Leanne Tilsley is about to endure the worst possible nightmare any parent could face in Coronation Street as Oliver falls seriously ill with life limiting condition mitochondrial disease – and Jane Danson, who plays her, admits that she thought at first that this would be her exit storyline as it is such a grim outcome for the character.
In an exclusive interview with Metro.co.uk, the popular actress explained: ‘That was my initial concern – it felt like the end for Leanne, a leaving story. I know how soap works so spoke to (show boss) Iain and understood my character might become a casualty but I asked if he could tell me now if this was it.
‘But he said it’s quite the contrary – the beginning of a new chapter for her. It’s quite possibly the worst thing that can happen to anybody but having spoken to Liz from The Lily Foundation charity, life does go on in a way after this horrific journey, and Leanne will go through a bad time but she has another responsibility in Simon.
‘Maybe she will finally grow up a bit – she has always been feisty and gobby. There’s a long, long way to go and I am interested to see where they take that – Leanne could change for the better or for the worse. Iain is open to suggestions from us as well, which is really nice when you’ve played a character for years to have that input and keep that continuity. Iain’s been with the show for a number of years and really knows the characters – he’s very supportive at hearing out your point of view. I don’t know what will happen to her but it will change her.’
The storyline is already having a massive impact, with viewers reacting to the diagnosis and many real people who have been impacted by mitochondrial disease reaching out to talk about it.
Saying she hadn’t heard of the condition until this point, Jane was clearly overwhelmed by the reaction coming from the story and that just enhanced her determination to portray it in the best way possible.
She explained to us: ‘That’s the positive thing. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I realise the importance of it for something like this. The response I have had already is huge – I’m doing an online quiz to raise awareness with the charities and the post is the most views I’ve had for anything. If that helps, it has to be good thing. And it helps me too, as it gets me more knowledge of the condition which will help my performance as it’s a huge journey and very complex.’
That’s not to say that there weren’t fears and doubts around tackling the storyline, with Iain admitting earlier in the year that this story is possibly one of the ones he has felt this level of fear and pressure to get right. Jane was on the same page when she first found out about it.
She said: ‘Absolutely, yeah. Initial reactions from a few people were why are we doing this? But it’s for the very reasons we’ve just said – it’s a real story. We need the balance of humour and we’re all very conscious of that as fans of the show. But this is a serious story and it’s involving characters can have really comedic storylines too.
‘With it being a child, anything that has awful consequences is bad and it’s really sensitive. It is a massive responsibility and I initially I wondered if it was something people wanted to see. But we don’t always want to see these kind of things but it is someone’s reality. So long as we can do it truthfully and something good comes out of it – that might be the story raising awareness – to put the viewers through it is quite a lot, so we have to strike it right. We know it’s really hard for people and some might not want to watch and I totally respect that. On a personal level I hope they do, I have been overhwlemed with messages from families who are pleased that we are covering this.
‘We’re living in times that are much stranger than normal and the real world is sad right now. People still have an appetite for soaps and it’s hard hitting but it is still escapism. We still have humour and strive to keep to that formula. So far, the reaction has been really positive.’
She added: ‘Over the years, I have had some amazing stories and they have always revolved around relationships. This one just feels real – and I am astonished by how many families go through this. I knew it was relatively rare but I have had all of these messages and it hits home how real this story it is.
‘The charity have been really supportive with helping me things I’m not sure of. I’m just an actor telling the story but we need to do it with compassion and accuracy so it’s a huge responsibility. This is someone’s storyline – it’s not like an affair, where you can do what you want – this is someone’s real life so we’re hoping to raise awareness. It’s a very difficult watch in many parts but it also opens up a lot of other stories for other characters. It’s very hard hitting and harrowing but it also opens up a lot of strands. It’s complex, with a lot to think about.
‘I know what’s coming up – there are massive stories come out of this that I’m less a part of. It’s structured so well. It’s so hard to watch but we can’t push it too long as it’s a lot to take in – we were right in the middle when we finished so I am looking forward to exploring the journey further. I want to get our heads down and get on with it.’
One character in particular who will become massively involved both in the direct storyline and another huge plot to come as a consequence is Toyah – and Jane is thrilled to be having lots of scenes with Georgia Taylor.
Jane smiled: ‘We’re the best of friends, completely. Toyah will be without a doubt Leanne’s biggest rock. It’s lovely for Georgia too as we’ve both been quiet before this. The characters are so different but there’s this massive bond.
‘Toyah’s the gentler one and Leanne’s the stroppy one! We have always loved that about them but they absolutely love each other. We’re so lucky to get on the way we do. Toyah becomes a huge part of this – and this opens up another big story for her which will be well explored. It is a massive involvement – which is great.’
Like everyone, Jane can’t wait for Corrie to get back into action – but she agrees that the enduring popularity of the soap has provided a bit of comfort to many during lockdown.
She mused: ‘We’re not quite sure when we’re going to get cracking again – it’s just a waiting game. Corrie’s a sense of normality, whether you’re an avid viewer or not – it’s a constant, it’s always been a part of my life, I have always watched it. Something’s normal, it’s familiar escapism, isn’t it?’
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