Ben Mitchell returns to EastEnders on Monday 1 April, but this time with a new face as Max Bowden takes over from Harry Reid to become the sixth actor in the role since the son of Phil and Kathy was born back in 1996.
Reid made his last appearance on screen in January 2018 after announcing his decision to quit after four years, but some fans were surprised when new 'Enders producer Kate Oates revealed just a year later she had recast Ben in the form of the former Waterloo Road star, citing plans to take the character in a new direction.
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Bowden tells RadioTimes.com he has immersed himself in a character steeped in Walford history while also ensuring he makes it his own, aware that Reid's popular portrayal will be fresh in viewers' minds. "It was important for me to gets as much backstory," he confesses. "I worked a lot with the team and got some old clips and some stuff to basically form where I'm at now.
"Ben has had a lot of turmoil and I think it's important for me to give as much to the character in terms of his history. Not everybody has been through the dark places that he has and without knowing what that's been like and how it's been portrayed, I don't think I could give the role as much truth as I want to."
"It's absolutely my own character but psychologically I needed to know the things that have affected Ben. It's not about following other performances or anything like that, I want it to be completely my version of him, but it is about the history. Steve McFadden (aka daddy Phil) has been great with helping me answer any questions I've had about Ben, he's an icon and obviously we've had a lot of stuff together.
"I actually worked with him when I was nine years old in panto, so that was a nice little common ground thing coming in. We look at some old photos from the time and had a little joke about that!"
What does Harry Reid think of being recast as Ben Mitchell?
Reid was gracious enough to reach out to his incumbent via social media upon news of the recasting, welcoming him to the clan with the declaration "I anoint you Ben the 6th."
"That was lovely," says Bowden, happy at Reid's blessing. "We shared an exchange and I thought it was a really touching thing to do and I appreciated it a lot."
The 2019 version of Ben appears to be more brooding with a sinister edge that befits the son of Walford's hardest man, hinting at the dark territory in Oates's vision. "All the trouble and hurt placed upon Ben in the past is taking its toll," admits the actor. "He's come back with a broodier sense of self, is more aware of who he is and is quite content with that - but he still wants more. His past is starting to really affect him."
Ben fled the country having stolen gangster's moll Ciara Maguire's stash of cash, putting Phil and the family in a whole heap of trouble with Ciara's husband Aidan. As the mini-Mitchell returns, along with Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold) and their little daughter Lexi in tow having reconnected as an unconventional family unit off screen, will all be forgiven between Ben and Phil?
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