Shane Richie stars as slimy publicity agent, JJ Merrick, in Whatever It Takes, an ITV1 drama about the pitfalls of celebrity life. Here, the former EastEnders’ star talks about his new role…

JJ is not a nice guy like many of your previous roles. Were you surprised to be offered the part?
“It’s not the kind of part I expected a casting director to ever consider me for. The characters I tend to play always wear their hearts on their sleeves and are emotionally laden. But in this my character is totally devoid of any emotion. He’s very cold and calculating and totally different to the chirpy chappy roles – like Alfie Moon in EastEnders – that I usually get offered.”

You’ve been acting, singing and presenting for decades – what do you make of the fame game?
“People think that being famous is all about glitz and glamour but what they don’t know about is the darker side of fame. Or just how fleeting instant fame can be, especially if you don’t have any actual talent. I can honestly say that after nearly 30 years in this business I’ve met a few JJs and Daisys in my time. That’s why I wanted to do this film, because I think it’s so true to life – and I should know!”

So how would you describe JJ?
“I do think JJ is a bit of heartless bastard and I’m not sure how people are going to take to him if I’m honest! He is very unlike other characters I have played in the past. Compared to Alfie in EastEnders, or my roles in The Good Samaritan or What We Did On Our Holiday, where these characters wore their hearts on their sleeve and had emotional baggage, JJ is just devoid of any emotion!”

He must have some redeeming features…
“I’m not sure that it is an attractive trait to have, but once I got a bit more inside his mind, I realised that there was something very likeable about JJ – he is very straight, honest, and he doesn’t bull**** anyone. Paula (Milne, the writer) has written a fantastic script and occasionally you see chinks in JJ’s armour, but he is pretty quick at shutting his emotional doors down.”

Are you enjoying playing a baddie for a change?
“For any actor, variety is the spice of life. There is nothing wrong with the characters I have played in the past, but occasionally you want to show people you have other little tricks up your sleeve. This character also reminds me of when I used to do stand up comedy or host light entertainment shows because JJ talks down the barrel of the camera to the viewers at home. Some actors aren’t used to that because you usually have to avoid looking at the camera completely, but when I realised that this had to be done for the part, I found that element quite comforting because of my years of being on stage.”

Did you have to do much research for the role?
“I didn’t have to do too much research for the role because Paula had included so much detail in her scripts, and I know people in the PR world. Of course the first name that springs to mind is Max Clifford because he is probably the most well-known PR – he represents people like Rebecca Loos, Jodie Marsh and Abi Titmuss, so is very similar to my character. But I have not modelled JJ on him – I don’t think Max is as ruthless as JJ.”

And what do you make of the new breed of celebrities – the ones of grace our newspapers most days?
“I have met the Jodie Marshs and Jordans of this world and Chantelle Houghton was a guest star for a red carpet scene in this drama and was lovely, but most of them just thrive for column inches in the papers and magazines. They aren’t too bothered about the content. It’s a big business and that’s what this is all about. The real talent is people doing the groundwork and keeping hold of their career. I have a lot of friends who are actors that are out of the business because there is a lot of money being ploughed into reality shows.”

What does the word celebrity mean today?
“The word ‘celebrity’ seems to mean nothing these days. I remember when I started out in the business about 28 years ago, and the term ‘celebrity’ was seen as someone who was a huge star, usually known worldwide. But ‘celebrity’ now has become a dirty word. You ask most kids what they want to do when they grow up, and all they say these days is ‘I want to be a famous’… it’s worrying.”

What’s your opinion of reality TV shows?
“I’m fine with it if someone has a talent – whether they can sing or act and are using these shows to get back in the public eye. I suppose a good example is Joe Pasquale – he is a very funny man who clearly has a talent. But when I see people go on TV shows purely because they want a taste of fame so they can eat at The Ivy, or get to the front of the queue at a nightclub, I detest and loathe them.”

Are you busy working at the moment?
“I have purposely decided, at this moment in time, not to get involved in a big series and have just agreed to do one-off films or dramas. It has been great because it means I can work on something for three or four weeks and then spend more time with my family, and I couldn’t do that before.”

What keeps you feeling young and down with the kids?
“My boys keep me young, I enjoy going to the football with them, and in fact they who told me to do Skins! I’d never heard of the C4 series before but they told me it was the coolest thing ever for teenagers and I must do it, so I did. I am very proud of them. They’re growing into really decent young men. I still see and speak to my ex-wife Coleen (Nolan) all the time. I think she’s great on Loose Women, really funny and she is made up that Christie and I are expecting another baby this summer.”