EastEnders: Adam Woodyatt on life as Ian Beale and wanting to be an alien on Doctor Who

The Walford stalwart also reveals who he'd like to see return to the soap, his NTA nomination... and why he sees himself as June Brown's "whipping boy"

For Ian Beale, there’s no denying that 2012 turned out to be a traumatic year. Viewers saw him endure mental anguish and life on the streets following the breakdown of his relationship with Mandy Salter and the confessions of half-brother Ben. As a result, actor Adam Woodyatt – who has been with the soap since its inception in 1985 – has been nominated for a National Television Award in the Best Serial Drama Performance category. We caught up with him on a cold January day following a morning of filming out on the EastEnders set in Elstree:


So how’s your day been going so far, Adam?
I’m just starting to warm up, actually. We’ve been filming outside most of the morning and it’s bitter. We’re waiting for those in charge to tell us to take our coats off because it’s supposed to be spring. I don’t think the response is going to be favourable.

Well, your efforts have been rewarded with this National Television Award nomination for Serial Drama Performance. You must be chuffed?
Yes, I am actually. I was pleased just to get onto the longlist, so I’m stunned to get off that and onto the shortlist. I’m well happy.

So what kind of response did you get for the 2012 storyline that saw Ian’s mental health deteriorate quite dramatically?
You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who messaged me to say that they’d been in the same situation. Some people had done their best to cover up what happened to them. Others had gone public and spoken about it. I had people from quite high profile jobs contacting me, not just in the industry in which I work, but also from sport and the world of business. It’s opened my eyes because I hadn’t realised how big the issue of mental health actually was.

Is that because it’s still considered taboo?
Yes, I think you’re right. It is still slightly taboo. But I reckon a lot of the boundaries have been broken down in the last couple of years. So in 2012 we had Ian’s story in EastEnders and also Zak Dingle’s in Emmerdale – and with soaps being in the mainstream, they show that mental health problems can happen to anyone.

I know you’re a big user of Twitter. Did you get feedback there too?
When the episode aired in which Ian walked off following the breakdown of his relationship with Mandy, I was in London with my wife and we’d gone out with Nicola Stapleton [who played Mandy Salter] and her other half. When I looked at my Twitter feed the following morning, I’d had that many comments that I couldn’t get to the end of the feed. So, I didn’t actually get to read what was written in the first half hour after the programme aired because I couldn’t go back far enough. It was overwhelming.

Do you wish that the mental health storyline could have been pursued further and that we’d seen Ian talking to his therapist?
There are a lot of things that we could have done, but might actually still do in the future. It’s the nature of soap that you can’t focus on one thing too much because it becomes preachy. You’ve got to be able to show subjects in a way that people can relate to. Simon Ashdown [EastEnders’s series consultant] has told me though that this story isn’t over yet.

I bet you were glad to lose that beard?
Yes, it was quite nice to get rid of the beard because it was glued on so hard it was difficult to talk! The glue came off if I moved my mouth too much so it kept on having to be reapplied. And it was a real pain at lunchtime – you’d have to take it off because you really couldn’t eat in it.

So what can we expect from Ian in 2013 – maybe a romance with Denise?
Well, it seems like there is a spark there, but you’ll have to wait and see if it goes anywhere.

Can I take you back now to your early days on EastEnders – what advice would the Adam Woodyatt of today give to the one who was just starting in 1985?
Go to bed earlier. Get some sleep. Do some exercise! It really is a different beast these days though compared to what it was like back then. For a start there were just two episodes a week, now there are four. If we still had it the way it was back in 1985, it would be an absolute doddle. Now it’s a lot harder. The good thing about nowadays is that the cast is more than twice the size compared to what we had originally. So it kind of balances out a little bit. And as for the exercise – well, I have started playing charity football again, which has been a bit of a shock to the system. Boy, do I need to lose the extra pounds that I’m carrying!

With the cast being so large, is there anyone who you don’t get a lot of scenes with that you’d like to work with more often?
I’d say Jamie Borthwick [who plays Jay]. I like working with him. Jay and Ian don’t get a great deal to do together, but I think Jamie’s a good lad and he’s got a great future in front of him. And also Nitin Ganatra [Masood] – I always enjoy working with Nitin.

Do you speak out if you think a script has Ian acting out of character?
That’s what happened today, actually. I’ve just been up to the script department to say, “no, I don’t agree with that”. It doesn’t happen very often, though, I must say. In this instance, it was partly to do with an aspect of Ian’s mental health. I just didn’t think it was right. I could see where they were coming from and I knew what they wanted to get at, but it was almost like we were at two different poles. They were dark, I was light and we just had to try and find a shade in between. Which we have managed to do.

Do you think that one day you’ll beat William Roache’s record as the world’s longest-serving soap star?
Not a ruddy hope! I suppose it is a possibility, but I can’t see him retiring anytime soon. Personally, by the time I reach that amount of episodes, I’d like to be sat on a beach somewhere with my feet up.

Is there any one character from the show’s past that you’d like to bring back?
Well, it’s impossible and completely hypothetical – but Kathy Beale.

Impossible because she was killed off! Yet I suppose this didn’t stop Den Watts from coming back…
Yes, it’s got to be a really big character if you’re going to resurrect them from the dead. I thought Den’s story was actually quite plausible and cleverly worked out. They’d seeded it for a long time what with his son Dennis Rickman being on the show. It was better than Bobby Ewing in the shower on Dallas – that was pants!

But I don’t think it’s possible, really, to bring Kathy back – the whole reason she was killed off was so that Ben could come over and be a neutralising element to Phil and Ian’s relationship. So if not Kathy, then it would be fun to see all of Ian’s ex-wives. Well, the ones who are still alive. But that’s a shame as well because I couldn’t bring back that one who’s currently working in the Rovers Return…

Ha! Would you like to see Ian involved in more comedic scenes, then? I particularly liked the Mr Spock costume he wore recently. I know you are a Star Trek fan, so was that your idea?
Funnily enough, I got told off this morning for trying to turn the show into a sitcom! But no, the Spock costume idea wasn’t mine, although I was quite chuffed with it. I do like Star Trek – I watched the original series, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine but I think it was wearing a bit thin by the time it got to Voyager. I think they pushed the franchise to the absolute limit.

But if you could be in any other show, would it be Star Trek?
I think I would have to say ‘yes’ to that. I also fancy Doctor Who – I want to be an alien, heavily made up so people wouldn’t be able to tell it was me. I think everyone of my generation would like to do Doctor Who because we all have something significant from the show that we remember from childhood.

For me it was Jon Pertwee, the Brigadier and these giant maggoty slug things [The Green Death]. I have this memory of watching it when I was off school ill. So it must have been repeated in the daytime. Or maybe it was the school holidays. I do like the new series as well though – I enjoyed the Christmas special and I think Matt Smith is brilliant.

Is there a responsibility that comes with being in EastEnders? Knowing that you can make a fan’s day when they bump into you on the street?
It’s just about being respectful. If people are polite when they greet you, then you’re polite back. If people are rude, then guess what they’re going to get? Nine times out of ten, I get a good response.

And is there a blurring of reality and fiction? Do you get called Ian a lot?
That happens on a regular basis and people can feel so embarrassed once they realise they’ve done it. You can see them kicking themselves and you have to say, “It’s alright. It doesn’t matter.” I don’t answer to “Ian”, though, if someone just shouts it out at me. Unless I’m in a really good mood and then I might!

Having been on EastEnders since the beginning, do you feel like its elder statesman?
June Brown is the elder statesman, definitely. I have to concede that one – she’s got 41 years on me. I’m June’s whipping boy! But, honestly, I don’t tend to think about these things. It’s the place I work and where I come to have a laugh.

And finally, do you have any regrets about not bringing out a hit record back in the 1980s when Nick Berry and Letitia Dean were doing theirs? After all, you were in The Banned?
Have you heard me sing!? Someone did say to me that if I’d sung on that record I’d have made a few quid. That might have made me look at things differently. So, as far as regrets go over 28 years, that may just be the one. 


Adam Woodyatt is nominated in the Best Serial Drama Performance category at this year’s National Television Awards. To vote for him, please head to www.nationaltvawards.com