Lucy Benjamin has spoken about her ‘surprise’ return to EastEnders last evening.
The actress, who plays Lisa Fowler in the beeb saga, made her dramatic return to Albert Square after an absence of seven years. Lisa arrived back in Walford to be with her daughter Louise (Tilly Keeper) following a candle catastrophe at the school prom.
Friday’s episode of EastEnders saw Louise admitted to hospital where Sharon (Letitia Dean), Sonia (Natalie Cassidy) and Bex (Jasmine Armfield) were informed she had suffered third-degree burns as a result of the flaming incident. As they comforted Louise who didn’t want to see Travis (Alex James-Phelps), they were stunned by the arrival of Lisa (Lucy Benjamin). The BBC had tried to keep the unexpected arrival of Lisa a top secret before the edition aired, however The Mirror newspaper revealed all to fans of the soap long before the edition went out on BBC One.
Can you talk us through how your return came about?
My agent was approached by EastEnders and he hit me with the fact they were talking about me possibly coming back; it was all very vague, he didn’t know for how long or for how many episodes. It was just putting the feelers out about how I would feel coming back. Then Liza Mellody in the storyline team called me personally and she really sold it to me. She explained the journey that Lisa would have in the amount of episodes I would be doing. She made it too good an offer to refuse. As soon as I spoke to her I said “okay, I’ll do it” and she was thrilled and then wrote it all up for me.
When did you find out and how did you react?
It was quite a while before. It was a good couple of months before I started filming. At first I wasn’t too sure because it is a chapter that was closed and it wasn’t something I’d thought about. I didn’t know how I felt about it and with having kids too, I didn’t know the length of time I was going to be back for. But once I knew how fabulous the storyline was I was thrilled. I was really pleased and thought it was absolutely worth coming back for.
What’s it been like keeping the secret?
Every time I’m involved with EastEnders I always get these big, massive storylines I have to keep a secret, it’s not fair (laughs)! I’m used to it because of the ‘Who Shot Phil?’ stuff which was a massive secret. I just thought “okay, here we go again, I have to keep this a secret”. It’s been tough because people ask you what you’re up to and you can’t say anything. I’m pleased though because when things are kept a secret, it always pays off. The viewers are pleased when it’s a surprise. I hope it has a great impact.
Did you tell anyone?
Oh I told my mum, I told her about ‘Who Shot Phil?’ at the time too, she’s very good at keeping secrets. I obviously told my husband too because I had to let him know where I was going.
How did everyone manage to keep it a secret for so long?
It was all very cloak and dagger! I came in through a different entrance and had to wear big sunglasses (laughs). When I got the scripts my character name was ‘Sam’. It was funny because when I arrived at work some of the cast members were just like “Oh, it’s you!”. So it was all a bit confusing. We also had the monitors, which relay whatever is being filmed on the different sets, turned off.
So whenever I was filming they’d just go blank. You’d never see what was being filmed. So as much as people might have seen me arrive, the cast members or people who work there wouldn’t see what I was actually doing on the studio floor. So the content of what I was filming was also a secret. So I think that’s how we’ve managed to keep it all a big secret.
What was your first day back on set like?
It’s been fourteen years! Well, I did one episode where I had a couple of scenes with Barbara (2010). It was all to do with Louise when she was a little girl. And actually when I did that one episode I didn’t come back to the studios, I was on location. So I don’t really count that. To be honest I was a little apprehensive, it’s just like the first day at a new job, really. But within twenty minutes of being there it was like I had never been away.
Ange was still on the front desk, Tish turned up, Nat walked in, and Dean Gaffney was there, as was Steve. So it was really lovely. Only little things had changed, like where the tea bar is and the layout of a few things. But the machine that it is is still the same. It’s still as slick as anything and churning out so much great material. So slightly apprehensive but obviously my feet didn’t really hit the ground from the moment I got back so I just had to put all of that aside and get on with the job in hand.
What did you miss the most?
Coming back reminded me how much I loved the workload. As much as it’s hard, I love the craft so much and working to that extent. It was great to get my teeth back into doing what I do, really. And then seeing my old friends was charming. It’s hard to stay in touch because that’s what actors are like, you move on to the next job, but it was lovely to revisit friends. I said to Tish “we must stay in touch” because you realise you have missed these people. You don’t realise you miss it but when you get back into it you realise you miss that pace of work and doing so much stuff, doing your craft.
What was it like to work with Steve, Letitia etc. again?
It was like being with old friends. I was with people who really had my back; knowing that I had a tough storyline to do. It was fabulous having the support of a great team, and a good bunch of actors that are just up to speed. They know what they’re doing and can support you so much. Then in between takes you will get Tish cracking all the jokes, she’s just fabulous to be around. I had a really, really lovely time and it was great to be with them all. Both in-between scenes and working on the floor with them. There was lots of reminiscing, lots of giggles. It was sweet.
Did you keep in touch with anyone?
To be honest I was more in touch with other people who have left because they have more time on their hands (laughs). I bumped into Natalie a few times, I’ve bumped into quite a few people at events and things.
How was it working with Tilly?
Tilly is marvellous. She’s so professional. She’s so slick. For somebody so young she’s so on top of her game. So it made my stuff a lot easier. She seems to know her craft and know what she’s doing. We had a really lovely connection and we worked really well together. We did a lot of stuff together and I can’t wait to see it all. She’s top of her game, she’s amazing.
Have you met her before?
No I’ve never met her. I have watched on her on screen so saw that she was very pretty and very good but no I hadn’t met her before turning up on set.
How did you react when you read those first scripts?
I was thrilled actually. I text Liza as soon as I got them. Although then I went straight into feeling that sense of responsibility about doing the storyline justice. I had to think about how I was going to play it all in quite a short space of time. I was still really excited but I wanted to do a really good job.
Did you ever think you’d make a return?
No; you just kind of close that chapter. You don’t live your life thinking “I wonder if”. When I’m out shopping people come up and say “Oh, Louise is having a terrible time, Lisa should be back”, and I just went “oh that’s very sweet” but didn’t that anything more of it. So no I hadn’t really thought about it.
Have you been watching the show still?
Yes on and off. My kids are very young still and that’s bathtime and bedtime but if it’s on I always sit and watch it, then I’m gripped. There’s always that danger of getting hooked into it and then I’d just be watching it all the time (laughs). Knowing I was coming back I’d been watching it more and more. Seeing who was who, what was going on and putting names to faces. It’s great, I love it.
Do people still ask you about Lisa, who shot Phil?
Yes! I’m quite surprised really considering how long it’s been since my character’s been heavily involved in the show. People still say “hi, Lisa” which I find quite surprising, but also very complimentary. It’s very sweet that people still do that. I think it’s linked with the stuff that’s going on now too with Louise. It brings Lisa back to the forefront of people’s minds.
‘Who Shot Phil?’ is one of the show’s most iconic storylines even to this day, how does that feel?
I’m so proud of being involved in that storyline. It was a really good time on the show. It was fabulous writing. It was a culmination of things, it was a slow burn and a real ‘who dunnit?’ and it paid off on every level. It was a real team thing, keeping it a secret, publicity did an amazing job. I’m just really proud of that whole time and being part of that storyline.
What was it like stepping onto the Square again?
The Square’s revamped, it’s a bit more glamourous. It was lovely to do a couple of little scenes out there. It was great seeing all the supporting artists because Lisa started out on the Market as the inspector. It was so lovely. I was glad I got to do it and wasn’t just in the studios. It was nice to be back for old time’s sake.
Can you tease what viewers have in store for the next couple of weeks?
There’s lots of drama, there’s lots of twists and turns you don’t see coming. I think there’s lots of history and you’ll see a lot of old Lisa being played out. You’ll see that character there ready to come out and do some stuff the viewers recognise from before. It’s good old kitchen sink drama with the relationships people love. There’s some great stuff with Phil and Lisa, and Lisa and Sharon. There’s beautiful stuff with Sonia and Lisa. It’s reminiscent of historical stuff which is great.