Bronagh Waugh talks to What’s on TV about making the leap from fun-loving Cheryl Brady in Hollyoaks to serious Sally Ann Spector in The Fall (BBC2, Thursday). She also reveals what it’s like to be part of BBC2’s exciting serial killer thriller with Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson.
But you’ll never guess which of her co-stars left her star-struck and tongue-tied…
There is a big difference between your Hollyoaks character Cheryl and Sally Ann Spector. Was this intentional on your part?
“It was a conscious decision. I wasn’t going to leave Hollyoaks unless it was for something really special. I really enjoyed my time on the soap. I’m so grateful for the opportunities they gave me and I loved playing Cheryl. She was this larger-than-life comedic character, though certainly, towards the end of my time on Hollyoaks I did more serious material. I was looking for something [different] and was really attracted to roles that showed more serious side to me.”
Were The Fall producers aware of your work on Hollyoaks before you auditioned for the part of a serial killer’s wife?
“It was brilliant, when I walked in for the casting of The Fall they didn’t know I was in Hollyoaks. I was delighted to be taken at face value for the performance I did on the day.”
Did the script grab you from the start?
“The scripts are so special. And it was such a departure for me to play someone so measured and contained as Sally Ann. I savoured it! I only started to have confidence to do less when I got The Fall. The writing is so elegant that if you do your prep work, you don’t have to push so hard. It’s been a great lesson to learn.”
Apart from the fact Sally Ann doesn’t know she’s married to a serial killer – would you say that, in many other ways, she’s a modern Irish mother and woman?
“I was going for a contemporary Irish mother. I drew on people I know back home in Ireland and Northern Ireland. They’re 30-something city women and working professionals, who also have children. As a cast and crew we’ve been so proud to show contemporary Belfast in The Fall. It’s the Belfast people now know. The Fall’s creator Allan Cubitt spent so much time in Northern Ireland, he practically lives there now. He’s really fond of the people and their spark. He captures the depth and edge really well.”
When we catch up with Sally Ann in the second series her marriage is on the rocks, but she still has no idea her husband Paul (Jamie Dornan) is the Belfast Strangler. What can you tell us?
“The second series picks up 10 days after the first one finished. Sally Ann is pregnant and her thoughts and hormones are all over the place. She’s decided to tentatively try and give things a go with her husband, since finding out he had an affair with the babysitter. Sally Ann’s not willing to throw the entire marriage away, so she’s in a tricky position. Her head’s all over the place!”
As DSI Stella Gibson’s investigation into Spector heats up, we understand his family are put under surveillance. Does Sally Ann any inkling about her husband’s true identity?
“I can’t say too much about that! In series one we concentrated on Sally Ann’s life as a neonatal nurse, wife and mother. This season it’s more about her family life and how she copes with different things. It would be awful to spoil it, so you need to watch it to see!”
Last year you didn’t have any scenes with Gillian Anderson. As the investigation changes, do you get to work with her this year?
“I couldn’t possibly say! But I can tell you during the first series I used to sneak in and watch Gillian work on the monitor. I’d sit there with the director and sound guys just trying to sponge and learn from her. She’s a fantastic actor, and I really relished the chance to learn from someone with her experience. Acting is a craft you’re constantly learning and honing.”
Were you star-struck?
“No, not at all. She’s such a lovely, kind and warm person. The one person I was star struck with was John Lynch. I’d watched him so much as a child and admired his work – and he’s so tall! When he walked into the make-up truck I felt my voice going into a strange falsetto!”
Has The Fall been a career game-changer for you?
“It has, and it’s weird! When I left Hollyoaks I was sent a bunch of stuff that was similar to Cheryl, but I was keen to stay away from that. Now I’ve just started being sent different scripts, which is a lovely new thing.”
Would you say The Fall is the thing you’re most proud of at this stage of your career?
“Absolutely. I’m proud of every job I’ve ever done and learned from every one, but The Fall has a very special place in my heart. I’m really proud of the show.”