Since his arrival in May 2018, sinister Stuart Highway (Ricky Champ) has made a huge impact on EastEnders. Introduced as the childhood friend of Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and big brother of Callum ‘Halfway’ Highway (Tony Clay), the character’s complex backstory slowly unpeeled to reveal a damaged, dangerous man bearing a lifetime of grudges that culminated in him framing Mick for his attempted murder – when in fact he had purposely shot himself to put the landlord in prison.
Mick’s wife Linda (Kellie Bright) risked everything by trapping Stuart into a confession, and once the king of the Queen Vic was released they expected their enemy to be driven out. But Stu is still on the Square and has a surprising new ally in the form of Dot Branning (June Brown), taking advantage of her charitable nature by convincing her to take him in. With Dr Harold Legg (Leonard Fenton) warning his old friend Stuart is not to be trusted, fans are wondering what the horrid Mr Highway’s next move will be…
Champ’s edgy, compelling performance has seen him shortlisted as Best Newcomer in the National Television Awards 2019, the results of which are announced live on ITV on Tuesday 22 January. RadioTimes.com spoke to former Game of Thrones and Him and Her star Champ ahead of the big night to find out what the future holds for the Walford bad boy.
Were you nervous working with the legendary June Brown and Leonard Fenton?
Ultimately I felt very lucky. They are both so beautiful and bring an incredible amount of experience to the table. I grew up watching these household names, Leonard is a beautiful actor and I was so moved by his performance. We have a proper arc in the storyline to play which I really enjoyed.
Is Dr Legg right to be scared of Stuart?
Dr Legg has been around the block and I imagine is quite a good judge of people. At the moment Stuart is very damaged and needs sanctuary, which he has found at Dot’s, but Dr Legg has come in and ruined the nice equilibrium Stuart and Dot have got. Instantly there is a little bit of animosity there, though it’s nothing like the evil and villainy we’ve seen from Stuart before. I’m looking forward to everyone seeing where its going to go. All I will say is that what lies in store in the coming weeks is a real turning point for Stuart.
Is he taking advantage of Dot’s good nature?
Initially he saw an opening and manipulated her to get his feet under the table because he had nowhere to go. He was desperate and used her as a human shield after everything that happened with the Carters, which is why he took her into the Vic with him on Christmas Day as a barrier from Mick! But during this desperation, maybe his ulterior motive might diminish. Maybe just seeking sanctuary will become something else…
Can Stuart ever be rehabilitated as a character?
In terms of building bridges with the Carters, I think that would have to be a very long bridge! A lot of stuff has happened. Rehabilitation and redemption might be very far away but is perhaps still in sight. We get to explore his history soon which will go a long way into explaining some of his actions, if not forgiving them. I think that could inspire empathy and maybe even some sympathy. Stuart has hurt a lot of people, including himself. I’d love for Faye Daveney, who played Stuart’s daughter Zara, to come back to explore that relationship a bit more.
Do you know what the show’s new boss Kate Oates has planned for Stuart?
Me and Kate have spoken a lot about this. As soon as she came in she gave me her number and said I could call her whenever I wanted to discuss anything. Just recently I was reading ahead and noticed a change so I called her straight away to tell her I really liked where this is going. We spoke about the future… I’m not going to tell you what we said, but it’s really brilliant!
How does it feel to be shortlisted as Best Newcomer when you’ve been in the industry for a while?
I think it refers more specifically to being a newcomer to soap. It’s a relative term and I don’t mind it at all. Working with June and Leonard I felt like a newcomer to life in general!
What’s your feeling about awards in general?
It puts it out there for the public to have their say, doesn’t it? Which is important for a show like EastEnders. The one thing you miss as an actor doing TV as opposed to theatre is the applause, the instant payoff. It’s really beautiful for me to see the public like Stuart and I’m humbled to have made the shortlist.
Can you pick a highlight from the last 12 months?
It’s hard to pick one aspect. I’m so proud of the stuff I’ve done with Danny, its been a real journey and I love working with him. The same goes for Kellie Bright and Luisa Bradshaw-White (Tina), but the two-hander with Stuart and Linda sticks out as one of my best achievements as an actor. Half an hour of primetime TV with just you and one other actor carrying it – it was overwhelming, exhausting and beautiful. Two-handers don’t come along very often and I was instantly very thankful for that gift. Not many people get trusted with them. I’ve been spoilt in my first year here, Stuart is a great character and I hope I can keep doing it justice.
Are you nervous about the night itself?
No, I’d be happy for whoever won it. I met James Moore from Emmerdale recently, a wonderful young actor. Aedan Duckworth has come in and made an impact on Hollyoaks, he’d be a deserving winner. I’m not overly fazed, it would be beautiful if I could take it home but I’d be really pleased for whoever gets it.
Who at EastEnders deserves an NTA?
There’s an army of people who go into making this show. You think of one scene, as well as the actors that scene needs to be filmed, the sound recorded, lit, dressed, actors made up, continuity, directors… It is one thing after another, all of these things work together to make it look seamless. We shoot two hours of finished footage every week, that’s a feature film! It’s astonishing. There’s a lot of people who deserve NTAs here!
The National Television Awards 2019 air live on ITV on Tuesday 22 January – you can vote here.
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