By Jay Darcy
Manchester’s own Katie McGlynn is known for starring in Waterloo Road, Coronation Street, The Syndicate, and Hollyoaks, as well as competing on Strictly Come Dancing. But now she’s making her professional stage debut in the stage adaptation of Peter James’ Wish You Were Dead, stepping into the role previously played by Giovanna Fletcher, who has just left the tour.
Ahead of Katie stepping foot on stage, I had the pleasure of sitting down with her at an exclusive bar at The Lowry, which I never knew existed (it’s for members, darling, not press). We had a candid conversation about Coronation Street, conspiracy theories, and cold-blooded killers. Happy stuff, you know?
I began the interview by taking it right back to the beginning. Katie burst on to the scene as a teenager, when she played the heartbreaking role of Jodie “Scout” Allen in Waterloo Road – which, back then, was one of the biggest shows on British television. Katie called this experience “surreal and bizarre”, especially because she was studying her A Levels at the time, which she continued to study because, even then, she knew how tough the industry was: “I didn’t know I was gonna get another job; I was just enjoying the ride and learning so much because I hadn’t gone to drama school.”
“I’m naturally blonde; I was a bit of a Barbie back then,” Katie told me, as if she’s any less blonde and glamorous today! This surprised me, however, because Scout was the antithesis of a Barbie girl.
Whilst Katie was a typically insecure 17-year-old girl, she was prepared to cut her hair and dye it brown for the role, but when she went to sit her A Level exams, people did not recognise her.
“It wasn’t even a nice chocolate brown; it was just a dishwater – and I had grease in my hair. I looked like a boy – a homeless boy. My stunt double was actually a lad – that really boosted my confidence as a 17-year-old,” she laughed.
However, Katie loved the role and learned so much on the job. She’s forever grateful for the opportunity. It was the beginning of her incredible career. The year she left Waterloo Road, she joined Coronation Street as Sinead Tinker, a tragic role for which earned her several accolades: a nomination, three longlists, a shortlist, second place, and a win!
Katie has played a lot of troubled characters and dealt with lots of serious, such as neglect, cancer, conspiracy theories… arguably terrorism!
It goes without saying that Katie is drawn to troubled characters – because they are more interesting. She deliberately steers away from “vanilla, princess-y, perfect roles” because “it’s not real, and the troubles characters are a lot more interesting and a lot more fun”. She likes getting into the psyche of these characters and ask questions of them. That’s exactly why she was drawn to Cleo in Wish You Were Dead.
“Every role I’ve done so far has been quite different but, like you’re saying, troubled in their own way, and I love to be challenged… I don’t wanna regret doing things; I’d rather regret doing it because life’s about excitement, you wanna challenge yourself, and I wanna constantly grow, as an actor and as a person, and by having these experiences, I do think you do that, because, you know, playing all the different roles, you do learn a lot about life, people, society.
“Like the cancer storyline [in Corrie], originally, it started off with Sinead getting cancer while she was pregnant. I never even knew that could happen; it’s something that I never even thought of because it’s quite taboo. But it does happen quite a lot, and the figures are unbelievable, and it’s just such a heart-breaking thing to happen to someone ’cause something, like a miracle thing that’s happening, having a child, and for that to be slashed and slaughtered by the terrible news, it’s just unbelievable. So, to be able to play that is super interesting.”
Whilst these storylines are exciting, they can also be harrowing. Furthermore, people often treat soaps like real-life. They see soap stars as their characters – and there are many soap stars who have been verbally abused because their characters did awful things – Katie included. After leaving Corrie, she joined fellow soap Hollyoaks, in which she played conspiracy theorist (and, frankly, racist) Becky Quentin – which led to her receiving not only verbal abuse but even death threats.
“I just kind of see it like the water off the duck’s back, like, I just take it with a pinch of salt. I know I’m not that character; there’s a reason I’m playing that role, and it’s my job… I see it, actually, the positive I take from it, is I’ve done my job right, like with the conspiracy theorist, she was such a complex character, and I was trying to have empathy with her, on some level, ’cause you have to get into the psyche of why they’re doing it. But the fact that people didn’t like her and hated her, and hated me walking on the street, I was like, ‘yes, I’ve done my job!’ That’s the whole point.”
Katie was drawn to Cleo because, like all of her other roles, she’s undeniably interesting.
“She’s a pathologist so she’s super interesting. She is very empathetic as well with the victims, like she really does care, and obviously she’s got a scientific, complex brain; she’s super independent; she’s a powerful, independent woman – which I love – and she is actually really witty and funny. She has such a serious job where she’s got to have this big, hard work hat on but she kinda can be funny and let her hair down in a dark sense of humour. People who I’ve met in real life that have such serious, harrowing kind-of jobs do see the funny side of it and they are, maybe sardonic’s the wrong word, but they do have a sense of humour, and I do love that about her.”
Katie then offered a little information about the play:
“Where she’s in the story, so she’s married to Roy Grace, who’s a detective. So, it’s based on Peter James’ books, which are all thrillers. So, in this adaptation, Cleo and Roy Grace want a break from work, they wanna take their work hats off, they’ve just had a little baby, so she’s a new mum so she’s kind of in mum mode, taking a break from work, and all they want, all she wants, is some quality time with her husband. Because they’ve got such demanding jobs, they never really get chance to have that time so that’s all she wants, to be going away to France, on their honeymoon, and it all goes wrong, and I feel like everybody’s been on holiday where it’s not like it was on the pictures, it’s not what the expected, and it just goes wrong.
“There’s a lot of twists and turns but there is a lot of comedy elements in there as well so I think the audience will have some giggles but be on the edge of their seat as well which I thinks really good, like it’s just an entertaining all-round show. You don’t have to have read the books, you don’t have to have watched the TV show Grace, you don’t necessarily have to do that, you can just come and watch it and enjoy it start to finish without knowing any backstory, which I thinks brilliant as well ’cause I think some people tend to shy away from plays that are based on books, where they’ve gotta read everything – and it’s really not the case.”
Katie knew of Peter James – “He’s a bit of a legend; I think he’s the number 1 crime author” – but she had not read any of his books, even though she does love the crime thriller genre.
“I obviously have read this one; it’d be a bit weird if I hadn’t,” she laughed, before telling me she wants to read more books after starring in this play. She loves reading in general but struggles to find the time – and often gets stuck in her phone.
Katie described working with Peter James, on one of his books, as “a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment”.
“Don’t get me wrong, I kinda feel the pressure, ’cause he’s brilliant, but it’s exciting, and I just feel humbled and privileged to be a part of it.”
Talking about pressure, whilst Katie is an award-winning actress, Wish You Were Dead is her professional stage debut.
“I am nervous but I like my nerves because I don’t feel like you’re really doing your job if you’re not nervous as a performer.”
More so, Katie is really excited to get onstage: “I’ve done stage things before and had the audience reaction but I’ve not done like [a] proper Thespian-y theatre show.”
She is learning a lot because theatre is very different to television – but she loves learning.
“I love having the instant audience reaction because you learn a lot from that about your performance. When you’re doing it to a camera on TV, yeah you can look at Twitter or reviews and stuff but it’s kind of a drop in the ocean, whereas when they’re actually sat there, you can have a little look at what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling, and I just think it’s such an incredible experience. The atmosphere is just a bit euphoric to be able to do that so yeah I’m excited for that.”
I asked Katie how she thinks she’ll find doing the same performance night after night, over the course of months, as opposed to spending a few hours filming a scene and then moving on.
“I don’t think I’m gonna feel stale or bored because there’s a lot of different things you can play around with… You’ve got the freedom of changing a little thing and seeing if that works. It is gonna be intense though ’cause you wanna nail the performance every show you do, and that is gonna wear the body, wear the brain, wear the voice out, but that’s just why you’ve just gotta look after yourself, make sure your head’s in the game, and just kind of act like every show’s your first – or, like every show’s your last – first or last!” she laughed.
“Either or,” I said, to which she replied: “Either or – just a good one!”
Whilst Wish You Were Dead has her focus for the next few months, Katie has had a few thoughts about what she’d like to do down the line. She told me she would love to play a villain because she likes playing characters that are quite different to her (she’s honestly one of the loveliest celebrities I have ever met; she’s… normal!).
I told her I could imagine her playing a murderer.
“Ooh, bit worried about that,” she laughed.
“Doesn’t sound like a compliment, does it, actually?” I replied.
Katie would love to try film, go back to drama, and do more theatre. However, she doesn’t like to plan things; she likes to take opportunities as they come.
“There’s s many things that I wanna do and intend to do so hopefully it’ll happen.”
You can catch Katie McGlynn in Peter James’ Wish You Were Dead on tour around the UK until July 25 – with a stop in Katie’s home turf at The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) from May 23 to 27.
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