james sut t on
There’s very little that hasn’t already been said about John Paul McQueen. Every bit a soap icon, we’ve spent countless hours sobbing into our pillows at his repeated heartache, and even a few more when he walked down the aisle with Ste. But for actor James Sutton, his Chester adventure has been a journey that even he couldn’t ever have imagined... James! Twenty years of Hollyoaks. EXCITED? When we do really big things and really exciting things, that’s when you kind of go, “Oh, yeah, my job’s really cool! I’m involved in something that’s really important and really fun,” and it kind of brings it home to you. And to be in the 20th anniversary episode is huge. It’s quite a privilege. And in your time on the show, you’ve lead some of the biggest gay storylines in history... They weren’t just big for gay audiences, but big in general for soap storylines. John Paul and Craig Dean, especially. I think the pacing was really good with that one, because it lasted for a good couple of years and it was a slow burner. It was a real kind of journey and I think it was important – and it did make a difference. Storylines that do that always kinda stand the test of time. The domestic abuse one we’ve done fairly recently and the HIV one – I think these will stand up against any other soap. John Paul and Craig, though. We all remember that. It’s a part of soap history, isn’t it? ABSOLUTELY! John Paul’s got around a bit thought, hasn’t he? OH YEAH! He loves the cock, John Paul! And he doesn’t care who knows it. [Laughs] Did you have any idea when you began at Hollyoaks how important a gay character John Paul would be? I think at the time, the team knew, but I don’t think I did. Mainly because when you’re actually in it and in day-to-day filming, you’re in a bit of a bubble. It was only when I left and had the chance to sit down and really think about it that I was like, “That was groundbreaking stuff.” People still tweet me links to YouTube montages they’ve made of John Paul and Craig – and I do occasionally click them and it’s incredible now looking back. We put our heart and soul into that, Guy [Craig Dean] and I. I still get tweets and I still get letters about it. It’s the thing I’m most proud of in my career. And when you returned, you were involved with a male rape storyline, the first same-sex marriage in a church and Ste getting HIV... Channel 4 allowed us to really push the boundaries when John Paul was raped. We really went there with it and, for 6:30 in the evening, they have to take a bow really, because it’s really important stuff for us to show. It changed the face of the country we know. The Ministry of Justice also gave money to male victims of rape because of it. We can do brightly coloured, loud, sometimes fun storylines, but we can also do incredibly hard-hitting, important stuff – and I think it’s that balance that makes the show what it is. Hollyoaks has never been shy of pushing the gay storylines on screen either... For the last ten years, since John Paul and Craig, we’ve never hidden away from openly showing men kissing and having relationships and love. A lot of our fans who’ve followed us for a long time don’t bat an eyelid now. Have you ever received a backlash about being a straight actor playing a gay character? Not so much anymore, but I did in my first stint on the show. Actually from certain members of the gay community – some fairly prominent people on other shows said certain stuff in interviews. I remember one actor from another show questioning why I should be playing a gay character, which I found absurd coming from a gay man himself. You’re talking about breaking down boundaries and prejudices, but you’re saying, “You should do that because you’re straight. You should do that because you’re gay.” All you’re doing is adding fuel to the fire. Has Holloyaks ‘normalised’ sexuality on TV then? No, but it’s because for so long it was seen as abnormal! I think ‘normal’ is the right word. You go back to Queer as Folk, at the time that was seen as really shocking as a programme. I was probably borderline too young to probably watch it but that was really shocking. And I think if that was on TV now, I don’t think that would be deemed that shocking. We now have people that aren’t defined by their sexuality and just go about their day.