As Emma Barton's killer secret looks in danger of being exposed at The Woolpack's "psychic night," we probe actress Gillian Kearney about playing the nutty nurse...
Gillian, we’re always being asked if Emma will get her commupance for causing James’s death – do you get that too? "People do constantly ask, and say 'You’re such a terrible piece of work and you’ve got to get your commupance!' It’s usually in conventional places like the supermarket, but Joe Gill, who plays Finn, told me that someone was beeping him once on the motorway. They told him to wind the window down, so he did, and he looked across and the guy said: 'Your mum killed your dad!'"
A lot of actors defend their characters’ actions. Do you feel sorry for Emma? "I feel really sorry for Emma; I always have. You have to try and inhabit that person and see what makes them tick, and use something as a trigger. What happened to her was she was robbed of 22 years of raising her children because she was mentally fragile and had post-natal depression, and also there was James’s relationship with Moira in the mix. So I see her as a victim."
Is she a difficult character to play, in the sense that she’s not an out and out villain, and is “normal” most of the time? "That’s actually a saving grace of the character, because you’re not playing the same beat, and being a one trick pony. I see her as very normal, but if you press the wrong buttons, she tries to defend what she’s got. At the core of Emma is trying to keep her family together, and everything else is informed by that."
How does Emma react to Faith Dingle’s claims this week that she’s in touch with the spirit world? "Emma’s completely freaked out, because she loved James, and to think that his spirit could actually be trying to get through to her. It goes beyond 'I might be found out'; it’s to do with 'this person might have a message for me'. She’s terrified of Faith, actually, and we all know what Emma does when she gets frightened..."
How far, hypothetically, would Emma go to keep Faith quiet? "She’ll do anything to keep those boys close, and she’s not going to let a woman who she doesn’t respect come between them. Emma sees Faith as a drunk and a bad mother. So she doesn’t respect her, and this woman could actually be her undoing."
Do you think it’s important for Emma to get her commupance? "Yes, of course. I think the soap gods must be obeyed, ultimately. You have to respect the viewers, and you know what they want – they know everything, and they want to see justice be served in some way or other, whether it be morally or physically."
Is the thought of being vilified by her boys more terrifying for Emma than the thought of being locked up? "Absolutely! For Emma, it’s all about her family, and making up for lost time with her boys. If they saw her through different eyes, that would be the end. The most devastating punishment for her would be if they stopped loving her."
How would Emma cope if she were sent to prison?
"She’d be so ashamed, especially with the road she’s now on which is that she’s discovered god. She’s desperately seeking a way to overcome this, so to then be sent down to prison would absolutely destroy her."
Is there anything Emma-like about you? "There’s plenty of maternal love - I’ve only got one boy (five year old John) not three, but I absolutely worship him. What’s great about this job is that I haven’t had to relocate from my home in Liverpool, so even if I’m in the last scene of the day, I still manage to put him in the bath and put him to bed. I can’t really engage with the fragility, thank God - I think you’ve got to be quite strong, mentally as an actress. And Emma’s got much more personality than me! I’m very steady, which is quite boring!"
Emmerdale, ITV, Monday - Friday, 7pm
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.
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