Acting while working on a make-up counter at Selfridges (“I once sold concealer to Kym Marsh”). She got the role of Tina following an unsuccessful audition for Hollyoaks (“They actually wanted a black girl”) and her early experiences at the ITV soap were daunting. “I put a lot of pressure on myself when I started because I felt like an imposter surrounded by all these ‘proper actors’,” she says. “I remember my first scene – Tina was in the medical centre and she had to call Gail a jumped-up little midget. I was mortified and I even apologised to Helen Worth, who plays her. She was laughing about it, but I couldn’t believe I was being so cheeky.”
In the end, it’s Tina’s forthright nature that seals her fate. A confrontation on the balcony of the builder’s yard led last week to a plunge onto the cobbles, with Tina set for a dramatic departure during this Monday’s episodes. For Keegan, it’s not exactly the exit storyline she was expecting.
“Initially, I was told they were going to leave the door open and then they changed the story a few months down the line. I was in shock because I thought I’d have this safety net and that I might be able to come back. So it took a while for me to get my head around it.”
Tina has, of course, become a classic Corrie no-nonsense heroine, but why does this show in particular create such strong leading ladies?
“It’s something very particular to being a northern woman. My mum is certainly like that – she’s a very strong person. And with Corrie, a lot of the humour comes from the woman bossing the man around. People find that hilarious. And when there are storylines that feature people having affairs, it’s always the woman who is left to pick up the pieces and put the family back together again.”
Does a part of Keegan wish she could have been able to revisit Tina at some point? “Maybe for the character, but not for me. Katherine Kelly [who played Becky McDonald] told me I’d know when the time was right to leave and I do think I’ve made the right decision.
“But Tina was a great character and I’ll miss her. And I also think that Corrie is going to miss its feisty little barmaid.”