EastEnders star Jake Wood has revealed Max Branning’s epic revenge storyline was curtailed following the departure of former producer Sean O’Connor, who had intended for it to run for three years.
Speaking at a screening of the soap’s much-anticipated Christmas Day episode, which brings Max’s manipulations to a shocking climax, the actor said: “A few weeks before I came back to the show after having a year off in 2016, Sean O’Connor, who was the boss at the time, talked me through the whole thing, except for the ending.
“A lot of what you’ll see at Christmas was in place under Sean, Max’s revenge was his vision. Originally I think Sean wanted it to be a three-year story which was probably too long to be fair. But all the elements were there – James Willmott-Brown’s return, Max’s plan for revenge and his unravelling, but I was never told where it was going to go.”
Wood explained how ex-producer John Yorke’s return to the show in the role of executive consultant in the summer reshaped the direction and length of the storyline: “John brought Simon Ashdown, the writer who created the Brannings, back on board and as far as I understand it the elements that were already there have been absolutely ramped up. It’s been a very quick turnaround in the short time John has been back.”
Speaking to RadioTimes.com back in May of this year, Wood discussed how the storyline, then in its early days, was to play out for years rather than months. Drawing parallels to Max’s fling with Stacey, which is to be revisited on Christmas Eve when the pair fall into each others’ arms again, the actor said: “All the best storylines are mapped out over a long period.
“Max and Stacey was always a three-year storyline and Max’s revenge is going to play out for at least that long, hopefully.”
Yorke admitted at this week’s screening he had sped up the resolution to Max’s vendetta to form the centrepiece of this year’s Christmas episodes, when audience expectation as as its highest for the soap.
“When I joined we were planning Christmas. Sean had set some really interesting exciting things going and it was really important we had a big Christmas this year, and Max’s story leapt out as the obvious one.”
Asked whether Max could be redeemed following his deceitful campaign of vengeance against the community, Wood said: “I’m not sure. There’s always options for him. I never thought, in the whole time we played this story, that Max was irredeemable. He’s very complicated but it’s understandable why he’s done some of the things he has.
“I’ve never felt like he’s gone past the point of no return, and that decision is ultimately out of my hands. So it might come down to whether the audience forgives him or not…”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of all next week’s drama on EastEnders below. Beneath that, there’s our exclusive Week in Walford review show.
And visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news