Mel’s ex-husband Ray Kelly arrives – EastEnders star Sean Mahon on joining the cast of the BBC1 soap

“He’s able to handle Jack without feeling a huge sense of threat,” says the actor

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Mel Owen will get a shock on next week’s EastEnders when her ex-husband Ray Kelly arrives on the scene – just as Jack Branning is about to ask for her hand in marriage! Mel’s frustration is soon boiling over when she realises that Hunter is responsible for Ray’s sudden appearance. But how will Mel react when Ray arranges a lunch for her, Hunter and – perhaps most surprisingly – Jack? And what exactly does Ray want? We’ve already been told by show bosses that Ray is a “serial risk taker and expect liar”. But what does the man who’s playing him – actor Sean Mahon – make of his new character? We caught up with Walford’s latest addition to find out:

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So what brings Ray to Walford?
He wants to make good with his family – everything is very unresolved so he comes back to put things right.

What did you think when you read about Ray’s character?
With this character, the writers had a very specific temperament for him. He was described as very powerful, calm and cool. So any actor who sees that wants to jump in and give their own interpretation to that. So I was excited really because it was an opportunity to really go to some places that would be a lot of fun.

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Do you feel like it’s different from other roles you have played?
Prior to this, I was always cast as the good guy – the doctor, the lawyer. But now there’s certainly more darkness and complexity to the characters I’m being offered.

So Ray is the brother of the frosty Ciara Maguire – does he have a dark side like his sister?
I don’t think the apple falls far from the tree. They’re certainly not a family that will shy away from getting what they want.

Do you think Ray and Jack have any similarities?
Oh certainly. I think they are two sides of a very similar coin – Jack has a past, he certainly isn’t squeaky clean. I think what’s interesting about the two of them is that they’re both strong and they can go head to head.

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We see later in the week that Ray invites Jack for lunch – do you think Ray sees Jack as a threat?
I don’t. I think Ray is very used to creating situations that work in his favour. So certainly with Jack or with anybody, he’s able to handle it without feeling a huge sense of threat.

What’s his relationship with Hunter like?
Very strong and very good – very much a mentor and a father figure. Hunter really aspires to get Ray’s approval.

And what’s it been like working with Tamzin Outhwaite?
A joy! She’s such a strong, powerful, talented actress and a really good, decent person with a great sense of humour. She’s so professional and completely committed to the work – it’s been one of those great experiences.

Have your paths crossed before?
Never. I was really just taken with how powerful she is on screen and how strong an actress she is.

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Were you a regular watcher of the show?
I grew up in Ireland and left in my early 20s and spent 20-something years in the States so I only saw EastEnders when I came back home to visit. I reconnected with EastEnders when I worked on Red Rock which, which was one of John Yorke’s creations. So we had a lot of writers – such as Kim Revill – who is also a writer on EastEnders. So all of a sudden that world started to bleed back into my atmosphere. Then when discussions started about me being on the show I dipped in to see who’s who and what’s what.

Were you excited to meet anyone in particular?
I had a bit of a fan moment the other day. I was sitting in the make-up chair next to June Brown, who plays Dot Branning, and she was one of my favourite characters on the show when I was watching so many years ago. So I was a bit star-struck and gobsmacked. I didn’t say a word. I just sat there and darted my eyes over a few times, so it was great.

Did you ever think that you would be in EastEnders?
Never for a second. It’s one of those great testaments to life that you never know where you’re going to end up or what’s going to happen. I did not see this coming at all and when it did come my way I was so grateful for it. I’m having a really good time and everybody is so spot on, professional and nice. It’s a great environment, it really is.

Will people be excited to see what Ray’s going to be like?
Very much so because of his connection to Mel and Hunter, who are such strong characters. The fact that they’re bringing in somebody from their past sets Ray up in a great way. People are very curious to know what that’s all about. So I’m not just hanging out on the sidelines – the way it’s been written I get entrenched very quickly and I integrate with a lot of the characters on the Square. So I’m very much in the world.

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