Hollyoaks are shining a light on mental health issues with Alfie Nightingale’s current storyline that will see him gripped by schizoaffective disorder.
Teenager Alfie has already suffered numerous traumas in his young life, including the death of his brother, discovering his sister tried to murder his dad, and losing his girlfriend to cancer while battling the disease himself.
This latest plot, part of Hollyoaks’ ongoing #DontFilterFeelings campaign to raise awareness on mental health topics, has secured actor Richard Linnell a nomination on the longlist for this year’s British Soap Awards as Best Actor.
Hoping to recreate his success last year when him and Kassius Nelson won Best On-screen Partnership for Alfie and Jade’s tragic romance and Scene of the Year for Jade’s death, we spoke to Linnell about the past, present and future for his character.
How does it feel to be nominated? I can’t quite believe it! I don’t expect to get on the shortlist let alone win, but it’s incredible to have been honoured with a nomination, and for people to think I deserve to be put forward is an amazing accolade.
You did well last year with Jalfie’s double victory… It was very surprising we won one, let alone two! We were extremely lucky.
How long has Alfie’s storyline been planned for? In it’s current form the story was finalised late last year. The idea of a mental health-based story with Alfie has been around for a while, after everything the character has been through, and we were working out what that would be, and after much discussion they settled on schizoaffective disorder as the topic to follow.
Were you nervous tackling such a big issue? It’s great to be trusted with a storyline like this, but not personally knowing much about these disorders I’m quite nervous with medical stories as you obviously need to get it right, like with cancer story. But from how amazing the team here are with research and making sure the facts are absolutely bang on so its really believable, I knew I was in good hands.
What kind of research have you been doing? Mind, the mental health charity, have been great, we’ve had research days with them. I met Jonny Benjamin (mental health campaigner and subject of the documentary The Stranger on the Bridge about the man who saved him from a suicide attempt) who is an awe-inspiring man, we spent hours with him, he was very open. He’s an incredible spokesperson for mental health. It really helped me find smaller details for my performance that don’t often get shown in broadstroke portrayals of these conditions. To sit with Jonny and find those little unexpected things hopefully make it more believable.
What can you tease ahead how the story develops? Alfie’s condition will progress as the weeks and months go on, and we’ll start to see more obvious signs. The voice he’s hearing will continue to be there and become more regular – it started off as quite calm and almost friendly, feeding into things he already thinks, but it will start to become sinister and more controlling, and get Alfie to do things he doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with… It will fuel his growing paranoia and isolate him from his family, and we’ll see Alfie suffer from delusions. Soon he believes a meteorite is going to the village and he gets quite manic, thinking he has to save everyone. Delusions of that scale can be quite common as symptoms, Jonny said that. You feel like you’ve been chosen to protect people.
Is that rooted in Alfie not being able to save Jade from cancer? It’s possible. I’m not a mental health expert, I firmly direct any questions to Mind’s incredible website, but no one really knows for certain what causes these conditions. It could be environmental or genetic. With Alfie there are enough potential triggers in his life considering his family have a history of bizarre thought processes…
Talking of the family, what can you tell us about Mac’s return? We saw James visit Mac in the trailer – for the time being Mac is still in hospital and rather unresponsive. What can assume from his return to the show are that things are set to get interesting for certain members of the Nightingale family – that’s all I can say! Considering the last year of Mac’s reign of terror I don’t think he’s going to get a very warm welcome…
Finally, who would you like to win a British Soap Award? All the nominees deserve it, but my heart says Theo Graham (Hunter McQueen). He’s such a wonderful guy and an amazing actor. We filmed Ibiza together last year, he works so hard and I really think he deserves it. And surely Ellis Hollins (Tom Cunningham) deserves a lifetime achievement award for having survived this long! He’s spent more of his life in the show than out of it!
The British Soap Awards 2018 airs on ITV in early June. Click here to vote in the longlist – voting closes at 5pm on 24 April and reopens for shortlisted nominees at 10am on 1 May.
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Hollyoaks below.
And visit our dedicated Hollyoaks page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.