As a young actress new to TV, making your mark on EastEnders is always going to be a tricky business. But the pressure is really on when you’re part of a family running Walford’s iconic pub – the Queen Vic.
“You have to learn on the job because you’re just thrown in at the deep end. There’s no ‘edging in’ when it comes to EastEnders,” admits Maddy Hill, who has just celebrated her one-year anniversary as tomboy Nancy Carter.
The Carter clan has been a runaway success on the BBC1 soap, but before she landed the role of Danny Dyer’s screen daughter in late 2013, Hill’s sole experience of television was a minor role in crime drama Whitechapel.
So how does she feel about the fame that’s come from being in a high-profile soap watched four times a week by millions of viewers? “At the moment, I feel in a very good place about it,” she says. “But at first, it was a massive shock. I’ve gone through major phases of thinking that I’ve sold my anonymity, but what I’ve realised is that you totally and utterly have a choice. If you want to be unnoticed when you’re out on the street, then I really think you can be.”
So what strategies does she employ to make herself unrecognisable? “Well, I’ve now mastered my body language and I know what the level of my voice should be. In fact, I’ve gone round an entire supermarket speaking in a Scottish accent and I was fine,” she laughs.
Hill may shy away from publicity but admits that she was “a prolific show-off” while growing up in Hackney. Not that her family are remotely showbiz: “My dad works in the City and my mum developed an outreach scheme to make sure that the working class stand as good a chance as anyone of getting into higher education. She’s a very good lady, my mum.”
Indeed, it was Hill’s mother who encouraged her to pursue a career in acting. “I was quite a realistic, sensible child. At a time when everyone else was thinking, ‘reach for the stars’, I thought it was important to have a back-up plan. So the idea was to study English at university. I was always good at English, but I wasn’t necessarily excited by it. And my mum said to me, ‘have you noticed that the one thing you always apply yourself to is your acting?’”
In the end, she attended the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance – a wise move seeing as she’s now an integral member of the Carters, a clan credited with rejuvenating EastEnders after a period in the doldrums.
And, for those wondering, the family really are as close off-screen as they are behind the bar of the Vic. “Coming in as a unit was such a cushion,” Hill says. “I can’t imagine what it must be like having to start on this show on your own. I had Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright alongside me, who’d both worked in the industry for so long. I was able to ask them anything. In interview situations, I could just hand it over to them. And hide behind them, to a certain extent.”
A year on – and with an award for Best Newcomer at the 2014 British Soap Awards under her belt and a nomination for Newcomer at the upcoming NTAs – would she consider breaking out from behind the protective shield of her on-screen parents for a personal appearance at, say, a nightclub, as young soap stars have been known to do?
“I don’t know,” she says and toys with her hair. “I’d love to do one at G-A-Y. That would be wicked. I know that Nancy has a big LGBT following. And I’d love to meet all of those people. I think they’re great.”
But it seems that a life caught in the media lens is not for her. “It’s the hardest part of the job and there are times when people approach you in quite an abrasive way,” Hill says of the publicity that surrounds the show. “But whenever I get a little bit antsy, I think of some good advice that Ann Mitchell [Cora Cross] gave to me. She said, ‘what you have to remember is that 96 per cent of actors are out of work at any given time. And those people would give their right arm to be recognised and to be in work as much as you are.’”
So as 2015 takes shape, what might that work on EastEnders involve? Could we, for instance, see Nancy embark on a new relationship? After all, fans are rooting for her to find happiness with assistant market inspector Tamwar, with whom Nancy has definite chemistry.
“I am now having more scenes with the Masoods, which I love,” she teases. “And I absolutely think that the writers should pursue things between Nancy and Tamwar. They’re both slight misfits, but they understand each other. He would soften her and she would bring his confidence up. That’d be great.”
And has she had the time to take stock after such a whirlwind 12 months? “It’s been the most enriching and fulfilling year of my life,” she smiles, looking genuinely at home and at ease on the EastEnders set. “I’ve been so happy. I’ve gained a second family – how ridiculous is that? Who gets to do that? But that’s exactly how it is. I feel ridiculously lucky.”
You can vote for Maddy Hill in the Newcomer category at the National Television Awards here
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