Comedy drama series Brassic may get much of its rude humour from the mildly criminal adventures of a group of working class male friends, but the heart and tough soul of the show is Erin, the strong-minded, independent single mum played by Michelle Keegan.
In the first two seasons, Erin had to disapprovingly watch as Vinnie (played by Brassic co-creator Joe Gilgun) and his mates got involved in various ill-advised schemes (including the theft of an antique sex toy, a circus lion, a Shetland pony and even an entire wedding), but in season three she finally gets her own adventure, and it’s just as darkly silly as theirs.
“Erin never usually gets involved in the antics, so for me this episode was so much fun,” Keegan says via Zoom during a break in filming the fourth season of the show. The plot for the Thelma And Louise-style episode in question involves Erin, pals Carol (Bronagh Gallagher) and Sugar (Joanna Higson), a car accident, a wheelie bin and a night-time trip to the woods, all filmed during the middle of winter.
“It was a week and a half of night shoots, so we were on the moors at 2am in the morning – which was terrifying, by the way,” she says. “We just had such a laugh, and I look back and that was my favourite time of filming, with the girls, doing those antics, and just having fun.”
“There was frost on the ground as we were filming, and it was wet and damp so your feet were soaking wet, and it was bitterly cold so we just carried hot water bottles around the whole time.”
The new season also includes an outing on a small boat that proved just as challenging to film. “We went to Wales and were filming out at sea. It was the smallest boat ever and it had all the lads on there, me, Jude Riordan (who plays Erin’s young son Tyler) and a few other characters on there, and it was cramped and freezing,” she says. “A couple of the lads were seasick, and I had to walk around the side of the boat and there was no harness on me, and it was rocking. I thought if I go in that water right now – and there were seals everywhere – I don’t know what I’d do.”
Keegan, who was previously best known for her dramatic roles as Tina in Coronation Street and Georgie in Our Girl, originally accepted the role of Erin in Brassic because it was so different to anything she had done before.
“I read the script and I remember laughing out loud,” she says. “I wanted to do a comedy for a long time, and I love playing strong women, so it had all the elements that I wanted out of a role and a TV series. As soon as I finished reading that first episode, I just knew straight away that it was something I wanted to be part of.”
As fans of Brassic will remember, viewers first meet Erin in a scene where she is loudly having sex with her boyfriend Dylan (Damien Molony) at the start of the first episode. “That first episode, I didn’t let my family watch until 15 minutes in, and we all know why!”
“I did a family message to everyone when that episode first came out saying ‘it starts now at quarter past, so please don’t put the TV on before then, I’m not going to explain why but don’t’ and they promised me that they didn’t.”
By the end of Brassic’s second season (broadcast in 2020), Erin and Dylan had split up, Vinnie had learned he was the father of Tyler, and Erin had whispered something in Vinnie’s ear just as he was taken away by police as a result of one of the boys’ adventures. So does Keegan think Erin should end up in a relationship with Vinnie?
“I think you should follow your heart and I believe that Erin’s heart is with Vinnie, but there is a lot of history there, and because of Dylan it is quite confusing for them because they are all still a group of friends and there is a child involved,” she says. “It’s not that easy them getting together and living happily ever after, there are lots of elements there, but I think Erin and Vinnie should end up together in the end.”
“Anyone that approaches me about Brassic, they always say ‘when are Vinnie and Erin getting together’ and ‘what did Erin whisper into Vinnie’s ear’ – and we do find out what she said to him in this season.”
The hit adult series, which has skilfully tackled tough subjects like bipolar disorder, homophobia and abortion in its more serious moments, is certainly very different from Coronation Street, where Keegan got her start at the age of 20 playing the role of Tina McIntyre.
“I didn’t tell anyone that I went for the audition for Corrie, because in my heart I didn’t think I was going to get the role, so I didn’t want to put loads of pressure on me and for my mum to be calling me every few minutes asking how it went,” she says. “When I went for the role, I picked my dad up from work afterwards and gave him the script in the car and he started crying because he is a massive Corrie fan. We got home and my mum was at the top of the stairs, and I don’t know whether it is mother’s instinct but she somehow knew I went for an audition that day and she said ‘did you get the job?’ and I just said ‘yes’ and she ran down the stairs screaming in her underwear!”
The soap gave Keegan her first taste of fame – “I still remember the day I walked out of the gates of Corrie and someone asked for my autograph, and I asked the PR lady with me ‘what do I write?’ as I hadn’t ever practiced doing an autograph” – but she remains as grounded as she was when she first stepped on those famous cobbles in 2008.
“My life honestly is really normal,” she says. “I still have the same friends, I still go to the same areas, I still meet my mum for a coffee in the Trafford Centre. We [Michelle and husband Mark Wright] never feel like we can’t go places and do things and I think it is the same for Mark as well. We live very normal lives, it’s just that everyone sees what we do from time to time, that’s how we see it.”
Michelle stayed on Coronation Street for six years until Tina was brutally murdered (pushed from a balcony and then beaten with a lead pipe) in 2014. “Julie [Hesmondhalgh], who played Hayley, said being killed off was the best thing that could ever happen. I asked why and she said, ‘because now, no one can ask you if you will ever go back, and you’ll fight for roles because you haven’t got a safety net anymore.’ And that was the truest thing anyone has ever said to me. It’s so true, otherwise in every interview and press junket that I did, someone would say ‘when are you going back to Corrie?’ but no one can ask that question now.”
She followed Coronation Street with a lead role in the BBC series Ordinary Lies (written by Brassic writer and co-creator Danny Brocklehurst) and then won the part of Lance Corporal Georgie Lane in the much-loved military drama series Our Girl in 2016. The series ended in 2020, but the actress hasn’t ruled out a return to the role in the future.
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“I absolutely loved playing that role and I loved Our Girl, but I felt at the time that Georgie had completed her storyline,” she says. “For four seasons she was mourning Elvis, or trying to get back with Elvis and for me the finale completed and concluded that whole four seasons, so I felt Georgie needed a break. She is still alive so a few years down the line we could pick it back up again, I would love to do Our Girl again. People would love to see what Georgie is up to now.”
Georgie won’t be returning anytime soon, however, as Keegan still has the rest of season four of Brassic to film, and the possibility of more seasons to come. “I enjoy playing Erin, I really do, playing a character with all these different elements is really exciting,” she says.
“She’s very relatable, and even now that she gets up to antics you still really like her. Even when she is in the wrong, there is heart behind what she is doing and I think people can see why she is doing these things. For me, I go to work really excited to play her. I get up at 5am, which is not easy, but I am still genuinely excited to get up for work and see everyone, and as long as that continues I would love to play her.”