Michelle Collins is one of Britain's best-known actors, and became a household name after starring in Britain’s favourite soaps. From EastEnders’ resident 'bad girl', Cindy Beale, to Rovers Return landlady Stella Price in Coronation Street, we can't seem to get enough of her on screen.
Multi-talented Michelle Collins has also been involved with numerous other projects, from working on the stage to running her own businesses, from campaigning to charity work.
We caught up with Michelle about her first role after EastEnders in BBC’s Real Women, a much-loved drama about female friendship which is now out on DVD for the first time since the series was first broadcast in 1998.
Michelle plays Susie, a bride-to-be who has invited her old school friends to her wedding, friends she hasn't seen in years. Not only is Susie hiding secrets from her past, she's having second thoughts about tying the knot. Her girlfriends have similar issues of their own which slowly reveal themselves as the drama unfolds.
Simply Media: In Real Women you starred alongside some of Britain’s best female actors. What was the atmosphere like on the set? Did everyone get along?
Michelle: We all got on extremely well indeed on and off set. The director and producer were very keen for us to bond before we started shooting.
We went out for dinner / drinks to break the ice, which really helped. And we would often stay after work for drinks in our trailers, much to the annoyance of the drivers who were waiting to take us home. We were incredibly lucky that the chemistry between us worked from the beginning.
SM: In Real Women you play bride-to-be Susie, who is hiding details of her past and is not sure now whether she wants to walk down the aisle. What challenges did this role present?
MC: Susie was a challenge to play, complex but also fun. I think the hardest part to deal with was the rape on her hen night. But it was done as tasteful as possible, and the other actor involved David Schofield was so caring. I really loved playing Susie.
SM: Do you think Real Women is a show that could still be made today? With the recent controversies surrounding women’s representation on screen, do you think anything would have been changed?
MC: I think Real Women set a precedent for shows with female actors being at the centre. There weren't that many shows like that around then. Five great roles for women, and written by a woman too, all about ordinary working-class women. In fact we need more of these today. There are too many dramas about middle-class men.
SM: You played Cindy Beale on EastEnders for many years, a role people still remember you for. How did you find it moving from a recurring role on one of Britain’s best-known soaps into other roles?
MC: This was my first role away from EastEnders and I was desperate to prove I could do it. I had to fight hard to get the role, and I wanted people to see I had diversity as an actor, not just being a soap star.
It was my choice to leave EastEnders and I was very keen to do other work. I love variety, and even now prefer to move from role to role. I see myself as a jobbing actor so Real Women was perfect for me. It really was my breakout role from soap I feel.
SM: You have been in so many diverse productions. What has been your favourite show and role?
MC: I loved BBC’s Two Thousand Acres of Sky, which was filmed up in Scotland with Paul Kaye. This was a very different role for me. It was beautifully written by Tim Prager, and I really regret saying “no” to doing a fourth series, but at the time I wanted it to end on a high.
I also loved playing Marigold, a bipolar woman, in The Illustrated Mum. It was very challenging indeed, but it received an Emmy and 3 BAFTAs.
SM: You have recently been involved in theatre work. How does this compare to working in TV?
MC: I love theatre work and like to combine it with filming. It can be terrifying, but it is wonderful when you get it right. And if you get it wrong you can always do it again the next night.
I’ve been very lucky to do both musicals and straight theatre, which really puts you to the test. I think it's a lot more physically demanding than television, and generally you do it for the love not the money!
SM: As well working as an actor, you are very entrepreneurial and have started many of your own projects.
MC: I produced a play at The Park theatre last year, which I commissioned myself and was written for me. I also wrote / produced a 20 min short film Black Road which we also submitted for a TV treatment. There are not enough roles for women, so you have to be proactive and go out and do it yourself. It's hard work but hugely gratifying. I have set up a production company and have things in development.
SM: You recently launched your own skin care range. What inspired you to do something like this and who are you making it for?
MC: I launched my own skin care range last year Pellum Vero by Mc SkinTruth. It's aimed at the mature lady who wants to look after her skin.
I like to keep fit and have a healthy lifestyle, so it's also good to have another business as well as acting. I like to think of myself as a businesswoman too.
SM: You also helped found “Women in Media” – tell us about it.
MC: I founded Women in Media a few years ago with Brenda Gilhooly – an actor / comedienne friend of mine. We meet every month or so at The Hospital Club for breakfast and to discuss issues affecting women in the media. It's a very safe place for us to talk, and in the current climate it's very popular. We have a pool of about 100 women.
SM: This is very timely with all that has surfaced recently regarding the treatment of women in film and TV, and the launch of the #TimesUp campaign.
MC: I think we are now starting to talk about the problems affecting women in media - the gender pay gap, sexism, sexual harassment, ageism and diversity. Things are changing slowly, but we are living in an inherently male dominated society, so that and people's perception of what women want needs to change!
At least it's all coming out into the open now. I’ve just joined The Women's Equality Party which addresses many female issues that need to be dealt with. It's not just in the media but it affects women in all walks of life.
SM: What are you watching on TV at the moment?
I’ve been watching Sirens, a great French cop series. I’ve also been watching McMafia, Grace and Frankie, Feud, Mudbound, American Horror, Inside No. 9 and Black Mirror . Also a lot of films as I am on the BAFTA panel.
SM: Any roles you are hoping to play in future?
I would love to play Lady Macbeth or Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
BBC's Real Women was written by and based on the novels by Coronation Street writer Susan Oudot. It tells the story of five very different old school friends who reunite after twenty years apart for their friend Susie's wedding. Most of the women have changed considerably from their schooldays, and each has a secret they would rather the others did not find out....