I travelled to ITV in Manchester for the Coronation Street Blog to meet the lovely Chris Gascoyne and chat about what lies ahead for both the actor and his character Peter Barlow as he prepares to stand trial for the murder of Tina McIntyre.
First things first, let it be known that Peter Barlow is my favouriteCoronation Street character. While the thought of Corrie without him therefore fills me with dread, I was more than a little excited at the prospect of meeting Chris Gascoyne at ITV in Manchester to get the low down on what has been a tough few months for actor and character alike, and what may lie ahead for both.
With his trial looming, it’s anyone’s guess how things will pan out for Peter, but why has Chris chosen to leave again, and what does he feel the future holds for him? Behind his decision is a combination of wishing to keep his character alive and interesting and wanting to move on and try something different. While excited about the future, Chris is realistic, conscious that he can’t expect anything in the acting business. “It’s not in my control,” he acknowledges, “there’s a lot of luck and right place right time involved.”
Chris is similarly realistic about the prospect of Peter being killed off at some point, and while he’s pleased it isn’t the case this time round, it doesn’t scare him. “If that’s the way that it works, then that’s fine” he explains, “I’d be upset and I’d miss Peter, but I’d have accepted it and I’d get over it.” I’m not so sure I would.
Being a member of the legendary Barlow clan has meant countless scenes with Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache, and it was interesting to hear how their off screen personas blend with their onscreen performances as Deirdre and Ken. “We’re all on the outskirts of it before a take,” explains Chris, “we’re ourselves. But as soon as they’re acting you see two different people appear. Because we’ve had such a long history and friendship, you don’t have to act, you just react to what they say and it just happens. I’ve learned a lot from them, they’re just fantastic.”
Chris describes meeting and spending time with Bill Roache as one of the greatest things about getting the job. “He has been a huge influence on my life in many ways” he reveals, “I get inspired by him.” There’s no denying the chemistry between the pair and the scenes they share are always among those I enjoy the most.
Chris recalls his December 2000 live episode debut. Having watched Corrie with the family from childhood, finding himself among people and in a programme he’d watched his whole life was surreal. He recalls how “suddenly one night, it’s going out live and I’m in it, and I’m playing Ken Barlow’s son who I’m still looking at going ‘that’s Ken Barlow, that’s Ken Barlow’, while I’m doing the scene. It was like I’d walked into some sort of weird dream stroke nightmare that was actually happening. It really was a most bizarre situation.”
Chris has shared most of his recent scenes with Charles Lawson who plays Jim McDonald, and the purpose built prison set above Roy’s Rolls (no wonder we haven’t seen Roy up there in a while) has proven an intense but interesting place to work. Irrespective of the long days, Chris has enjoyed the change of scene and describes Charlie as great to work with.
Revealing what it’s like to play an alcoholic, it concerned Chris that drunkenness would become Peter’s party piece, preferring to hear that people were cringing rather than laughing at the scenes. “There is that side to alcohol where the party’s finished and it all moves in on you and you become over-emotional” he observes, “I liked how they separated the fun he thought he was having with the breakdown behind closed doors and how his life fell to pieces”.
Chris’s portrayal has been welcomed as realistic by those who have suffered from the addiction. “I’ve had a massive amount of feedback and people have told me some incredible stories about their sobriety and the problems they’ve had” he reveals, “I put everything I’ve got into it and they appreciate that. I don’t take it lightly because I know this goes out to millions of people.”
Peter may have beaten his battle with booze but viewers will recall his distressed demeanour in the weeks leading up to his hospitalisation. From a practical perspective, Chris reveals how physically and mentally exhausting playing the part can be. In addition to trying to remember lines while acting out of control, the physical effects of a performance which saw him constantly shaking and hunched over during prolonged shoots proved tangible. “The physicality of Peter is another difficult thing” he notes, “I’ve had to see an osteopath for my back and neck from the tension. It is hard work, but I’ve enjoyed the scenes and they always write very well for me.”
Such a demanding role means there isn’t a lot of time to switch off as he is either learning lines for the next day or thinking about where he’s going to take Peter next. “You’re always working on him for a little bit more depth or something more interesting” he reveals, “it’s always on my mind as to how I could encapsulate something I’ve seen or thought. It’s been a great character and one that’s very close to me. Being able to practice and try things every day, and being paid for it is an amazing gift.”
I asked Chris what he will miss about Peter. “I’m fond of him because he does things that I would never do, or even think to do or dare to do” he tells me. “He dares to do things in his life and it backfires on him but I like that about him. I’ll miss exploring that in depth character really, which runs parallel a little bit with me.”
So, what about the impending trial? Has Peter lost all hope? No, Chris tells us, “There’s always hope for him and that’s what he’s hanging on to. He still loves Carla and thinks she may still love him, but he fears that she might rip him to pieces in court. Peter doesn’t know who killed Tina. He believes Carla hasn’t done it and so he’s in court not knowing who has.”
“There’s plenty that comes up against him,” Chris reveals, “but the worst is having his dirty laundry aired in public which is horrible for him. He’s also disappointed in those he thought would support him, but end up turning against him. Ken is really the only one on his side. Simon believes he’s not done it but he’s only young and it’s a lot to take in.”
It was a true pleasure interviewing Chris. I had always gotten the impression that he took his part seriously and put a lot of work into playing this demanding role, which he has done exceptionally well, and I was delighted to hear that this is very much the case. Aside from how next week’s trial will unfold, all that remains is for the exact nature of his exit to be revealed, and for me to figure out how I’ll cope in the aftermath.