At just 20 years old, Melissa Walton has already gained valuable insight into the precarious nature of the acting profession after being axed from Hollyoaks over a controversial storyline. But this hasn’t deterred her from pursuing a career in television, as she tells Matthew Hemley
Landing a part in a continuing TV drama can be an attractive prospect for an actor, with the potential of stable employment in an otherwise insecure and precarious profession often too good an opportunity to pass up.
And while many who find themselves in one may well end up enjoying playing the same character for years, others find that things do not always go the way they dreamed it would.
Aside from a broadcaster deciding to pull an entire show – as ITV recently announced it was doing with The Bill, leaving a whole cast and crew pondering what they will be doing next – the most daunting thing for any cast members of a soap or continuing drama is the arrival of a new series producer.
The series producer, after all, wields the creative power and it is she or he who might decide that certain characters no longer have a place in the soap they are in charge of.
Take Hollyoaks’ Melissa Walton, for example.
Less than two years after she was introduced to viewers as Loretta Jones in Hollyoaks Later by then series producer Lucy Allan – who subsequently decided Walton’s character should be part of the main edition of the soap – she has found herself dropped from the show.
The reason for this is Paul Marquess, the show’s new series producer, who replaced Allan in January this year and who set about making a few changes to the cast, including axing Walton’s character.
Walton explains that the decision stems from the fact Marquess felt he had nowhere to take the character, after one of her major storylines – in which viewers were supposed to learn Loretta had killed as a child and been given a new identity – had to be pulled, following complaints from Jamie Bulger’s mother.
“If I am honest, I would have liked to stay longer,” Walton says. “Because of everything that happened with my storyline, I felt like I wanted another opportunity to prove myself, as none of that went on screen.”
She adds: “My character was redundant and there was nothing he [Marquess] could have done to turn that around. A new producer wants to come in and put his own stamp on a show and do his own thing. He does not want to be sorting out previous problems.”
Walton could easily be bitter about Marquess’ decision, but she seems to understand entirely why he made the choice he did.
And she says no actor should feel safe, whatever their job.
“You should not feel safe, even if you are in a stable job or in a soap and have been there for however many years,” she says. “You are never guaranteed to be there in six months and that is something you have to get on with.”
That is exactly what Walton, just 20, is planning to do.
Having filmed her last scenes for the soap, the young actress says she is now keen to put herself back in the audition game to see what else can come her way.
In particular, she says she would like to focus on television and film, despite the fact her childhood days – and her education – mainly revolved around being on the stage.
Growing up, Walton always enjoyed acting at school in Coventry and taking part in musical productions, before going on to study performing arts at Stratford-upon-Avon College.
While still there, she managed to land herself an agent, going on to appear in the BBC drama Filth, alongside Julie Walters.
Upon leaving college, her first audition was for Hollyoaks Later – a part she got.
It was only an initial three-episode contract, but this then became a three-month stint in the main show, which was soon extended again.
And Walton was never anything but certain that taking the part would be good for her.
The soap, she says, was her training ground, particularly as her college course did not really prepare students for the reality of appearing in front of a camera.
“A lot of the cast on Hollyoaks have done degrees at stage school and say they have learned so much more being on a set every day and having a camera on them,” she says. “When I first joined, I was clueless, but now I feel that Hollyoaks has been my training. And I have had a brilliant time doing it.”
Perhaps her biggest challenge on the show was the aforementioned storyline, in which producers intended to reveal her character’s criminal past as a killer.
It was pulled last minute, however, and the cast and crew had to turn another story around at very short notice.
Although she admits to feeling disappointed about the fact she did not get to sink her teeth into the gritty storyline, she says the need for the show to come up with something else to replace it at short notice demonstrates how well everyone on the crew worked together.
“I found out it was pulled on a Friday and it was supposed to be transmitted on the following Monday,” Walton explains. “We came in and filmed a new script on the Saturday – we just hammered it. The tapes were sent to Channel 4 on Monday, an hour before transmission. It just shows, when you need to, you can get it done. Everyone did a brilliant job.”
With her final scenes with the soap in the bag, Walton says she has no immediate plans, but says she would like to do a period drama.
At just 20, other people her age, with a similar amount of experience behind them, might consider going to drama school, but Walton says she has no desire to do that.
“I really want to focus on film and television, and from what I have heard that is not majorly covered in a drama degree,” she says. “Plus, it would mean giving up my agent for three years and I don’t want to do that at this point.”
So what is her advice to young actors hoping to follow in her footsteps?
“Just don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says. “I have had the most fun I have had in my life on Hollyoaks. Stay professional and remember it’s a job and not an excuse to be a party animal. Don’t get caught up in the pretentious side of it all. Just keep your feet on the ground.”
* Melissa Walton leaves Hollyoaks on July 27