Jake Wood: 'This Christmas EastEnders script is the best I've read since 2007!'

Max Branning EastEnders
(Image credit: BBC/Kieron McCarron)

This Christmas is going to be an explosive one for the Brannings. We caught up with Jake Wood to ask what's in store for Max...

What’s Max’s mental state after it all comes out about his lies, manipulation etc? It’s complicated, isn’t it? After it gets revealed in the pub with Wilmott-Brown. I think up to the point they get to the pub, Max is still on board with everything in terms of what he can get out of it. The contract he’s got is 20 per cent of the total development site, which to my mind is millions of pounds, so the stakes are high. Max is so deep in with those guys, he’s gone so far, that they march into the pub... they basically tell the Carters to get out of the pub, and they have a drink with Wilmott-Brown, and Max is very much looking forward to that. They have a whisky before, and it feels like the end of a good business deal.

But then there’s a big betrayal… He burns the contract. He doesn’t see it coming, he knew they were shady businessmen, but he’s quite an astute guy, he feels that in any business situation he can handle himself. But he’s been outmanoeuvred.

Does he hide away, or does he become even more bitter and hardened? Yes, and I think a big part of that is Fi’s proposal. That was complicated as well. I think Fi has got feelings for Max. I think those feelings are genuine, I think they had a real connection and again he’s put his eggs into that basket. They’ve got big plans, they’re gonna get the money, they’re gonna move away but because there is pressure from her dad and the family, and the threat that they’ll cut her out if she goes off with Max, she decides to side with her dad and for whatever reason she decides she can’t go through with the marriage and no longer be with Max, and he put all of his hopes into that relationship and that was going to be his future. So once again, he’s hit a brick wall. I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do. Jack is the one who takes him under his wing, tries to guide him and support him. Max is totally isolated, everyone on the Square knows what he has been up to, he’s a pariah, and he’s got no girlfriend, he’s got no money, he’s got no job. Walford is a very close community, everyone knows, the cat’s out of the bag, so that reveal for him was supposed to be joyful, successful moment, but he’s cut loose from everyone and I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do. He’s in a traumatic mental state.

It’s gone wrong with his daughters again… He attempts to build bridges. Lauren is very much blaming him. She still works at Weylands, she realises that will come to an end, cos Max has got her into there and obviously he knew what they were up to, and I don’t think Lauren knows, but she blames him for jeopardises her future as well. What she’d hoped for was based on a lie. I think Abi’s a little bit more forgiving, but yeah, a lot of anger from Lauren.

Do you think there is any way back for Max? Yeah, I always thought so.  I don’t think Max is inherently bad, I think he’s very troubled, he’s had a horrible time in prison and we’ll find out more about that in the next few weeks and over Christmas, so yeah, he’s a man who has been abandoned by a lot of people, and he has a lot of anger towards people and probably doesn’t know how best to go about dealing with it. It’s interesting for me to get to this point, and to think ‘where do you go from here?'

What about leaving Jane to die in a burning building? And there is a voicemail doing the rounds! The voicemail! A ticking timebomb!

How do you justify Max’s actions in the Jane situation? You’ve got to see it context of what was happening at that time. He’s making bad decisions.

Does he regret what he did to Jane? At this moment, no. I think Max has got a very strong sense of right and wrong. Of course he knows that he shouldn’t have done it, but if you asked him he would probably say. ‘I don’t care. They all deserve it’.

Has he underestimated Jane? He thinks she’s gone, and she’s left this message… I think he felt he’s dealt with her and that’s the end of that. I don’t think he feels any threat from her.

So if he found out about the voicemail? It would be a shock, yeah.

It’s 10 years since the Great DVD reveal at Christmas 2007. Is that referenced in your scenes with Lacey? We’ve got Simon Ashdown back! It’s not referenced explicitly. The beauty of Simon’s writing is what is often not said. He understands those characters inside out. He created Max, he created the Brannings. That Max/Stacey relationship is very much Simon’s baby. What he creates is these moments between characters where they’re just electric, but there’s not much being said. With those characters, I think that will always be there. It’s a delight to have Simon back, because he understands the characters so thoroughly.All of those moments are all there, there’s not necessarily much that has to be said. Honestly, they’re beautifully written. The lead up to Christmas is some of the most action-packed, week-on-week stuff I’ve seen. Some of these episodes, normally it would be like the end of six-month storyline. It’s action-packed and they culminate with Simon’s episodes at Christmas and they’re amazing!

How does this Christmas compare with the 2007 episodes? In terms of what I’ve read, they’re the best I’ve read since 07! Are the viewers going to feel better or worse than Max on Christmas Day? They’ll feel a lot better than Max!

Will they feel sorry for him? I don’t know!

How did you feel playing that Christmas episode? We’ll have to wait and see! I think it raises the question of how redeemable Max is beyond it. Christmas will be a big teller of that. It will give you a good indicator of that.

Do you think it’s a case of the more misery, the better for an EastEnders Christmas? I think people enjoy a bit of that, don’t they? Everyone looks forward to the EastEnders Christmas. Everyone likes a bit of drama on Christmas Day, and they expect that of EastEnders. The best kind of drama comes, not out of the blue, out of a well-structured, well thought out big build up. The Max and Stacey reveal was a year. That affair started the Christmas before, and finished in 07. It’s a delicate balance in stretching out the storyline, but you need that time. That’s why that Christmas was so memorable. I feel that this is the same situation. Max has been back a year now. A lot of this was set in motion by Sean [O'Connor, EastEnders' executive producer], and I’m a big fan of his. If you look at all the elements, over the last year, leading up to this, it feels exactly the same as 07. This really goes back to Who Killed Lucy? We’re still playing out the same story. For me, those are the best payoffs, because everyone has invested over a long period of time. Are you sad about the girls going? Of course, yeah. They’re not done yet, so it will be tough to film those final scenes. Lorna I’ve known since she was 10, Jacqueline not quite as long. They’re great, they’ll be fine. You forget how young they are. Lorna’s still 21, got a long career ahead of her, Jac the same. They’re incredibly talented and I look forward to seeing what they go onto.

You’ve had some great actors to play opposite. Yeah! I love working with Lisa, I thought they work well together as characters. Lisa’s so good.

What about Carmel? It’s kind of tragic, isn’t it? Max has kind of got feelings for Carmel, but because of the situation, he’s got other stuff going on, he knows it’s not going to go anywhere. On the face of it, she’s like the perfect woman for him. She adores him, she would look after him, she really cares for him. Max is his own worst enemy. We saw that with Tanya, whatever he’s got in front of him, he just can’t see it. He’s too preoccupied with what else is going on.

What are your Christmas plans? Just at home with the kids. I’m going to see the episodes before they go out. I’m looking forward to seeing them. They’ve been hard work, but hopefully it will pay off and everyone will enjoy them. It’s been a long year, Max has been up to all sorts. He’s been doing a lot of lurking about. I enjoyed my year off, but it’s been fab to get back and straight into the thick of it.

Alison Slade
Soaps Editor
Alison Slade has over 20 years of experience as a TV journalist and has spent the vast majority of that time as Soap Editor of TV Times magazine.  She is passionate about the ability of soaps to change the world by presenting important, issue-based stories about real people in a relatable way. There are few soap actors that she hasn’t interviewed over the years, and her expertise in the genre means she has been called upon as a judge numerous times for The British Soap Awards and the BAFTA TV Awards.

When she is not writing about soaps, watching soaps, or interviewing people who are in soaps, she loves going to the theatre, taking a long walk or pottering about at home, obsessing over Farrow and Ball paint.