Emmerdale: Matty Barton arrives! “I was scared” – Ash Palmisciano on playing the soap’s first transgender character

The actor gives his first interview since joining the cast of the ITV drama

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Actor Ash Palmisciano has praised co-stars Natalie J Robb and Jeff Hordley ahead of his Emmerdale debut next week as Matty Barton. “I couldn’t have picked two better people to work with,” says the soap newcomer. “I’ve really lucked out with Jeff and Natalie. They’re both very welcoming and warm, but also very experienced. They’ve been doing this a long time, so to pick things up from them and play against them is amazing. I clicked with Nat straight away at the audition. And Jeff is really calm and chilled, which is always good when you feel a bit nervous.”

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The reason for the nerves comes down to the fact that he’s breaking new ground on the ITV soap by playing its first regular transgender character, Matty having previously been known as Moira Dingle’s daughter Hannah.

“It’s absolutely amazing and a fantastic opportunity – for me personally, but also for the soap to build a groundbreaking character. It’s something new, it’s never been done before on the soap, and it’s rarely been done anywhere else. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see what people think of the character,” says Palmisciano, himself the soap’s first regular trans actor.

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The upcoming drama sees Matty arrive at Butler’s Farm only to be knocked out cold by village hard man Cain Dingle, who mistakes Matty for a burglar attempting to break in. But when Moira sees the would-be intruder, she immediately recognises him as her daughter Hannah, who left the village in 2012. Explains Palmisciano:

“It’s quite the entrance! Matty has come back because he needs his birth certificate. At first, he toys with the idea of knocking on the door and speaking to his mum and then he realises that’s going to be far too awkward. Too much time has gone by. So he breaks into the house while no one is in.

“And just when he’s found what he’s looking for, he’s confronted by Cain, who thinks that Matty is an associate of drug dealer Simon. So it all ends in a confrontation, Matty gets knocked out, and just as he’s coming round, Moira enters the room…”

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And how does Moira react to the scene playing out before her eyes? “At first, she thinks it’s just Cain beating up a young guy. But then she looks straight at Matty’s face and a mum always knows what her kids look like. She greets him with, ‘Hannah, what have you done?’

“She’s really confused. She can’t work out what’s happened. She knows her child looks different and is completely baffled. And Matty is obviously very emotional – this is the first time they’ve spoken in five years. He’s undergone a complete gender change, which is a big thing to just spring on his family. So it’s all very high emotion.”

In the six years that Matty has been away, the Barton clan has been rocked by no end of drama, from Holly’s death to Adam’s emotional exit by way of the birth of Moira’s son Isaac. And when Moira finds out that Matty has been living just over the Pennines and hasn’t thought of paying his family a visit, tensions look set to increase:

“Moira feels that Matty has let her down, not just with the transition bombshell, but also the fact that he’s been living so close to his mum and has missed so many important things. Moira has been through a lot. I hope they can heal their relationship – I think it would be a beautiful story if they did. I am going to be around for a bit, but let’s just say that things aren’t going to be easy between the two of them.”

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Thankfully, there were no signs of strain behind the scenes when Palmisciano arrived on set to do his first day’s filming. Speaking about the experience, the actor – whose other TV credits include Boy Meets Girl and Mum – adds:

“It was pretty surreal, to be honest. My first day here was filming in the village. So you see that iconic sign and the Woolpack – it was like stepping into the TV and so exciting. I was super nervous. On the outside, I wasvery confident and bubbly. But inside, I felt very scared.

“But the crew was so welcoming. Everyone introduced themselves and made me feel at home. It was lovely. Way better than I could have hoped for. I was absolutely over the moon when I got the part – I couldn’t believe it. I was really nervous in the audition, so I didn’t know how it went. so when I got the news, there was a massive celebration. I was chuffed.”

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