Hollyoaks‘ Tom Cunningham (Ellis Hollins) has been kidnapped, orphaned, survived a car crash, narrowly escaped an exploding school, become a father before doing his GCSEs and inherited a million pound fortune – and he’s still in his teens.
As is often the case in soaps, one actor can play literally a lifetime of drama for a character. Hollins took over the role when he – and Tom – were just three and is a few weeks off his 20th birthday, so has certainly been through the mill with his lovable alter ego.
But, as he tells RadioTimes.com, anything is possible when it comes to predicting the future for the little lad we’ve watched mature into a sensible young man over the last 17 years.
“I feel Tom is coming of age now,” he laughs. “He’s the head of the family by default, as he’s the only surviving Cunningham male! Like it or not, he’s the man of the house. When he’s older he’ll want to take after his brother Max, or his dad Gordon, both of whom were entrepreneurs and very family-oriented.
“I reckon Tom will have about eight more kids, turning the Cunninghams into another big clan like the McQueens, all of them named after his many dead relatives! The good thing about my character is there is so much potential and he can be taken in any direction.”
For the immediate future, Tom is at the centre of this year’s annual stunt (beginning on Monday 28th October on E4) which is caused by a disaster at the building site of his new business venture with big sister Cindy Cunningham (Stephanie Waring) – a covered market in the village.
Greedy Cindy has ignored health and safety regulations and structural dangers of building on ancient tunnels below, which causes a collapsed crane to sink into the ground and all sorts of carnage that puts lives in danger – and blows the production budget.
“Tom’s the project manager as it’s his money Cindy is using, but she ignores his warnings it might not be safe to drill and takes over,” laughs Hollins. “No one listens to Tom and it all spirals out of control. When it goes wrong he takes no pleasure in saying, ‘I told you so,’ as he doesn’t want to be right – he’s lost money, reputation and the chance to run a business. He wanted this to succeed.”
Cindy’s impatience and recklessness sets off a chain of events that sees Nancy and Darren Osbourne buried in the tunnels, drunk Luke Morgan taking control of the crane and dropping a steel girder on ex-wife Mandy Morgan, and secret lovers Scott Drinkwell and Mitchell Devereux trapped in the derelict florist as disaster strikes. To say she’ll have some making up to do with her brother is an understatement…
“Cindy always takes advantage of Tom because he inherited the life insurance policy cash from his parents, Gordon and Helen, who were killed in a 2004 car accident. There’s bad blood but he usually forgives her, and this was an accident so hopefully won’t affect their relationship.
Growing up in public
“Steph and I get on great in real life, I’ve known her for so long we’re like family. We’re very honest with each other, and even if we have the odd disagreement we feed it into the characters as they fall out a lot! Steph has watched me grow up which means we have a chemistry and a history between us that comes across on screen and makes the relationship believable. I’m happy we’re doing more scenes together at the moment.”
Growing up on TV and making the transition from cute child star to grown up actor can be difficult, but you couldn’t meet a more grounded person than Hollins. If anything, he’s loving his job even more the older he gets.
“I’ve been here for 17 years and know everyone in every department, it’s like a family and I love it. You do think hypothetically what it might be like to leave, even Bill Roache in Corrie must have thought about it, but I’m happy where I am.
“For years I came to work with my mum as my chaperone and went back home to Manchester every day. Now I’ve moved to Liverpool where the show is filmed, I live on my own but I can mix socially with people here in a way I couldn’t before.
“And people treat me differently which is great. I’m nearly 20, I’m not a child any more I’m an adult and everyone at Hollyoaks sees me as that now. I’m one of the lads! Being a bit older has brought a whole new level of enjoyment of the work, and friendships too.
“I don’t mind at all when fans say they remember me when I was six years old, and I understand everyone has watched me grow up, as long as they don’t talk to me like I’m still six!”
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