Plenty of life for actors after TV soaps

Stuart Piper outside the Rovers Return
Stuart Piper outside the Rovers Return
Stuart Piper is managing director of Cole Kitchenn Personal Management Ltd
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When I was growing up, I remember reading articles about how soap stars would struggle to build screen careers after soap. But today, the story couldn’t be more different.

Katherine Kelly turns up in Mr Selfridge via a run at the National Theatre straight after Coronation Street, our client Samantha Womack turns up in Mount Pleasant at the same time as returning to EastEnders, and she’s also packed in a theatre run and a Hollywood feature film role that is yet to be announced… the list goes on. In high end drama, ‘soap’ is no longer a dirty word – many of the Downton Abbey regulars began in one: Joanne Froggatt, Rob James Collier (Coronation Street regulars), Kevin Doyle (The Bill, Casualty), Amy Nuttall (Emmerdale) to name just a few.

The first trailblazers to overcome their soap character stereotypes and become leading television favourites in their own right were actresses like Sarah Lancashire and our client Michelle Collins, both of whom were among the first to carve careers out post soap that many actresses would long be envious of.

Following her run as the iconic Cindy Beale, Michelle had success in shows like Two Thousand Acres of Sky, Sunburn, the EMMY Award winning The Illustrated Mum, Rock Rivals, Doctor Who… the list goes on.

Three years ago, she made soap history as she moved from Walford to Weatherfield to become Stella Price in Coronation Street on ITV1. I’m told only five actors have played lead regulars in both (Jill Halfpenny and Ian Reddington are two that spring to mine) but never before had such an iconic EastEnder walked the Corrie cobbles. After three successful years, she decided to take a pause and leave the show, and is now busy preparing for a major stage role yet to be announced and is promoting her autobiography published by O’Mara Books on a six figure deal.

Now on our own books, we represent a great many actors who have had varied and successful post-soap careers, and who have shaken off the stereotype of their soap regular role.

Sarah Jane Potts follows her run in Holby City with a career changing role opposite David Tennant in the US remake of Broadchurch called Gracepoint. Mark Moraghan has followed his runs in Brookside and Holby City with runs in Priscilla Queen of the Desert in the West End, the film Stepdad which he wrote and directed, and is also the voice of the Narrator of the new Thomas The Tank Engine internationally.

Since Emmerdale, Roxanne Pallett took part in Dancing on Ice, starred in the film Lake Placid 2 and appeared in Waterloo Road as well playing Janet in The Rocky Horror Show.

Charlie Clemmow’s first screen job post her long running role in Doctors was playing Louise Jameson’s (herself a soap legend) daughter in the directorial debut of Mark Gatiss screened on BBC2 on Christmas Day, The Tractate Middoth.

Emma Barton followed her run in Eastenders as Honey, with runs as Roxie Hart in Chicago and next she tours in the UK in One Man, Two Guv’nors.

Preeya Kalidas followed Eastenders with lead roles in the Chris Morris feature Four Lions and next a run at the Royal Court in Khandan (Family) as Reema. James Baxter from Emmerdale filmed opposite David Jason in the remake of Open All Hours which topped the Christmas TV ratings on BBC1.

And finally, Denise Black, everyone’s favourite hairdresser from Coronation Street, became the mother every gay man wished they had in Queer as Folk, but more recently returned to soap land in Emmerdale until earlier this year.

So for actors considering cutting their teeth on a soap role but worried about getting pigeon holed – I say – don’t worry, if you’re confident you can excel in the role. And for any actors finding life quiet post soap, I refer you to the above list to remind you there are great roles ahead for you still.


  1. Don’t forget Hollyoaks! Although it’s much derided, its actors often go on to have fantastic careers. Emmett J Scanlan has a lead role in BBC’s upcoming In The Flesh series 2, is currently filming his second series of The Fall (both Bafta-nominated shows) and is in this year’s Marvel blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. Nico Mirallegro was recently at the Royal Court and has a number of TV series under his belt, including his Bafta-nominated role in The Village. Barry Sloane stars in US series Revenge. Carley Stenson has starred in Shrek and Legally Blonde in London. Bronagh Waugh, Gerard McCarthy and Karen Hassan are in The Fall. Warren Brown starred in Luther. Claire Cooper will be in upcoming Kudos/BBC series From There to Here. Actors who have been happy to go into Hollyoaks when already well-established include Jeff Rawle and Fintan McKeown. I could go on…

  2. I still think that often in a soap it’s how you leave that often ensures how you get remembered. But like Stuart, I can remember growing up hearing that taboo or myth about soap actors – although for a lot of them that was, and I think is still, the case. However  you can also go back much earlier than Sarah Lancashire and Michelle Collins as trailblazers towards dispelling in part this post soap myth. For example Casualty’s Brenda Fricker who went onto give an iconic performance on screen opposite Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot really laid an incredible foundation for this, whilst also did Anita Dobson who shook off any ghosts of soaps iconic land lady Angie Watts with her subsequent acclaimed stage work notably with Steven Berkoff in plays such as Kvetch, and musicals like Chicago, and with the Royal Shakespeare Company, alongside a number of BBC dramas and who continues to enjoy a hugely successful career. Meanwhile Nick Berry successfully moved from a lead role in Eastenders to ITV’s Heartbeat and was one of the first younger soap actors to successfully do this. But even in the West End in the late eighties, and early nineties, actors such as Tom Watt  – Lofty in  Eastenders (remember him?) – was taking over the West End lead from Nicholas Lyndhurst in Larry Shue’s play The Foreigner reflecting that producers still back then saw a bankability in such soap name casting. I do think we have undoubtedly broken down soap stereotypes further in recent years, but also there is a greater cross over of familiar faces on our TV screens. One could question if this is also in-fact more in part down to less dynamic casting directors and a feeling that sticking with the familiar is more popular with audiences. But it also comes down to talent and this column reflects that, but on some occasions as much as having talent it is also in the skill of how the artist and management work strategically to ensure their onward career and profile.

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