The actress Zoe Henry talks us through what's in store for her soap alter-ego, as Rhona returns to Emmerdale and names husband Pierce as the man who raped her...

The next chapter of Emmerdale‘s controversial rape storyline is coming our way, as Rhona returns to the village after a stint in rehab, closely followed by husband Pierce – a move that prompts the vet to finally name him to police as her rapist. Actress Zoe Henry gives us the low-down on the challenge ahead for her soap character, and reveals why, despite this dark material, she feels like one of the luckiest women in the world…

On screen, Rhona is currently in rehab for her painkiller addiction. What do you think has been going through her mind while she’s been away?
I think she’s done a lot of what she has been doing before rehab, which is trying to bury the rape and not think about it. So she’s been questioning everything. Is this her fault? She’s blaming herself really, for not seeing the signs and for letting Pierce in. And then, of course, there’s the layered guilt of giving into her drug habit again. That was a bit of a comfort blanket when she needed it, and she feels guilty about letting her son Leo down again, and also Paddy and Marlon. “

Does she feel apprehensive about coming back to the village?
She’s terrified, because she still has no real idea of where Pierce is and what he’s doing. It’s over a month since the rape, and he has not been heard of, and that’s quite disconcerting. She’s on tenterhooks, thinking, ‘Is he going to suddenly reappear, or has he gone forever?’

“She’s managed to get her drug habit under control again and she’s really confident that she’s got that licked, but she’s scared that anything can knock her off kilter again. And she’s not sure how she’ll react if she sees him again. It’s that flight or fight situation. Is she going to just lose all her senses, or is she going to find an inner strength? She doesn’t know how she’ll be until that actually happens.”

Rhona has reported the rape to police, but hasn’t yet named Pierce as her attacker. Why is that?
I think there’s a part of her that not necessarily blames herself for the rape, but takes a bit of it on – she thinks it’s a little bit her fault that she got herself into that situation. She didn’t see the signs. She ignored all the warnings and ploughed ahead and did what she wanted to do, and it has backfired appallingly. But also, once the name of Pierce Harris is given to the police, it’s out there, and that’s a really hard thing for any woman, because you kind of have to own it then.

“Rhona’s thinking: ‘I’m going to have to publicly relive what he did to me. I’m going to have to churn it all up and tell everybody. I’m humiliated enough and I feel degraded and a wreck – have I got the strength to go through with this? And what if I do go through with it, and Pierce, being this incredibly manipulative, articulate, smart guy, twists it and doesn’t go down for it? Then what?'”

Would it help Rhona if Pierce held his hands up and admitted responsibility for his crime?
“I think there would be a certain resolution in that, but it will never take away what he did to her and how that has made her feel. But I don’t imagine Pierce will ever be able to do that. I’ve always said that in some ways, the day after the rape was even worse for Rhona, when there was no remorse, and no apology and a ‘Come on, pull yourself together woman.'”

Pierce has proved himself to be a master manipulator. When Rhona finally reports him, is she expecting him to try and twist things?
“Yeah, she knows. She can try and dress it up and pretend it will be all right and that she’s brave and strong, but he’s manipulated her for 18 months, so she knows what he’s capable of – as does Vanessa. He knows the law, and he knows how to talk himself out of literally anything. He’s a professional. He’s got a clean track record and he’s never done anything like this before, to our knowledge.”

What response are you getting from viewers about this storyline? Do they keep telling you that they want Pierce to go to prison?
Yes, people do want justice. And the amount of people that have stopped me in the supermarket or grabbed me on the street and said, ‘Oh my god, that guy is evil!’ is all testament to Johnny Wrather, who has played this storyline so brilliantly.”

Would you say this is one of your most challenging storylines to date?
Yes. I mean, I can’t say I’ve loved it, in that the content is so dark, but I have absolutely loved working with Jonathan Wrather so closely, and Dominic Brunt (Paddy), because we really put the hours in and have really worked hard on it. Everybody has, and let’s not forget the writers. Some of the scripts we get are just amazing; you think, ‘Oh my god, how have they thought this up?’

“I love my job, and I love working on the show. I make no secret of it. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world, and I know that Jeff (husband Jeff Hordley, who plays Cain) feels the same.”