She may be half of a showbiz couple, with Strictly star Mark Wright, and the darling of the tabloid press, but Michelle Keegan is no diva when it comes to acting. When she left Coronation Street after six years she confessed to RT she was going back to drama school.
And now her dedication is paying dividends with plum roles such as her current lead role in Ordinary Lies. Those imagining it just landed in the lap of the glamorous former soap star should think again. “I did have to go through the whole audition process,” she says. And did she seek further formal acting training?
“Yes. Even when I got big storylines on Coronation Street, I’d go back to Manchester School of Acting to get advice from coach Mark Hudson. So, obviously, with the auditions and callbacks I’ve been getting, I go to see him just so I can feel confident with the scripts.”
Recalling the first read-through for Ordinary Lies, she says, “I found the whole process really daunting. I was the first to arrive and I walked round the tables looking at the names of everyone who was going to be there. I remember thinking, ‘That’s where Mackenzie Crook’s going to be, that’s where Jo Joyner’s sitting.’ Being part of this new drama, when I hadn’t done anything apart from Corrie, was nerve-racking. But I also had a sense of achievement that I’d got the role.”
It’s easy to forget, when you see her poised red- carpet posing, that Keegan is only 27 and less than a year out of the ITV soap. Her Corrie character, Tina McIntyre, was bludgeoned to death, so there’s no way Keegan can stage a comeback. I ask whether it was a gamble to exit in a box rather than a Street Cars cab.
“Yes, definitely. When they told me they were going to kill my character, I went into shock. I was thinking maybe in the future I could go back. But it’s given me that fear factor. I could easily have stayed in Corrie until I was 80, but now I have to fight for things.”
So what has been the main difference between the never-ending soap-opera schedule and the demands of a six-part drama? “Ordinary Lies was a lot slower-paced – with Corrie you’re doing so many scenes per day, but on this I had more opportunity to rehearse. There was a lot more time.”
Of course, prepping for the role of receptionist Tracy in Ordinary Lies isn’t the only thing Keegan has had in the works. Coming next is a film. “I’m shooting it at the end of this month. It’s based in the UK. I wouldn’t say it’s one that everyone is going to know about, but it’s another opportunity to work with people I admire.”
And there’s also her late-spring wedding to DJ and TV presenter Wright. After his success on last year’s Strictly, is their first dance at the reception going to be a showstopper? “I think everyone assumes we’re going to do something choreographed, but we’re not. I couldn’t do that anyway because I’m rubbish. It’s just going to be a personal thing.”
And will she follow in Wright’s cha-cha-ing footsteps and do Strictly herself? After all, press reports have all but signed her up. “No – because it was so horrible watching Mark!” she laughs. And then adds modestly, “Mark’s a more confident person than me. And I remember seeing how nervous he was and thinking, ‘If he’s like that, I just couldn’t do it’.”
Michelle reveals her own big lie to Radio Times:
“Before I became an actress, I had an interview for a job at a bank, which I thought would be a really good career opportunity. By the third interview, I thought I’d got it, so I went home and told my mum and we celebrated.
“That weekend, she went out and bought me loads of new clothes because she was so proud. She spent a lot of money. But on Monday, I had a fourth interview, at the end of which they told me they weren’t taking on any new applicants and that I could come back the next year.
“I remember sitting in my car, panicking because I’d basically told my family and friends that I’d be working there. So instead of telling the truth, I got up every morning, Monday to Friday, did my make-up and drove off. Then I’d wait around the corner for my mum to go to work and then drive back home. And then, at about quarter to four, I’d put more make-up on, drive out and then come back at five.
“It went on for three weeks and, in the end, I just caved. I didn’t want to get up at seven in the morning again! I was so scared, but my mum just burst out laughing. She couldn’t believe the lengths I’d gone to.”
Ordinary Lies airs on BBC1 on Tuesday nights at 9pm