'Coronation Street' star Katherine Kelly chats to Linda McGee about playing Weatherfield's feisty Becky McDonald, the taming influence that Roy Cropper has had on her character and why she feels that the soap is always "made with love".
Softly-spoken, warm and chatty, the popular actress says that she wouldn't enjoy playing the character half as much if she was to lose her endearing "bad girl" streak.
Linda McGee: You've been playing Becky in 'Coronation Street' for a couple of years now Katherine and I'm sure you've loved all the changes that she's gone through but how did you first feel about the character when you read the scripts?
Katherine Kelly: Well, it was only a three-month contract and I really like playing bad girls. And I'd just been in the Royal Shakespare Company, not playing bad girls at all, playing princesses and cheeky maids and that kind of thing. So I liked the idea of playing her. I'd done a movie called 'Mischief Night' in which I'd played a heroin addict and I'd had seven days filming on that and I really loved it. It was a kind of like 'Shameless'. It's by the makers of 'Shameless', so it was a lot darker than 'Corrie' but I really enjoyed it. I had my shell-suit on and I had a baby. It was quite horrendous really but I enjoyed playing it as an actress.
So when the part of Becky came along, and she was homeless, I just thought that it was a great storyline, the fact that she was gonna befriend Kelly and then steal from her and get sent to prison and that would be the end. So I just approached it as a job the same as any job. It was for three months and that was it really. I thought it was a good part and a good story to get my teeth into and that was that. And then after about a month the writers and the producers said 'We really like this character. We think we can take her further' so they kind of softened the ending a little bit so she wasn't too bad, even though she was still pretty bad. She just kind of drifted off. It wasn't sort of an ending. And then - they write kind of four to six months in advance, so they brought me back as soon as they could really. Even when I left, I'm very kind of practical, you know... my dad's very much the Irish dreamer and my mum is about the Yorkshire 'absolute practicalities' and so I've got a real mix of the two and I think my 'practicality Yorkshire' side kicked in and I thought 'Until I'm actually back on the set I'm not going to believe it'. You know, if you had a penny for everything... So I just kinda put it in a box and that was that.
So when I came back, because she was with Roy and Hayley and now I'd signed a three-year-deal, that means there are kind of options. They're not necessarily three years but they've marked that out for you. So I thought 'This is a kind of new character really', even though it wasn't, but when you start looking at something long-term you don't want to put everything out there at once, which you do when it's three months. But when you've got to make something last a long time you've got to do it slowly or else the audience get bored. And then of course there was a different dynamic being with Roy and Hayley, who wanted to see the good in her, whereas Kelly wanted to see the bad in her.
LM: Yes, poor Roy and Hayley really championed her from the beginning, didn't they? Do you think they were responsible for the changing Becky that we see now? She still has that feisty element but there's a lot more compassion and softness there, right?
KK: Yeah, well they just kind of became her parents really, especially Roy when Hayley was away. He sort of told her that it wasn't OK to behave like that. And, for the first time in her life, it wasn't somebody who was being a dictator with her. He was just saying 'That's not good enough and that really hurts me'. And it was like teaching a small child really, everything – manners, respect. They did it in a very good way. Straight away when she started working in the café she started stealing from the till but she put it back because she couldn't understand why she felt bad, you know? I think really that relationship between Roy and Becky is what the public always liked because people like a bad girl, right? You know, like Tracy Barlow. So that was what endeared her to the public really, that relationship with Becky and Roy, and that was really special to me because I don't think there are many TV shows that can hold that kind of platonic relationship between a young girl and an older man, that aren't related, and I think that was really special. And that was a really special year for me, and especially with Jason knocking about. It was really fun.
LM: You've been lucky enough to have some great storylines down through the years and Becky is smack-bang in the middle of another big plot now with her adoption bid. Are there some more great twists coming for her in the near future?
KK: Yeah. Well, the big thing is that Kate Ford (Tracy Barlow) is coming back full-time. So she's coming back for us in November, although I think they want her back before then if she can. So that's really not that far ahead in terms of the stories so that's the big thing. And of course she is not going to be pleased because Becky is her daughter's step-mum so that puts them straight in the firing line with each other. And then, with regards to the adoption, I don't know for definite but I've got a feeling that that's not going to work out, because things just don't work out for Becky. I would be surprised if that is all plain-sailing. I think Becky just wants to be happy.
She's not an ambitious person but her dream is just to be happy, and she's married Steve and she's happy but there's still that hole and I think this baby is her trying to fill this hole and actually I think if she did get a baby she still wouldn't have the hole filled because it's about being happy with yourself. And I think deep-down she's not really. She's a very disturbed person. She just needs a bit of therapy really, I think, to truly be happy because Roy and Hayley have taken it as far as they possibly can. But she's had some bad things happen to her and she just keeps it really, really far down. We don't know anything hardly. I mean her mum dying was just bizarre. It was like she was on a cloud or something. It was bizarre really, the whole thing. It just shows how she keeps everything suppressed.
LM: Do you love those hidden depths to the character? I mean would you hate it if she was to become 'too' good?
KK: Aw yeah, I'd hate it. You can't do all that stuff too much because otherwise that becomes predictable in a way so you've kind of got to hold it back a bit. I mean this time last year they had just done the pink wedding and she's messed up. So they've not even been married a year yet. So she's on the honeymoon period I'd say with Steve.
LM: She's had her fair share of ups and downs with him though recently too...
KK: I think really, in many ways, she's just a hard one to pin down. Even though she's really happy I think she's feral deep down and I think it's hard for her because she's got her own little battle going on inside. And she loves it! But I think, given the option to run, there is always that element that she would, even though she's really happy. She's really complicated and I like the fact that she could do anything at any point and that she's unpredictable.
LM: That must keep the part exciting for you as an actress...
KK: Yeah, if it hadn't have been like that I wouldn't have stayed this long. I take everything a year as it comes. And while-ever it's keeping me interested... the minute I'm bored then I know that the audience will be bored. So that's the way I play it.
LM: What's it like being part of the 'Coronation Street' family? Were there lots of actors there that you had been watching for years before you joined the cast?
KK: Yeah, Simon's (Gregson, who plays Steve) been there for 20 years! Yeah, it's lovely. It's a bit bizarre. You tend not to think it really, don't you? People become so quickly just normal even though you might have seen them on screen... I'd been working in London and I'd not really been watching the show when I started, which kind of helped. I had two years doing theatre so you're on stage when 'Coronation Street' is on, and this was before Sky +... So as much as it's about the cast, it's the crew too. We've got crew members that have been there for 27 years, 35 years, nearly 50 years, some of them, so they're the people that make it.
You see the crew more than you see the rest of the cast because the cast kind of function in different pockets. So I might serve a lot of them in the Rovers but I mean I never have scenes with Brooke, who plays Sophie Webster, and I never have scenes with Chesney, never have scenes really with the Platts – so I can go months without seeing them! But you see the same crew day after day. So it is made with love, the show. It's definitely made with love.
LM: I have to ask you about red carpet events. You always seem to be working the latest fashion trends brilliantly at award ceremonies. Do you enjoy that part of the job?
KK: Well, apparently my mum said I did used to get changed about five times a day as a child so I guess I do sort of! It's weird. I find it's nice to dress up instead of dressing kind of down for Becky but I do find it easier to shop for her. I always see things a mile off for her and I always think 'What do I actually like? I've forgotten what I like!'. But I love vintage shops and stuff, and things that are a bit different. It's nice to have the time. Sometimes you're kind of on the last push with everything and it's last minute.