It was a fittingly sunny day in Manchester as my fellow blogger Ryan Oxley and I made our way to Coronation Street studios to interview Corrie cast members about their summer storylines on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog. Those not wishing to read any spoilers should look away now.
This wasn’t my first time to sit opposite Mikey North for a chat. We met in Dublin many years ago, before a touring show with former Corrie co-star and friend Ian Puleston-Davies, who played Owen Armstrong. On this occasion, we are in Manchester, and sitting in the set of the Rovers Return. We’ve just had a great chat with Sam Robertson (Adam Barlow) and Mikey has caught the end of it. “I can’t compete with that,” the Street’s new villain says, as he sits down, adding, “I’ll just kill him, it’s fine,” to a hearty bout of laughter from those of us gathered to hear all about the descent of his character, Gary Windass, into darkness.
Five years have passed since that lovely first interview, and a lot has changed. Sam Robertson’s hair for one. As it was a hot topic of discussion on our day in Weatherfield, I’ll say that I’ve lost about 16 inches from mine since 2014, and it’s now a different colour. I found Mikey to be as polite, funny and engaging as he was back then. His character, on the other hand, has transformed into a killer with money on his mind.
Still managing to avoid jail for the roof collapse and consequential death of Rana Habeeb, Gary has taken over second victim Rick Neelan’s loan shark business, and tried to frame him for the crime while attempting to convince his daughter Kelly that her father is on the run from the police.
I was curious to know what Gary was up to when I interviewed Mikey five years earlier. Thanks to the weekly updates on corrie.net, I made a funny discovery. Desperate for money, and threatened with the sack by Todd if he didn’t keep quiet, Gary had installed chipboard in Tyrone’s loft which he knew was too thin for the floor, and the ceiling promptly caved in. Uncanny, given recent developments. What it does tell us, aside from the fact that roofs and builders are to be approached with extreme caution in Weatherfield, is that while he might have a conscience, this is a man willing to put doing the right thing second to serving his own ends. He may be conflicted, but he has always had that reckless, selfish streak which wins out. So for this fan, the manner in which he is behaving now is a true extension of his character.
Asked if he as an actor can get his head around Gary killing two people, Mikey says, “Yeah. Absolutely. I think it’s not been in cold blood so far. With the factory roof, he wasn’t intending to kill someone. That was more out of desperation from the money situation. And obviously Rick was trying to kill him when all that happened. There’s going to be a lot more calculating side to Gary coming out over the next twelve to eighteen months. So I can believe that, yeah, definitely.”
On the subject of whether or not his character is redeemable, Mikey says, “I think so. So far, I can just about be redeemed for it. But he is getting deeper and deeper into things as we’re going to see over the next few weeks. Things are going to take a big turn. He’s got some big decisions to make in the next six months, and that’ll probably decide which path he goes down.”
Gary was a bad lad when he joined the street, and Mikey agrees wholeheartedly with the suggestion that he may have gotten too nice. “This is much more why I took the job in the first place all those years ago,” he says. “It’s hankering back to what Gary was like in the early days.” He continues, “I feel, for the first time in years actually, now I’ve got a real clear, defined idea of what I’m supposed to be doing character wise. I feel really in control of what I’m supposed to be doing, which I think maybe, in the middle years of being here, got lost a bit. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be playing this bad guy turned good, or whether he was just a nice guy now. Probably since Kate (Oates), since all the Phelan stuff, and now, I do feel much clearer about what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Given that both Rana’s and Rick’s deaths were not planned, Mikey is asked if he thinks Gary will become capable of deliberately setting out to kill. “I think the first time’s the hardest, isn’t it. And there’s definitely storylines coming up, stuff where that’s going to be tested even further. So he’s going to be faced with more situations where, should he kill or should he not kill?”
Even though we now know that this storyline is planned for well into the future, as the soap laws dictate, becoming a villain can signal the end for a character. Asked if he’s concerned about his future on the show, Mikey says, “I’ve always said that if you’re going to go, I’d rather go in a blaze of glory, as it were, leaving bodies behind. So I’m happy either way. If this does become Gary’s last hurrah, which I hope it doesn’t, then it’s a great story to be involved with.”
Asked if the producer, Iain MacLeod, has given any hints regarding the long term future of his character, Mikey says, “Iain wants to make him more in the mould of a Mike Baldwin, a long term thing like that, which is great for me, as opposed to someone who is a cold blooded killer.” He continues, “Iain has specified that it’s not planned as an exit and they want to keep him as that sort of long term villian, but not a villain in a Pat Phelan mode; more an antihero.”
So, it doesn’t sound as if Gary will be going anywhere as things stand. But does he have the capacity to create a position of power and success for himself, or is he destined to be someone who tries, but never quite gets there? “I’m sure there will be knock backs,” says Mikey. Acknowledging that he’s on the up power wise, he adds, “But I would imagine in the end, as it always does with Gary, something will happen which will bring him back down to earth. If it is going to be a long term thing for me here, that will probably have to happen.”
Mikey believes Gary does feel guilt for what happened to Rana, but that he is in survival mode at the moment. He says, “I think the Rick thing is different, because his life was in danger. But definitely seeing Kelly makes that harder.” Mikey had high praise indeed for fourteen year old Millie Gibson who plays Rick’s daughter, describing her as “phenomenal” and “one to watch”.
I asked Mikey if we will get to see Gary become something of a Walter White (Breaking Bad) character, feeling more alive with each bad deed. “I think that’s a really good way to put it actually,” he tells me. “Yeah. I get that. I’m really enjoying playing this. There’s lots to work with. As a character, and for me as an actor, having that power and that danger, it’s exciting.”
With regard to the physicality of playing the role of Gary, Mikey had some great stories to tell us. These included an encounter in the Rovers which viewers might recall seeing last month. It involved Chris Gascoyne, in the role of Peter Barlow, aggressively confronting Gary over the roof collapse. “You don’t mess with Chris in scenes,” Mikey says. “Normally you get a fight director for stuff. Anyway, out of nowhere, he just picked me up and he threw me against here (signalling to the booth). We got a little bit shirty with each another in the scene, it was really good. I loved it. It was real. It wasn’t acting. I was like, ‘alright mate, bring it on.'”
Mikey covered so many things in what was a really enjoyable and interesting interview. He needn’t have worried about following Sam Robertson. In fact, both were a joy to speak with, and each talked about how well they get along. “Honestly, he’s become one of my best mates,” says Mikey. “We never did a scene together. We never spent any time together. And in the past maybe three of four months, we knock about outside of work, I see him all the time. He gives me hair tips and stuff,” he quips. “There’s a good little dynamic building there character wise. I hope that we get to work together for the next couple of years at least.” Given the fact that Sarah is with Adam now, I’ve been enjoying the interaction between them, and look forward to seeing how it progresses.
In terms of where the story is headed in the immediate future, we learn that Ryan Connor gets on the wrong side of Gary while helping out when he sells a desk to Mary Taylor with £650 hidden in it. We will also see Gary introduce business associate Derek Milligan to Nick as an investor for Underworld when the insurance won’t cover the rebuild. With Sarah now a firm enemy of Gary, she objects, but will she be overruled by the factory lot?
A final question for Mikey was if he would consider taking a short break, as others have done, to do theatre. “I don’t think I’d have time at the minute,” he tells us. “Literally, I’ve got so much coming up here. And I’m loving it, I really am. Being this busy and having such interesting stuff to do. I’m just so happy to be here and to just carry on doing this for now, for as long as they’ll have me. While it’s like this, it’s brilliant.”
As much as I’d love to see him tread the boards, I’m delighted to see Mikey centre stage as Gary, and it will be interesting to see where he takes the character next.