Vanessa Woodfield begins chemotherapy in Emmerdale this week putting the brave vet’s bowel cancer battle back into focus, which means more emotional scenes ahead for actress Michelle Hardwick.
The storyline is set to continue over the coming months as Vanessa faces a long road to beat her illness, but despite the plot being in the early stages Hardwick admits portraying her alter ego’s struggle has already been a huge challenge.
“There have been a few points where I’ve been really aware of getting it right,” she tells RadioTimes.com in an exclusive interview. “One of the hardest days so far was when Vanessa got the news the cancer was at stage three, which was worse than what she thought it was going to be.
“I remember reading the script for the first time and I really had to think about how to play it. That was quite hard, putting yourself there at that moment sitting in the room with the doctor and hearing that.”
V’s first chemo session is more stressful than it needs to be thanks to her volatile fiancée Charity Dingle, who causes a scene when she sees Kerry Wyatt, who played a part in Vanessa’s dad’s death last year, comforting her other half in the hospital.
“Charity is just being protective as she thinks Kerry is the last person Vanessa wants to see at that moment,” continues Hardwick. “But she doesn’t see Vanessa and Kerry (who is visiting Dan Spencer) having an unexpected, but genuine bonding moment before she turns up. They’ll never be best mates but something like this puts things into perspective and Vanessa thinks life’s too short to have enemies.
“Watching Charity blow up at her so publicly and cause a scene in a room full of cancer patients makes Vanessa realise what’s important – it’s not the time to air your disputes. But Charity is just being protective and doing things in her usual way!”
The incident eats away at the couple’s dynamic and causes the first of many tense rows this week as the pressure intensifies. Despite the many bumps ahead in the road for Vanity, Hardwick insists the popular couple can come through it:
“Even though Charity annoys her it doesn’t make Vanessa question the relationship in any way. They’ve been together that long knows what she’s like, but Vanessa is just tired and scared so putting up with Charity’s behaviour feels harder at the moment.
“Before Charity, Vanessa never needed anyone and has had to be independent. Now she feels smothered and can’t breathe, she is stoic and pragmatic but you do see snippets when she’s on her own where everything bubbles to the surface – then she takes a big deep breath and carries on with her game face.”
Initially it was hoped surgery to remove cancerous tumours would be enough to put Vanessa in the clear, only for doctors to decide after the operation to proceed with further treatment just to make sure.
“She’s a vet so has a medical insight other people might not have which means she’s being realistic about what could happen,” explains Hardwick at her character’s reaction to the prolonged, potentially gruelling, course of chemo. “She is petrified of dying but more because of what will happen to her son if she does. At this stage she’s hoping the chemo is just to make sure they’ve got it all, but she is scared of what it could mean in the future.”