Michelle and Steve have yet to celebrate their one year wedding anniversary, and so far, she has spent most of their marriage alone. Steve’s extended break in Spain has taken its toll on her, and with Liz backing her son and Carla busy battling toxic Tracy, she doesn’t exactly have a shoulder to cry on. Enter Will, her first love, who is planning some nuptials of his own and unknowingly hires her as his wedding planner.
I flew from Ireland on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog to catch up with actor Leon Ockenden at ITV in Manchester and find out all about his new character and life so far on the cobbles.
First off, this experience was more akin to an interactive performance than your average interview. Leon tucked enthusiastically into an orange as he regaled us with tales of his capers as a pastry chef at the Hilton on Park Lane, his whimsical escape to Amsterdam, his decision to become an actor after an emotional viewing of Titanic, and how he responded to a question about aliens from his three year old daughter with a speech about hair being an evolutionary hangover, the unknown elements to existence and the human condition. Leon doesn’t come across as a man who spends a lot of time worrying about things, and I found his attitude to be immensely refreshing and our interview to be a riot.
So, our starter for ten: is Leon concerned about playing the character who could split Michelle and Steve up?
Not at all, “it’ll be fun” he grins with simultaneous reverence for “man-crush” Simon Gregson and his much-loved character. He is aware that Michelle has been through a lot and is cognisant that people around those who are ill can be affected too and require support. Will therefore provides Michelle with some much needed empathy and a kindly ear.
“There’s this element of fate that throws them back together into eachother’s lives” Leon explains before going on to reveal that Will’s fiancée Saskia is a successful business woman, but more of a mother figure for the scally-turned-architect who in truth is getting married because it’s the thing to do. “Seeing Michelle and spending time again with her, feelings start to surface and he’s hoping she feels the same” Leon reveals, adding “Will gets definite feelings for her and he makes that clear. Initially the reason Michelle opens up to him is they have that bond from their childhood but also she can really talk to Will about how she feels about the situation with Steve and him being away in a way that Michelle can’t with Liz or anyone like that.”
But would he leave Saskia for her? “He’s wrestling with the strength of his emotions” reveals Leon, “and I think it’s definitely entered his mind”.
Leon’s own version of Will’s seduction of Michelle would involve candles, some James Brown, a Wannamaker martini (which he actually learned to make from Zoe), “tactile food” like mussels and prawns, and chocolate for dessert.
He has found the Corrie cast to be very welcoming, and with most of his scenes being with Kym Marsh, she has been great in showing him around. “It’s a crazy TV factory here” he enthuses, “everyone’s been lovely”.
I asked Leon if he had a preference for what kind of roles he plays.
“You just want to do good writing as an actor because you’re an interpretive artist” he told me, “The enjoyable thing about shows like this is, you see it with the characters that have been in a long time, there is a lot of scope for you to go anywhere within a character. I think that’s the joy for an actor of being in a show like this, it’s not only that job security, but the fact that if you do five years on this show you’ve probably gone through the ringer with everything so you get to explore that spectrum of emotions”.
When I asked him how exciting he found getting a new script to be, and reading it for the first time, Leon not only told me that he enjoys seeing what he can bring to it, but revealed that he had in fact auditioned for Coronation Street before. Robert Preston, Nick Tilsley and Trevor the binman were the parts, and of his successful audition for Will he jokes, “They’ve given it to me out of sympathy”.
Leon has been working as an actor for 12 years, and while he acknowledges it has its own set of challenges, he finds it a lot of fun. His passion for the craft is clear, as he observes “I will never lose touch of what a privilege it is to be an actor”.
Finally, as Leon prepares to enter our living rooms, he let us in on a secret called ‘The Rovers Shuffle’. “There’s a little trick to when you enter the set on the Rovers that you have to be taught about because you can’t open the door too far, and you have to slink in” he reveals. “So however you enter the Rovers, it always makes you look slightly suspicious.” I’ll be looking out for that.
Whatever lies in store for Will and his pursuit of Michelle, if Leon’s performance is half as enjoyable to watch as it is to interview him, viewers will be in for a treat.
You can also read my interview with Kym Marsh.
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog.