Will Mellor on joining Corrie in memory of his dad and why he doesn't envy best mate Ralf Little doing Death in Paradise
The star speaks exclusively to Johnathon Hughes about finally making it to the cobbles in The Big RT Interview.
He’s got genuine Mancunian heritage and the requisite natural northern charm, yet Will Mellor has never been in Coronation Street. Aside from being an extra at the age of 12, he’s surprisingly not even auditioned for a part in a career spanning three decades, despite having all the attributes to be a natural fit for the cobbles.
This week, he finally joins the cast of the world’s longest-running soap, and makes his debut on Friday 12th March. It clearly means a lot – the actor lost his father, Bill, last year, and wears his ring on screen by way of a tribute as he was a huge Corrie fan, as is all of Mellor’s family.
"I always said if I get the phone call, I’ll do it – you don’t turn down Corrie," says Mellor, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com. "It’s an institution. It was an honour to be asked and I jumped at the chance.
"And my mum is so excited. I’ve been acting 32 years and she’s waited all this time for me to do Corrie, she’s telling all her friends. Though I’ve told her to warn them I’m horrible in it and she might get a bit of abuse!"
He’s not wrong. Mellor plays Harvey, head of the drug dealing gang that has ensnared young Simon Barlow, using his chippy tea delivery service as a cover for peddling narcotics across suburban Salford. Desperate to protect her son, Leanne Battersby tries to warn Harvey off, only for her to also become lured into his terrifying criminal underworld and putting both her and Si in danger.
"Harvey has no regard for anyone’s feelings or their situation," explains Mellor. "He picks innocent people to deal for him who slip under the radar, and preys on their vulnerability. I don’t think he knows Simon is trying to earn money to help his mum after her son died, and even if he did he wouldn’t care.
"He enjoys having power over people and manipulating them so they’re too scared to go to the police. When Harvey threatens to break your legs or cut you into pieces unless you do as he says, he means it. There’s a swagger, an arrogance that he will never get caught – but the ones working for him will."
For an actor usually associated with affability, taking on such a menacing character is bravely going against type. Is Mellor worried about how audiences will accept him in his first full-on baddie role?
"It will be a shock, but I hope they see the character and not me. I’m playing him as real as I can, if you do that it draws the audience in and they’re more likely to go with you on the journey. If you’re hammy and stand out they can see you’re acting and it creates a distance. I want the audience to be scared of Harvey and I’m pushing it as far as I can. But afterwards I feel awful at the things he’s said!"
An amoral urban drug baron is a far cry from the kind of characters that made him famous, but Mellor has quietly evolved from star-making Jack-the-Lad roles in Hollyoaks and Casualty into edgier, more challenging territory such as Paul Abbot’s No Offence and Jed Mercurio juggernaut Line of Duty, making him a consistent presence on our screens and earning critical chops and credibility along the way.
He cites two particular roles that became career turning points: playing a gay builder having a clandestine relationship with a closeted colleague in Jimmy McGovern’s slice-of-life anthology The Street in 2007, and a shifty psychic the first series of Broadchurch back in 2013.
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"I had to fight for The Street," he reveals. "It was my first gay role and there were people against me doing it. The director, Terry McDonough, stood by me and said he wanted an alpha male type, rather than go down the obvious route.
"The same with Broadchurch, that was such a different role for me at that point. I was honoured they got me in for that, I’m so grateful to the directors who have taken a chance and stood up for me over the years. You need people to believe you can play other things, otherwise you stay in one lane.
"I’ve always tried to do a drama at the same time as a comedy, vary it so it keeps the doors open as I’m always worried about them closing if you limit yourself to one genre.
"Similarly, Corrie could’ve cast someone who’s played a lot of baddies for Harvey. Hopefully it’s more interesting for the audience and I do it justice, it’s nothing like I’ve ever done before."
Mellor is signed to the soap for four months, though he’s open to a longer stint. As a life-long fan there are plenty of regulars he’d like to share a scene with – top of the list is Ken Barlow ("I’ve not even met Bill Roache yet, but he’s the godfather isn’t he?"), closely followed by his son, Peter.
"I think Peter could come to Leanne’s rescue, plus Harvey is corrupting his son. I’m not sure if that’s happening but it would be great. I worked with Chris Gascoyne years ago, he’s a lovely guy."
To the delight of comedy fans of a certain generation, Mellor recently revived his professional partnership with Two Pints of Lager And a Packet of Crisps co-star Ralf Little. The ‘2 Pints with Will and Ralf’ podcast, in which the boys banter about everything and nothing, brought some welcome light relief in lockdown, and provided a glimpse behind the scenes of Death in Paradise, as several episodes had Little’s contribution recorded remotely while shooting his first full series on location as the lead in the hit drama.
Most actors see Little’s gig as the best in TV – filming half the year on the sunny Caribbean island of Guadeloupe – but Mellor insists he’s not envious of his mate. "I couldn’t do it, it’s too far," he says. "I’ve got kids – Ralf’s got a PlayStation, that’s why he can go! I’d miss my family too much, life flies by and your kids grow up."
In between Little solving Caribbean crimes, and Mellor terrorising the residents of Weatherfield, plans are afoot for the duo’s double act to transfer to the small screen. "We’re trying to expand the podcast onto TV, our own chat show with a pub and a band," confirms Mellor. "It will be like a grown-up, late-night Ant and Dec. With a few beers!"
He acknowledges the format is out of his comfort zone, but after such a difficult time personally that makes it a more attractive prospect. "After losing my dad I want to be positive, do whatever comes my way, have some fun experiences and not worry about what anyone else thinks. I want to make him proud.
"This year has started off well with Corrie, so let’s see what else happens!"