Hollyoaks pulled off a casting coup by securing Joe McGann to play baddie Edward Hutchinson, estranged father of show legend Tony (Nick Pickard), but it wasn’t the first time the veteran actor was in line for a part on the award-winning soap.
“Soaps have been on the horizon for a while and Hollyoaks saw me for the part of the mad teacher,” he says, in an exclusive chat with RadioTimes.com, succinctly describing the role of demon head master Patrick Blake, eventually played by Jeremy Sheffield between 2012 and 2016.
“Corrie also made noises a few years back,” he continues. “I couldn’t work out what happened there though, I think I might’ve said the wrong thing to one of the writers! And there was discussion for a while three or four years ago with Emmerdale, I got a recall but I think I ended up taking another job in the theatre instead.”
The role of the suave, narcissistic surgeon, who has a significant part to play in the upcoming post-watershed special Hollyoaks Later, may be his first experience of continuing drama but McGann has links to the world of soap going back decades: “Back in the early 1980s at the start of my career I was very close to Charlie Hardwick, who went on to play Val Pollard in Emmerdale. We did a year at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield together and shared a flat.
“We kept in touch but weren’t actually in the same room again until a few years ago when we finally got to work together again!”
McGann’s big break was as male nanny Charlie Burrows in ITV sitcom The Upper Hand, which ran for seven successful series in the 1990s. Playing his daughter Jo was a young actress called Kellie Bright, now better known as landlady of EastEnders’ iconic pub the Queen Vic…
“I am in touch with Kellie and speak to her very occasionally, we have busy lives so it’s hard to get to see each other. Now we’re both in soaps I’m sure the opportunity will turn up! I haven’t actually seen her in the flesh for something like 10 or 15 years. Nick Pickard actually went to school with her, and we have mutual friends who are on EastEnders so there are still links there.”
McGann is the eldest of the four famous acting siblings, brother to Paul (Doctor Who, Withnail and I), Stephen (Call the Midwife, Emmerdale) and Mark (The Grand, John and Yoko: A Love Story). The quartet starred together in BBC drama The Hanging Gale in 1996 and between them have notched up numerous stage and screen credits since the 1980s.
Refreshingly, there’s no snobbery from McGann about soaps, who is positively effusive about the genre. “They are held in higher regard than they used to be,” he admits. “The attitude towards them has done a complete 180. I’ve never understood that snobbery from a pragmatic point of view, it’s all work. When I started out as a snotty-nosed Scouse kid, I thought I’d better stay good at everything because if I specialise I’ll end up disappointed.
“That’s why I’ve consciously kept up theatre, musicals and everything else in order to keep working. I see it as all part of the same canon. Back in the day people were snobby about adverts, why be disparaging about earning money? That doesn’t seem right to me.
“Playing a complete character without knowing the ultimate denouement is genuinely creative as you have to bring the audience to you, it’s a gift for an actor. You don’t have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. People are are not as dyed-in-the-wool as we think, so nothing is pre-established. Edward was brought in as a villain but sometimes he’s genuinely nice and generous – that keeps the audience guessing and brings elements of surprise. I’m loving it.”
Of course it helps that McGann bears a striking resemblance to screen son Pickard… “Oh yes,” he laughs, “Nick and I have both recognised that it’s really good casting!”
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