Simon Cousins catches up with actress Katie McGlynn ahead of her performance in Peter James' play 'Wish You Were Dead', which comes to Theatre Severn from May 9 - 13.
“I always wanted to go to drama school,” says Rochdale’s Katie McGlynn, starring in an adaptation of Peter James’s Wish you were Dead at Theatre Severn next week, “but I was working so much that I didn’t have time to go. I got my rôle on Coronation Street when I was 19, just as I was thinking of taking up a place on a drama course. So I learnt on the job instead.”
Katie learnt quickly - and from an early age too. She had won her first television part three years before, at the age of sixteen, in Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On, a series of standalone contemporary dramas for the BBC. She starred as Gemma Gooch in Skies of Glass.
“That was a really gritty Northern rôle,” says Katie. “She was a very feisty character.”
A year later, Katie was “thrown in at the deep end” when she took on the part of Jodi "Scout" Allen for Waterloo Road. It was her first main, regular rôle and it lasted two and a half years: “She was such a fun character to play,” remembers Katie.
Scout lived with her mother and four year old brother in a squalid flat on a rundown council estate. Her mother didn’t work and the benefits she received were not enough to cover the debts, so Scout had to provide for her brother in any way she could, even working as a courier for a local drug dealer.
“She was a tomboy, a fighter but also intelligent and ambitious,” says Katie, “a spunky character with a lot of attitude but a really good heart.”
It was the sort of character Katie excels at and relishes playing.
At the age of 19, she took on the part of Sinead Tinker in Coronation Street, the world's longest-running television soap opera. Katie loved the show, but after six years, she felt the character’s arc was beginning to dip and she was considering leaving. She shared her feelings with producer Kate Oates, saying, “Give me something challenging to do - I can do it!”
So Kate put a storyline to her. After her marriage to Daniel Osbourne, Sinead would be diagnosed with cervical cancer and face a choice between terminating her pregnancy or delaying her treatment, eventually deciding upon the latter.
“I jumped at the chance to do it,” Katie tells me. “I feel like everybody has been touched by cancer in some shape or form, through their friends or their family and to have the chance as an actor to portray this story was such a massive opportunity. I’d played the rôle of Sinead for six years and I felt like I really knew her.”
Rob Mallard played Sinead’s husband Daniel: "Rob and I didn’t anticipate how much of an impact it was going to have. I still get messages today from women like, “You changed my life. I watched those scenes from ‘Coronation Street’ and it made me go and get that smear test I’d been putting off for ages.
“It’s amazing that our work helped people and it’s why I love doing this job. I love making people think, making people feel every emotion. I feel so humbled and grateful that we were able to do that.”
Her character Sinead died on 25th October 2019 in a harrowing, unflinching portrayal of terminal illness, played exquisitely by Katie and Rob.
Not long afterwards, the pandemic swept in: "Lockdown was very difficult for everybody,” says Katie, “and for actors it felt like you couldn’t feed that creative part of your brain. I was lucky, because I was still able take up a part in The Syndicate with the late Kay Mellor. That was my saving grace. It was a very strange experience because everyone was in a mask. I loved working with Kay Mellor and I’m so deeply saddened that she’s not with us anymore. There’s a missing piece in the industry now.”
Katie herself received death threats for her next major rôle, in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, when her character Becky Quentin is accused of “hate crime” following racist slurs aimed at Asian character Serena Chen-Williams about China and the pandemic. Katie was able to deal with the abuse though.
“I just love playing challenging, hard-hitting storylines,” she says.
At the same time, she was a contestant in Strictly Come Dancing with Gorka Marquez as her partner and tutor. Emma Thompson, the Baroness in the Cruella film was in the audience for their ‘Cruella' dance. “That was a lot of pressure because I knew she’d be there. After the performance, she told me, “You’ve brought Cruella alive on stage tonight.” I’ll take that moment with me forever.”
And this year sees her first time on stage in a major theatre production, starring in the world première stage adaption of Peter James’s crime thriller Wish you were Dead. Katie plays pathologist Cleo Morey, taking her first holiday away with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (see picture above).
“But it just doesn’t go to plan,” says Katie. There are a lot of twists and turns, and a lot of comedy elements, which I love. My character Cleo is intelligent, empathetic and quick-witted. She really cares about her job and about its victims. I’m excited to perform in this genre because I’ve never done it before. It’s a great opportunity.”
“And the future?” I ask Katie.
“I just take life as it comes. I don’t think you can have a strict plan in this business. You get so many exciting opportunities in this industry that come knocking at the most random times. I’ll just carry on with this ride….wherever it goes!
‘Wish you were Dead’, starring Katie McGlynn, Clive Mantle and George Rainsford is showing at Theatre Severn next week from Tuesday 9 May to Saturday 13 May. Buy your tickets now!