Ex-EastEnders babe Michelle Ryan talks of having fun with Ulster's own Jimmy Nesbitt in drama Jekyll
Michelle Ryan is preparing to be interviewed about her latest role in BBC1's dark Saturday night drama Jekyll when her co-star Jimmy Nesbitt bounds over, hugs her and starts talking animatedly about their mutual friend Billie Piper.
Looking stunning in a simple black dress with her hair tied back in a neat ponytail, the 23-year-old actress returns giggling.
"When I said to my mum I'm going up for this thing with James Nesbitt she was like 'oh, I love him!' You're just always laughing with Jimmy. He's so great to work with because he's so charismatic and he has so much energy," she says.
Lucky that, because in Jekyll, a modern take on the much-told tale, he plays two characters - Dr Tom Jackman and the altogether darker Mr Hyde. The pair manage to share a body with the help of psychiatric nurse Katherine Reimer, played by Michelle, who monitors their behaviour.
While Jackman is desperate to keep his wife and kids secret from dangerous Hyde, both are unaware they are being tracked by an ancient organisation that has secret plans for them.
"I can't think of anything I've seen that has the feel Jekyll does - it's a real thriller," Michelle adds.
"I felt like I'd waited for this moment for so long, I couldn't wait to get started. She's very sassy and incredibly sharp, feisty and opinionated. She's really a brave character."
And she needs to be, because her job keeping an eye on Hyde is a frightening one. In the first episode we see just what kind of a guy he is when he leaves a young lad fighting for life, so it's no surprise Katherine feels more attracted to academic Jackman than his sexy, arrogant doppelganger.
"There is some sexual tension between them, a bit of chemistry, but Katherine is somebody who is very professional, she'd never cross that line."
Today, Michelle looks completely different from her most famous character, tear-soaked market stall holder Zoe Slater in EastEnders. It was the show that made her name at the tender age of 16, but after five years of tough filming schedules and hard-hitting storylines - including finding out her sister Kat was actually her mother and playing a part in the murder of Den Watts - you get the impression Michelle was relieved to leave it all behind back in 2005.
"I had such an amazing time and it's great training," she says.
"I know I'm sitting here now because of the start EastEnders gave me and I'll always be indebted to them.
"With Zoe I had such a great character and brilliant storylines, but there's only so many times you can make things real when you've got all these highly emotional scenes. Towards the end it was like, how many times do I have to cry? I wanted them to give her a backbone, make her a bit feisty, but it didn't happen. Bless her, she was a sweet character and I'm glad I got to do that."
When she left the soap, Zoe had a break of several months to regroup and relax, mindful of not taking the first job that was offered to her.
"It's really tricky when you leave a soap not to fall into the trap of just doing a drama or an extension of the character you played. I think I've been lucky that I've been able to be a bit choosy."
She was asked to take part in several reality shows, but decided to steer well clear.
"I'm quite shy, I couldn't handle cameras. I'd feel self-conscious and I'm quite a private person.
"I also got offered lots of modelling, fitness videos and calendars, all those sorts of things that earn you an absolute fortune. The figures they throw at you for magazine shoots are huge, but I've never really been driven by money."
It was lucky she was picky about what to do next, because her choices, including Jekyll, Jane Austen drama Mansfield Park and films like I Want Candy and Cash Back, put her firmly on the radar of US producers.
Earlier this year, the raven-haired beauty beat thousands of young actresses to win the part of Jamie Sommers in the forthcoming NBC series of Bionic Woman - a role set to catapult her into an international star.
"It's been the most exciting year. When I left EastEnders I thought I'd never take anything with a huge contract again, but then when I walked into the room at NBC they were so enthusiastic.
"I was unsure about it because of the commitment - it's seven years, and if it takes off I'll be filming in Vancouver for eight months every year for however long it runs. But I really do think this is an opportunity of a lifetime."
Michelle has worked hard for the part - she's learnt sign language, spent hours working out in the gym and has gone on a strict diet, but don't worry - the svelte star won't be joining the size zero club anytime soon.
"I haven't given up junk food completely," she laughs. "The minute I come back to Britain I slip back into my old ways."
While the prospect of potential megastardom may make others a bit weak at the knees, Michelle is taking it all in her stride.
"I feel quite fearless about it, actually. I feel like it's a clean slate over there, no judgments from being in a soap or anything like that, people just taking you for who you are and if it works, great, if it doesn't they send you back."
Michelle says she's having great fun filming Bionic Woman in Canada, but does confess to missing her mum, dad and brother.
"I'm really close to my family and it definitely keeps me grounded. But I'm 23 - I needed to move out at some point!"
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