Three years ago Les Dennis, 67, got a wake-up call when blood tests revealed he was pre-diabetic. The actor, entertainer and comedian decided to completely overhaul his lifestyle and through exercise and healthier eating, managed to reverse the diagnosis.
"I was 65 and knew I needed to sort myself out," says Les, who this week stars in an episode of Jimmy McGovern’s acclaimed BBC1 daytime drama anthology, Moving On, as it returns for a twelfth series.
Here Les, who plays retired divorcé Joe, tells us why he could relate to his character, how he felt about landing his first lead role in a BBC drama and why he had a ball working with old mates in Moving On Season 12.
Les Dennis on his role in BBC drama Moving On
Tell us about Joe, what’s he like?
"He’s 65, he’s a bit disillusioned, he’s divorced from his ex wife, Laura (former Emmerdale star Kelli Hollis), recently retired and has chronic arthritis that makes moving difficult. He’s clearly done well in his life, he’s got a nice house, a devoted daughter (played by Atomic Kitten singer Liz McClarnon) but his entire focus now is going to the rugby club with his three mates for beers, pie night, steak night and fish and chips night! He’s kind of given up on everything else."
How did you feel about being offered the role?
"I was absolutely thrilled. Even though I’ve done shows like Coronation Street and been in TV dramas, this is my first lead role so that’s been really lovely for me. Jimmy McGovern, who created Moving On and mentors the writers of the episodes, is fantastic and the series proves how great daytime drama can be. What I love most is the stories are always relatable and of course, inspiring, because it’s about people changing their lives for the better in some way."
In what ways could you relate to Joe?
"When I turned 64 and was told I was pre-diabetic I wasn’t in the best shape. As luck would have it, that same year I was asked to take part in Sports Relief along with Miles Jupp, Tameka Empson and Susannah Constantine. The four of us were given a rigorous fitness regime and did this massive challenge called the Tough Guy. I also have some arthritis like Joe so I could identify with that. I had a knee replacement recently. I definitely knew how to play the pain he was going through."
Michael Starke, Ted Robbins, Jake Abrahams and Louis Emerick play Joe’s close-knit group of mates. Did you know any of them beforehand?
"Yes, all of them! Ted and I did a big panto with Cilla Black in 2008 in Liverpool, Jake and I were in a play together, The Miracle of Great Homer Street, a couple of years ago at the Royal Court Theatre, Louis and I crossed paths on Brookside and Mickey and I did Hairspray together. He played Edna and I was Wilbur, so I got to kiss Mickey Starke eight times a day on stage! It was great to all be together in this. There is a lot of banter between the characters with very caustic humour but also some real emotion too and some very touching moments."
You had to film some gruelling exercise routines for this. It looked exhausting!
"Yes, the routines were pretty fierce and we filmed in the middle of last summer when it was absolutely baking hot. I was wearing what Joe calls, his ‘Banana-Man’ lycra, which was not the most flattering but again, the show made me come away and think, ‘Right, I’ve got to keep the exercise up’. So I’ve got myself an exercise bike at home and I sill go out walking as much as possible. Walking has always been my main exercise."
You’ve had such a varied career. What do fans recognise you from most?
"I used to get the buzzer noise from Family Fortunes all the time but nowadays it’s all different things. I’m lucky because I’ve played nice guys that people tend to like. When I was in Coronation Street playing Michael (Rodwell), I worked with Conor McIntyre, who starred as the big villain, Phelan. He would get publicly told off in the street, with people shouting, ‘What are you doing!’ and ‘You leave Michael alone!’ The public can take it very personally. I’ve been lucky so far not to get abuse on the streets!"
The first episode of Moving On will be shown on Monday March 8, BBC1 at 2.15pm. Les's episode airs on Wednesday March 10 at 2.15pm with the box set available on iPlayer.
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