Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) is to get another surprise in the run-up to his wedding when son Ben turns up at the Arches. Ben – who has recently been released from prison – is determined to stop his dad from marrying Sharon. But with tensions already running high, will Phil end up letting Ben into his secret plan?
Ben is now being played by newcomer Harry Reid and we caught up with the actor during his first weeks of filming to find out what it’s been like for him making his EastEnders debut…
So how did it feel being launched onto EastEnders by doing scenes with Steve McFadden? Was that intense?
I was bricking it. Steve’s obviously quite intense, as you can tell by his character. Plus he’s been in it for years. It’s different to come onto the show as part of a family because you can kind of latch on to other members who’ve been introduced at the same time as you – but by yourself, it’s a big bit of pressure. Steve’s adopted me in a lot of ways – it’s kind of like a father/son thing outside of the scenes, which is nice because he helps you a lot. I mean, let’s face it, Steve is the head of EastEnders. He’s the boss, let’s be honest about it.
What advice has he given you?
To take each page of the script as it comes. Because obviously, before I came to here, I was thinking, ‘I’d better learn all these lines and get them all in my head’. He said, “it’s not a memory test, you read the page and it’s all about the truth and what you can get out of it”. He made it simple for me.
How about the pressures of handling the fame that comes with being on EastEnders?
Jamie Borthwick’s [Jay] been a massive help with that. I’m working with him closely. I’m only a couple of years older than him, so I can relate to him in that kind of way. In terms of the fame, they’ve told me my world will change but that I should just be myself. I don’t want to be a different person in years to come.
Tell us about filming your first scenes…
It was really intimidating. My first scenes were with Letitia Dean, Jamie Borthwick and Steve McFadden – so three actors with years of experience between them. We were in the studio, which is like a sweat pit, and I was thinking, ‘what have I signed up for here?’ It was also a very busy day’s filming and I was thinking about ringing my agent to say, “cancel it!” It was honestly one of the scariest weeks of my life. But Danny Dyer came up to me and said, “it takes a while, mate. But you’ll get into it.” So it was nice having people helping to make it more comfortable and, by the end of the second week, I was starting to feel more accepted. Everyone’s been brilliant and so inviting.
Did you have to keep the fact that you’d got the part a secret from friends and family?
I had to keep it locked down for a month. Only because I’ve got nans who’d be demanding to know when their grandson was going to be on screen. As it is, my nan in Scotland ended up having it announced on the tannoy in Morrison’s! My mum is still finding it weird to think that she’ll be watching EastEnders with me in it.
So tell us about Ben’s personality – what’s he like now that he’s out of prison?
The difference now is that he’s got a bit of a brain on him. He’s got a macho side to him like the rest of the Mitchells, but there’s a softer side to him too. It’s what makes him smarter than the rest of the family.
But can he still be hot headed?
There’s a lot of frustration there. He wants people to forgive him for what happened with Heather. But he knows it’s not going to happen. He’s still got his explosive temper, don’t get me wrong. The guy’s still killed someone, and knows what it’s like to be inside. But it’s how he controls his temper that’s going to interest people.
Is he scared to see Shirley?
Ben wants the friendship with Shirley that he used to have. He’s not had much luck with motherly figures – his mum died and Stella abused him. He loves Shirley. And he loved Heather too – what he did was an angry reaction because he was scared of going to prison again. So what hurts Ben the most is that there’s a chance that Shirley will never forgive him because of what he did. I think Shirley loves Ben, but can she get past what he did? If you love someone like a son and then they kill your best mate, it’s difficult!
Does he want to wreck Phil and Sharon’s wedding?
He wants Phil and Shirley to be together, because he knows they love each other. He’s never met Sharon, but from what he’s heard from Grant or Peggy, he’s likely to think that she’s nothing but trouble. But then Sharon starts to look after him and be that motherly figure that he’s always craved, so he begins to feel that she’s a safe bet.
Could Ben be involved in the murder of Lucy Beale? Would you like to see him be a part of that storyline?
I would because I’d like to see what would come out of that. Obviously, being a family member, it would be strange to think that he could do that. But he can be very conniving, and we all know that he was out when she was murdered. And he was nowhere to be seen. Out of everyone on the Square, you’d probably pick Ben out. He’d be smart about it, so I don’t think he’d get caught if he was to have something to do with it. We’ll see.
And what can we expect from Ben and Phil’s relationship?
You can expect them to be united. Phil will always back his boy as long as Ben proves himself. There is a lot of that. Although he loves him, you have to prove yourself in this family.
And no dancing to Girls Aloud?
Not anymore! I was really gutted about that. I really wanted to start dancing and twerking! There is still a softer side to him, but he’s not the early Ben. He’s grown up a little bit. He wasn’t able to dance for two years inside. So he’s lost his touch a little bit!