It has been almost ten years since Michelle Connor’s biological, but swapped-at-birth, son Alex last plodded the cobbles. The discovery in 2008 that the child she had taken home from hospital in 1992 was actually that of Wendy and Nick Neeson, while she had been bringing up theirs in the form of Ryan, was as traumatic as you might imagine for all concerned. Nor was the resulting contact with her son without its problems, and efforts to build a relationship with Alex and to find a place for him in her life proved difficult. After a spell with Michelle, he would eventually return to the family who raised him, and the contact between them would dwindle to nothing.
Fast forward to 2018, and there is a new trainee doctor at the Medical Centre raising temperatures; particularly Liz’s. But, she’s in for a surprise when she goes to investigate if rumours of his hotness are true only to find herself face to face with Michelle’s long lost son, now going by the nickname Ali, and played by James Burrows.
I travelled to ITV in Manchester to meet James and hear all about his character’s return, what might lie ahead, and his experience of joining the street. If you’re not a fan of spoilers, best to look away now.
Ali made his return to our screens this week, and seemed less than pleased to meet a stunned Michelle as he reluctantly treated her for a knife wound. But can we expect Ali to remain hostile with his birth mother? “He hasn’t seen her for ten years and I think, you know, there’s a question of why” explains James, “He’s going to be very stand offish with her for a little while, but I think in the next few weeks we’ll see that all unfold.” If there is any possibility of them making amends, we’re assured Michelle will be made to work for it.
Asked if Ali will prove to be a bad un’, James assures us that while he might show a dark side in how he’s currently treating Michelle, he’s actually a good person. “He’s got a bit of swagger, maybe a little bit of attitude” he explains, “But I think all round he’s an alright guy. He’s not a baddie.” With something of a chip on his shoulder, however, he does seek to hurt Michelle by going out of his way to bond with those around her while freezing her out. “Actually, him and Steve get on from day dot really” he reveals, adding that they have a few pints together. We’re told he’s also very open to Robert and Liz, and that they all encourage him to make amends with his mother.
Having been assured that Ali is not a villain, we’re told that this is not a dark revenge plot, but rather a relationship focussed one. Nor is there any suggestion of a love interest at the present time, as the dynamic will be very much whether or not they can build their family connection up again.
Indeed, with Ryan set to return, we’re told we can expect a Cain and Abel style narrative to develop. Speaking of his character James says, “I think there’s a lot of hatred there actually” adding, “maybe some sort of jealousy as well, I think he might be slightly jealous of Ryan.”
It being very early days, James is reluctant to say much more besides alluding to a potentially mysterious element to Ali’s arrival, as we’re told that all may not be as it seems. Was his return to Weatherfield really out of his control, or might he have orchestrated his return? “He says it’s a placement, but I think he might have a bit of an ulterior motive” he explains. “ But, like I say, it will all unfold in the next couple of weeks.”
James has received a very warm welcome on the street with Kym Marsh in particular taking him under her wing given that a lot of his scenes have been with her.
Asked if he had looked back at his character’s past scenes in preparation for the role, James explained, “I was brought up with watching Coronation Street on the TV so I’m familiar with the show anyway, but yeah, I had to do a bit of research and check him out.”
As to whether he was nervous on his first day on set, James says “Yeah, I mean not nervous because it’s my first job or anything like that, but it’s a very well established show and everyone already knows the characters, they’ve been here years; well, not everyone, but yeah, it was slightly overwhelming, very surreal walking down the cobbles for the first time. Like I said, I’d been brought up with it on the TV at home. So yeah, it was a bit crazy.” James celebrated getting the role with close family and friends back in Derby. Speaking of his Mum and Nana he says, “I think they were over the moon because they’re massive fans of the show.” He enjoyed watching his first episode this week, and looks forward to seeing more.
He’s not the only one as I think he has already shown great screen presence. And we certainly will be seeing more, as Coronation Street confirmed on the day that Ali is to be a new regular on the show. I for one am happy to hear it and look forward to seeing how both his character and what promises to be a complex story develops.
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog.