EastEnders spoilers follow.
Lord Michael Cashman has shared new details about an emotional EastEnders return.
The actor reprises his breakthrough role as Colin Russell alongside former on-screen love Gary Hailes (aka Barry) for EastEnders‘ extended funeral episode for Dot Branning.
This will be Lord Cashman’s first appearance in EastEnders since 2016, when he returned to the show for Colin to invite longtime friend Dot to his wedding.
“When I went back in 2016, it was specifically to work with June on what we thought would be a very important story for the two of them – Colin’s wedding,” he recalled.
“Going back this time, it felt like I’d never been away. I’ve never worked with such a warm, generous, welcoming group of actors in my life. I was overwhelmed then, after some of the scenes that were very dramatically challenging for the actors, I heard their colleagues applauding them. It lifted my heart.”
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He continued: “When I got the first message asking if I would be interested in returning, it was an unequivocal, unqualified ‘yes’. I couldn’t imagine Colin not being at the funeral of his wonderful friend Dot and I couldn’t imagine not being there in June.
“She created a television icon that will stand the test of time. I had to be there, and I was humbled that they thought of me.”
This expulsion for June Brown gave Lord Cashman a chance to reunite with several of his co-stars from EastEnders in the 1980s, including Tom Watt (Lofty) and Linda Davidson (Mary the Punk).
“Working with Tom, Linda and Gary is like being thrown back in time with a group of people that you learned to ride with! We spoke quickly in shorthand and it was as if we had reached back in time to almost 40 years ago.
“The strength to EastEnders has always been the integrity of the characters, and I hope viewers will remember these characters fondly and, along with us, jump into the little time machine,” he said. “Everyone was changed in one way or another, certainly for the better, by Dot Burning. It’s great. It is like weaving together a beautiful tapestry.
“Working with them was a joy. Every morning I walked in, I walked through the corridor past my old dressing room, the studio where we rehearsed and recorded. Every day I had a date with the past and it never disappointed me.
“My lovely late husband, Paul Cottingham, used to work with EastEnders as a supporting artist, so it also had a wonderful resonance for me. People said, ‘Michael, you’ve changed. You smile so much! Are you in the House of Lords?’ I said, ‘No, I’m at Elstree!’ Even now I have a smile as big as a church organ when I think about it.”
Lord Cashman also had a chance to reflect on his work with June Brown in pioneering stories that explored LGBTQ+ people before they were widely represented in television drama.
“The scene she did with Gary Hailes has to go down as an iconic scene. Then Colin tried to talk to Dot and every time he approached her in the town square she put her hand over her mouth and ran away because she thought she was going to get AIDS,” he recalled.
“I loved the way she suddenly started listening to Colin and then telling others facts about AIDS and HIV. June and I used to travel together and visit people in the hospices who were then dying of AIDS-related illnesses, and she did a lot of work for charities organizations for AIDS and HIV, so it sticks in my head.”
The renowned activist continued: “Dot represented a special kind of woman who saw the world in black and white. She couldn’t stand injustice or hypocrisy and her faith got her through things. Dot was one of those women you see down the market, their coat pinned herself to them, purse even closer, going about their business, just wanting a nice, quiet, simple life, of course she never had that.
“But no matter what the world threw at her, she didn’t roll over. She took it and challenged it. Dot always did the right thing, and that’s why the character remains so beloved. Dot was a contradiction, and they’re much more interesting than one-dimensional characters . She made you think, she made you laugh, and oh my god, she made you cry. Dot is one of television’s greatest icons.”
Reflecting on June’s legacy in the soap, he said: “June was the ultimate professional and she wanted you to know your lines, preferably in the right order. She wanted everyone to succeed but she would call out anyone who lacked commitment or professionalism.
“She used to say, ‘We’re lucky to do what we do, so let’s do it best’. Her legacy is to show what brilliant work and dedication can achieve. Walk through the door, commit to what you do, and leave out with your head held high.”
EastEnders sent Mondays – Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. The show is also streaming on BBC iPlayer.
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