As the actress and celebrity chef Lisa Faulkner heads to Walford, she tells us she’s missed the 'buzz' of drama...

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Former Celebrity MasterChef winner, Lisa Faulkner, will be swapping her apron for a suit next week, when she takes on the role of EastEnders’ feisty new businesswoman, Fi Browning. As the 45-year-old looks ahead to her debut (Thursday, April 27) , she tells us why playing Fi is an opportunity she couldn’t turn down…

 So, tell us how the role of Fi came about…
“I got a phone call from my agent, saying ‘I know you’re really busy, but can you meet with Julia Crampsie, the EastEnders casting director and Sean O’ Connor, the exec producer?’ I said ‘Erm, why?’ He said ‘Just go and meet them; see what they have to say.’ So I did, and Sean was so passionate about this character that was coming in, and said ‘I wrote this little thing and I wondered if you’d read it.’

“I thought ‘I wasn’t told that I wasn’t going to have to do anything in this, but just chat!’ So I read this little paragraph and he and Julia said: ‘We’d really like you to play this character.’ I went home and thought ‘They’re just being really nice’, but then they phoned me the next day and asked if I would play her… and I decided to say yes! I had so much other stuff on and I knew it was going to be a juggle, but sometimes you just have to jump in, don’t you?”

 So was this an opportunity that seemed too good to turn down?
“Yeah. I’ve always said that I’m an actress as well as a cook, and I’ve always been thinking that if something comes up that is a character I haven’t played before or that really interests me, then I’ll look at it. I hadn’t thought about a soap and, at the time, I had my new book coming out and I was doing other things, so it was just like ‘Oh, I’ll go in and meet them.’ And then when they told me about the character, I thought ‘She sounds really interesting, I think I’d be a fool to turn her down!’”

What can you tell us about Fi?
“She’s a no-nonsense businesswoman; she knows what she wants and she’s very good at getting it. She’s very confident and she’s very good at charming people. She is great fun to play. I think she’s going to be more fun to play in the future.”

Can you tell us anything about her romantic situation?
“No, I can’t! I was having drinks with somebody the other day and they went ‘I bet you’re going to get with Jack Branning’ and I was going ‘I don’t know’ and they went ‘You do know!’ and I was like ‘Really, I have no idea!’ I don’t think romance is in her vision, but I may be wrong…”

Can you identify with Fi?
“There are similarities, but at the moment, there’s a lot of business speak, which I don’t understand. I spend the whole time asking my boyfriend (chef John Torode), ‘What does this mean?’”

How did you feel seeing the Queen Vic for the first time?
“It was terrifying! It’s funny because I hadn’t watched EastEnders for a very long time, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not iconic. I actually said to the production team two days before I started filming, ‘Can I please go and see the studio and The Vic and see some filming in it?’ So I did that and it sort of dispelled it a bit. But it’s still daunting! It’s like ‘I’m in The Vic!’”

 

Does it help that you filmed Holby City at the same studios in Elstree where EastEnders is filmed?
“Yes, I know pretty much everybody there, and I know where everything is. It is almost like putting on your favourite pyjamas. I hadn’t been on set for a while and then when I went on and started my lines, I was so nervous. But within two minutes, I was like ‘Oh, I know how to do this.’ It was really exciting!”

Was there an element of thinking ‘Have I forgotten how to do it?’
“I’ve acted for so many years that I knew that that bit would be okay. It was more the speed of EastEnders that I was scared of, because all anyone had ever said was that you get there and it’s just scene after scene after scene, and I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh that’s just going to be terrifying!’”

Which is more intense, filming Celebrity MasterChef or filming EastEnders?
“MasterChef, by far! MasterChef is the most intense, terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. I didn’t sleep the day before I started filming EastEnders, but I think most nights on Masterchef I didn’t sleep. I had a notebook by the bed with diagrams of how I was going to cook something, or a recipe written down of what I could do if there was an invention test. That was really scary, whereas the minute I got to EastEnders, it was like ‘Oh, this is nice.’ Hopefully it stays that way!”

Have you’ve worked with anyone in the cast before?
“There are quite a few people I’ve worked with or met before. I did a show called What’s Cooking? and interviewed Bonnie Langford (Carmel) and Natalie Cassidy (Sonia), and I tasted Scott Maslen’s (Jack) food on MasterChef. I was really scared, because I couldn’t remember what I’d said about his dishes!”

Have you clicked with anyone?
“Luisa Bradshaw-White (Tina) and I clicked straight away, and Linda Henry (Shirley) has been lovely. But I was very lucky in that I have an ice breaker of a puppy – a Miniature Schnauzer called Rory – and on my second day filming, the person who was supposed to look after her couldn’t, so I brought her into work. Everyone was like ‘Oh my god!’ So there’s a tip – if you start a new job, bring a puppy!”

How does your partner John feel about you joining the show?
“He was like ‘This is ace!’ and I was like ‘Really? I thought you might be a bit worried about losing me to Elstree!’ But he’s a really big EastEnders fan. They gave me cards of all the characters and we laid them out on the bench in the kitchen. He knew all the names, and which family they were in.”

And what have your best friends, Angela Griffin and Nicola Stephenson, said?
“My mates are just the best in the land – I’m godmother to their children, and they’re godmothers to my daughter (Billie, 10). When I said I was going back to acting, they said ‘That’s brilliant, that’s what you should be doing!’ I said ‘What do you mean, it’s what I should be doing? Do you think I shouldn’t be cooking?’ They were like ‘No, we love you cooking, but this is what you do!’ Angela said to me: ‘Somewhere, I think you’d forgotten you had this other thing that you really love.’

Have you missed acting?
I didn’t realise I missed it until I started doing it again. I suppose when you’re cooking and doing cookery shows, you are yourself but it’s a persona, you’re sort of acting in a way but obviously not playing a character, and I’d forgotten that buzz. I did a scene recently with Linda Henry – she gave me a look and I gave her a look back, and for a minute, it didn’t feel like acting; it felt real. Those moments, that buzz, there’s nothing like it! I didn’t realise how very much I’d missed it.”

Have any of the cast asked you for cookery tips?
“Tameka Empson (Kim), who’s a ball of energy, came up to me and said ‘I’ve got so much to talk to you about; I love cakes!’ and Adam Woodyatt (Ian) is obsessed with cooking, so we’ve had quite a few chats about food.”

Have you brought any home-made food in?
“I did on my second day. I’d made a big polenta cake with honey, but forgotten to put the baking powder in, so I ended up doing two. I brought it in for the crew and said ‘It tastes exactly the same as the other one, would you like it?’ They were like ‘Would we like it? Of course we’d like it; you can bring cake in whenever you want!’”

So you’re a chef, an actress, a presenter, and you’ve done modelling – are there any jobs you’ve done that we don’t know about?
I worked in a pub for a while, and a chemist’s, and I worked in the lingerie department at Bentalls department store in Kingston, so I had to learn how to measure bras. I think out of those three, the pub was the best one.”

 Would you ever like to open your own café or restaurant?
“I’d really like a deli. I love doing pickles, jams and chutneys. I can just see myself with jars and scripts – I’d be trying to learn things and make stuff at the same time! And what I really want to do are 30-cover restaurants. John says to me: ‘But they don’t make any money!” but I don’t want to do it to make money; I just want to feed people. You’d have a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts, and people would just come in and eat and have a nice time.”

 Now that you’re in EastEnders, is John going to be doing more of the cooking at home?
“Yes, which is always good because it means that we get loads of Asian food, and lovely curries. But he is working away in May and June, so I’ll have to batch cook!”