Casualty star Chelsea Halfpenny reveals how she prepared for Alicia Munroe’s sexual assault storyline and why she thinks it will divide opinion

Chelsea Halfpenny has a big storyline coming up in Casualty, involving the rape of popular character Alicia Munroe after a night out with colleague Eddie McAllister.

We talked to the star about doctor Alicia Munroe’s traumatic sexual assault story and how Chelsea prepared for the role.

Chelsea Halfpenny excels as distressed Alicia

You have a big Casualty storyline starting this week. How long have you known about it?

“I knew we were going to do something along these lines since just before Christmas. Then Lucy [Rafferty] our producer came back to me about a month later and said it was going to happen.”

How did you feel about the direction of Alicia’s story?

“In the weirdest way possible I was really happy because it’s just such an important subject to show on screen, at the moment especially. Selfishly, I wanted the responsibility and challenge to portray it authentically. It’s something that happens to so many people in different ways and I was very honoured Lucy thought I could handle it.”

Did you need to approach it differently to other stories you’ve been involved with?

“Yes, when I knew I had this storyline I was putting pressure on myself immediately because I wanted to do it do it right; I feel responsibility for anyone who’s been through this. So I said to myself, knuckle down, get a good night’s sleep, eat well and work out when I can so I can feel strong.

“For the three months it took us to film it I was basically Work, Eat Sleep, Repeat because that’s the only way I can work. I surrounded myself with work and working on scripts. I didn’t want to finish the storyline and feel like I hadn’t given it my all. Day-to-day our job is really light and fun, but this felt like a real challenge. I feel like I’ve grown as an actor for sure. I pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I had. I was playing distraught for three months, and it opened my eyes to how horrific it must be to actually go through this.”

Alicia flees her flat hours after a night out with Eddie

Why do you think it’s important for mainstream shows like Casualty to cover tough stories?

“Although people watch Casualty and other long-running dramas for light relief sometimes, at the same time, if someone is going through a particularly hard time, or has been through something like this, it can make them feel less alone. We all watch programmes, whether it’s comedy or drama, where we feel an affinity with the characters. You’re always looking for a connection, and I’ve got a feeling this will ring true for a lot of viewers.”

It may attract people who don’t watch the show regularly too?

“Exactly. I think people who maybe aren’t regular viewers of Casualty will tune in particularly for this storyline and to go along with Alicia on her journey.”

Has there been a lot of research done for this story?

Rape Crisis have been working really closely with the writers. It’s important that we tell it authentically. In every meeting I’ve had with our writers and producers the main priority has been to tell this right and that we need to keep talking about it. Rape Crisis were on hand for advice, information and help. We kept referencing back to them. It was a constant dialogue.”

Alicia is in a state of shock and doesn’t know where to turn

It’s being said this storyline may divide opinions. Why is this?

“The audience won’t see what’s happened for a long time – when we explore it in flashbacks – and are basing their opinions on what Alicia and what Eddie say. It’s left for you as a viewer to decide, based upon what they say happened. That’s where opinion will be divided. The storyline ebbs and flows, because that’s life. It’s not always black and white, and that’s what we’re putting across with this storyline.”

Eddie McAllister with Alicia, played by Joe Gaminara and Chelsea Halfpenny

Last week viewers saw Alicia leave arm-in-arm with junior doctor Eddie. Where do we pick up this week?

“When we pick up this storyline Alicia is awake and distraught. She’s in bed and there’s an arm around her and you can guess who it is, but at the same time you’re left thinking what’s happened? But you can presume, as Eddie is lying there peacefully and Alicia is not.”

Alicia throws herself into her work unable to process what has happened

What happens next?

“She leaves the house without waking Eddie and goes to work where she spends the whole day avoiding him. When there’s a huge coach crash in Holby Alicia puts her professional doctor head on and goes to the crash site because she’s needed but also wants to get away from the ED and Eddie.”

How is her state of mind?

“As the day unfolds it ebbs and flows. You think she’s put whatever happened to the back of her mind. She’s being really professional. But later she crashes and burns. During the episode you’re unsure whether she’s going to tell anybody and, if she does, what will they say. She has a whole dilemma in her head. There’s loads of emotion and self-doubt, as Eddie’s acting as if nothing’s happened, which scares her.”

It’s sounds like a really nuanced and thoughtful approach…

“Yes and I think its just so much better for being done that way. It lets the audience have a think, and will open conversations, which is really important.”

Casualty continues on Saturday at 8.20pm.