Ex-EastEnders star Jo Joyner on her new role: ‘It’s nice to play someone who’s happy for once!’

Ex-EastEnder Jo Joyner has talked to Soaplife about why her new drama role is nothing like Tanya, co-star Mark Benton, and family life in the Midlands.

Actress Jo Joyner recently popped up in EastEnders again as grieving mum Tanya Cross, struggling to deal with the tragic death of daughter Abi Branning. Fortunately for Jo, her new TV role in BBC1 daytime series Shakespeare & Hathaway is a much less grim affair!

“I play Lu Shakespeare, who goes into business with private investigator Frank Hathaway, played by Mark Benton,” Jo told Soaplife. “Lu’s a hairdresser and she’s about to get married. It’s a bit of a whirlwind romance and she doesn’t know much about this man, so she’s hired Frank to check him out and, let’s just say, things are discovered! As a result, Lu decides on a change of life and she buys into Frank’s business. Frank’s got no choice about it really because his business is about to go bust.”

Former EastEnders star Jo Joyner tells Soaplife more…

Soaplife: Have you and Mark worked together before?

Jo Joyner: “We had one moment on Second Coming by Russell T Davies, which was years ago. I was quite new, but Mark was very lovely to me because I was quite nervous. We were playing superfans with Christopher Ecclestone as Jesus Christ. I was nervous and I remember thinking he was really funny and very nice.”

Jo Joyner and Mark Benton star in this new daytime weekday drama, brought together when Lu Shakespeare (Jo) asks private investigator Frank Hathaway (Mark) to find out if her fiancé is having an affair.

S: Lu and Frank (pictured above) seem like an unlikely pairing. What’s the dynamic like between them?

JJ: “They’re like chalk and cheese! Lu’s very bubbly, positive and upbeat, which makes people open up to her, while Frank’s an old hand and he’s a lot more cynical.”

S: Are they good detectives?

JJ: “No! They’re not always brilliant at their job and I like that about it. It’s not some slick murder thing where we head in there and go, ‘I’ve got this cracked!’ It’s sometimes a bit fumbling. Lu thinks, ‘I’m on it!’ and he’s looking at her like she’s mad because she’s not on it at all. I really like that dynamic. It lightens it.”

S: Are you similar to Lu in anyway?

JJ: “Lu wears lots of bright colours and she drives a red mini convertible, whereas I’m always in black! I’m not quite as bubbly, but I’m definitely a positive person like her. It’s nice to play someone who’s happy for once and to step away from heavy drama!”

S: How important is the beautiful Midlands location to the show?

JJ: “It’s important to me because it’s close to my home! But there are plusses and minuses. For example, I’m having to go home to do the packed lunches and the washing rather than sit in a hotel room, read lines and relax. But I’m getting to do something lovely and work from home. Also, in terms of the stories, we’ve got such beautiful buildings and countryside in the Midlands.”

S: Do you have a nicer work life balance now you’ve relocated from London?

JJ: “It’s worked out well. For the last three years, I’ve managed to finish all my contracts before the summer holidays. So I’ve had eight weeks off with my husband and my children because he’s a teacher. That’s something I couldn’t have done if I was still working full-time in something like EastEnders.”

S: You’ve still been on screen a lot recently!

JJ: “I seem to have been doing two jobs at once a lot over the last year and a half. When I was doing Ackley Bridge, I was also doing Mount Pleasant at the same time. Then I did Porters quickly after that. When you’re self-employed, it’s hard to say ‘No’ to things. But I did turn some stuff down. The kids are little and I wanted to make sure I spent time with them. But acting can be a nomadic job.”

S: Are you looking forward to seeing Shakespeare and Hathaway: Private Investigators on TV?

JJ: “I am. It’s a bit quaint and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It also a gentle and offbeat sense of humour that will appeal to audiences.”

S: Do you still get recognised all the time?

JJ: “Yes. Generally everyone is really friendly, but sometimes people still think you’re in a box in the corner of their rooms, like you’re some kind of specimen! A while ago, I was on a break at Center Parcs with my husband and my kids, and there was this woman who was fully clothed in the swimming bit with a video camera. I was coming out of the pool with my twins and she was filming me blatantly and I thought, ‘This isn’t right. I’m with my kids!’ It was surreal!”

Shakespeare & Hathaway begins on BBC1 on Monday 26 February at 2.15 pm.

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