New character Nathan Curtis has spent just under a month on Coronation Street, and yet has already provided viewers with enough reason to believe he is a sinister prospect, particularly where Bethany Platt is concerned. So far, we have seen him charm and flatter her, instil belief in her capabilities, and assure her of her self-worth. Clearly a master manipulator, it’s not hard to see how the intelligent, but vulnerable, Bethany could be drawn in by him as he works to build her trust. The progress he has made in such a short space of time is worrying, and the quality of both the scripts and actor Chris Harper’s performances have ensured the plausibility thus far of this grooming storyline.
I chatted with Chris about what it’s like to play a character such as Nathan, what his hopes are for the storyline, and his experience so far on the cobbles.
I’m always interested to know how actors react when they get told they’ve just landed a part on Corrie, and Chris told me, “Do you know what, I burst into tears. It was a massive moment.” While he fell for the part when he received the script, however, he didn’t honestly think he’d be chosen. “I was like, there’s no way they’re going to go for me. They’ll get somebody famous, and kind of good looking. I was over the moon.”
While Chris loves Corrie, and sees this duplicitous, slimy character as a joy for an actor to play, he considers this to be a really important storyline for him for a number of reasons. Remarking at the pressure that teenage girls and boys are under these days, and how sexual our society is, Chris notes, “You realise a lot of manipulation is around in real life and this story isn’t that far fetched at all.”
One important element of Nathan’s characterisation is the unlikelihood of him arousing suspicion in this regard. Chris explains, “I grew up with Milky Milky, you know, from the Mary Whitehouse Experience, and the idea that anyone who was sexually depraved obviously had terrible teeth and long drippy hair…that is not the case.” Chris notes how a 2014 report by the National Crime Agency exploded the myth that there are certain types of people who are likely to constitute perpetrators. “There’s no pattern in class, there’s no pattern in race, age, anything” he explains.
With Nathan’s appearance and demeanour enabling him to hide in plain sight, I asked Chris if he manages to manipulate anyone else on the street. While he appears to have links to Shona, and Mel who runs the tanning salon with him may not be all that she seems, Chris explains of Nathan, “other than that, I lie pretty low. I don’t like talking to adults who might doubt me. I’m very clever. I talk to the vulnerable. I find somebody who is alone, somebody who is upset, I find somebody who is in need of help and a cuddle, and I hit them when they’re low.”
Another element of the storyline which Chris considers to be really important is that Bethany does fall in love with him. “She’s no fool herself” he explains. “Bethany’s been through the mill. She’s seen things, she’s wise, she’s an emotional, cynical, clever 16 year old girl. And she doesn’t just fall for some idiot, he is incredibly cunning, but because he’s charming and fun, she has a great escape with him.”
It’s not just the crew who find themselves squirming at some of the scenes they’ve filmed so far, Chris has had the same reaction on reading the scripts. He recalls one scene in particular which made him feel physically sick. “It’s not that it’s actually that graphic, it’s just very beautifully written manipulation” he explains, adding that it gave him goosebumps.
I asked Chris if he is concerned about the public’s reaction to such a character, and he told me that he doesn’t think he’ll be asked to be in a pantomime on foot of it, but his focus is very much on the importance of the storyline, so I asked him what his hopes were in that regard. “I suppose, if anything, that if anyone is in a situation where they feel any sort of resemblance, then they will have somewhere to go” he explains. “They’ll think about ringing Childline even, because that’s not just for children, it’s also for young people.” Chris also made me aware of the website ThinkUKnow as a source of information and advice for children and adults alike.
With regard to working with Lucy Fallon, Chris tells me, “She’s great. I love it. We were very comfortable together very quickly. I imagine everyone who’s worked with her says that.” He adds, “I know I’m full of admiration for her. I do have to say an awful lot of very slithering, horrible stuff.”
Chris has high praise for the whole Corrie team, noting that the same level of enthusiasm exists no matter what their role with the show. “Everyone is wholehearted and totally working with such conviction” he tells me. “They’re all just brilliant, it feels like a real family.”
Actors are among those I most admire, and I’m always interested in how they came to enter the profession. “I fell off the tracks at about 15, 16 and I fell in with the right crowd, a very lovely group of people, I was very, very lucky” Chris explains, before recalling, for the first time in 25 years, that he won an award in his first ever play in which he was ironically performing the role of a duplicitous character. “That pat on the back stuck” he told me. I feel privileged, not only to be the first person that Chris has ever told that story to, but to have had this chat with him. I admire the conviction with which he has taken on what could not be considered an easy role, and while this is quite necessarily unlikely to make for comfortable viewing, based on what we’ve seen so far, I feel we can be confident as to the quality of the portrayal.
By Emma Hynes