Life af­ter Hay­ley

JULIE HES­MOND­HALGH on leav­ing Cor­rie for Broad­church

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - FRONT PAGE - photography: amelia troubridge

Julie Hes­mond­halgh was never meant to be­come one of our most pop­u­lar ac­tresses. But dur­ing 16 years play­ing the trans­gen­der Hay­ley Crop­per in Corona­tion

Street, she won six ma­jor awards, in­clud­ing Na­tional Tele­vi­sion and Royal Tele­vi­sion So­ci­ety tro­phies. The highly con­tro­ver­sial scenes of her as­sisted sui­cide three years ago at­tracted over 9.5 mil­lion view­ers, de­spite thou­sands of her fans boy­cotting the show be­cause they were ‘too trau­ma­tised’ to watch her die.

Since leav­ing the street, Julie has ap­peared on stage in Manch­ester and Lon­don, and on tele­vi­sion in Happy Valley and the Rus­sell T Davies drama Cu­cum­ber.

But af­ter these less pub­li­cised roles, her lat­est – in ITV’s rat­ings ti­tan Broad­church, along­side Olivia Col­man and David Ten­nant – puts her cen­tre stage once again. She plays Tr­ish Win­ter­man, a mid­dle-aged di­vor­cée who is bru­tally raped, and on whom the story is based. It’s a mes­meris­ing per­for­mance that is all the more pow­er­ful for be­ing un­der­stated. This is a woman whose im­me­di­ate worries are her daugh­ter see­ing her in a trau­ma­tised state, and whether the po­lice be­lieve her.

Julie ar­rives in a Lon­don restau­rant on one of the wettest, cold­est days of the year in a bun­dle of coats, scarves and jumpers. There is, in per­son, noth­ing of the angst you might ex­pect from a woman who chooses ex­treme roles. Last year, she shaved her hair and lost two stone to play an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor dy­ing of ovar­ian can­cer in the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Wit at Manch­ester’s Royal Ex­change Theatre.

‘If any­thing,’ she says with a half smile, ‘roles like that choose me rather than me choos­ing them. But like Meryl Streep said at [this year’s] Golden Globes, “An ac­tor’s only job is to en­ter the lives of peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us and make you feel what that feels like.” I was sit­ting at home cheer­ing at the telly when she said that.’

Julie is funny, warm and un­ex­pect­edly nor­mal – nei­ther preachy nor pre­cious about the many causes she sup­ports, from home­less­ness and LGBT is­sues to pe­ti­tion­ing Down­ing Street to raise aware­ness of pan­cre­atic can­cer. ‘It’s what you do, isn’t it? I can never stop my­self from just get­ting in­volved. My mother’s the same. You wouldn’t think it to look at her – she’s 82 and wears pas­tel M& S blouses – but you should hear her talk. She’s a po­lit­i­cal fire­brand!’

Corona­tion Street’s pro­duc­ers ini­tially had no big plans for Hay­ley Crop­per. It was lit­tle more than a walk-on part, but Julie had no in­ten­tion of let­ting go of her big break. ‘I wasn’t meant to be in Corona­tion

Street for any longer than two weeks,’ she says. ‘The char­ac­ter of Hay­ley was orig­i­nally writ­ten as a joke. It wasn’t a po­lit­i­cally cor­rect one, but this was back in 1998. The joke was that Roy Crop­per [David Neil­son] was go­ing to go on a se­ries of dis­as­trous blind dates, one of them be­ing with a man who had trans­gen­dered to a woman. For the writ­ers and the pro­duc­ers, Hay­ley was never meant to be any­thing other than a bad joke on Roy.

‘But I knew I could make it some­thing. I signed that orig­i­nal two-week con­tract with ab­so­lute con­vic­tion that they would never be get­ting rid of me. I was go­ing to give it ev­ery­thing I had. I could see much more in her: depth, sad­ness, courage, hu­mour, truth. I knew I could make the au­di­ence fall in love with her, be­lieve in her, root for her. That was my in­ten­tion from the start. I didn’t tell any­one, I just put ev­ery­thing into the way I played her.’

At that time, Julie was liv­ing in a friend’s spare room in Lon­don and sign­ing on the dole. She had spent her years since leav­ing drama school run­ning a tiny in­de­pen­dent theatre and pick­ing up small roles in shows such as The Bill and Catherine Cook­son’s The Dwelling Place.

‘I’d had years of no money, which was OK be­cause I loved be­ing part of the busi­ness. But I was 28 [she’s now 46]. I wanted more. I wanted peo­ple to see what I could do. Cor­rie was my big chance.’

When she de­cided to leave, the news was a ‘bomb­shell’ to the cast and pro­duc­ers. ‘I knew they’d have to kill me off be­cause Hay­ley would never leave Roy un­less she or he died. I never thought I’d leave be­cause I was so happy there. But I did a play in 2012 – Black Roses: The Killing of So­phie Lan­caster [about a 20-year-old bat­tered to death in 2007 by a gang just be­cause she was a goth] – be­cause So­phie’s mother asked me to play her. It made me want to do more. I spoke to my hus­band [ac­tor and writer Ian Ker­shaw], my mum, and Kather­ine Kelly [ Corona­tion Street’s Becky McDon­ald], and ev­ery­one told me to do it. Kather­ine said, “You’ll never look back.” I miss ev­ery­one – par­tic­u­larly David – but I’m lov­ing each new challenge.’

I ask whether she was con­cerned about star­ring in the third se­ries of Broad­church af­ter the se­cond was crit­i­cally slammed. She looks shocked. ‘No, I don’t think like that. I was flat­tered they wanted me. It was an in­cred­i­ble script, a fas­ci­nat­ing role and I’d be work­ing with Olivia Col­man and David Ten­nant. I was in from the word go.’

She talks about ‘trust­ing her­self’ to play the vic­tim of a hor­rific rape. She talked to women at Dorset Rape Cri­sis and at a Sex­ual As­sault Re­fer­ral Cen­tre, watched doc­u­men­taries and, along­side Broad­church’s staff, worked with an in­de­pen­dent sex­ual vi­o­lence ad­vi­sor. ‘I was glad they picked me,’ she says. ‘I’m glad they went for some­one who looked like me – some­one as old as me, in­stead of a pretty young girl. I get sick to the back teeth of the way rape is por­trayed on tele­vi­sion and in films. It’s usu­ally some­one young and at­trac­tive. Even bril­liant Swedish dra­mas do this. It makes the au­di­ence think there’s some­thing sex­ual about it. But rape is an act of vi­o­lence against women. ‘The other as­pect we wanted to get across was how much the po­lice have changed their at­ti­tude to rape. The sys­tem has changed. It used to be all, “What were you wear­ing?” [But] many rapes still go un­re­ported and, if this makes more women come for­ward, that would be huge.’ I ask about Olivia and David. She grins. ‘ You hope they are go­ing to be as lovely as you want them to be. They were even nicer, even more bril­liant. And those guys work so hard on that show. They are in prac­ti­cally every

‘I get sick of the way rape is por­trayed. It’s usu­ally some­one young and at­trac­tive’

Right Julie as Hay­ley Crop­per, with David Neil­son as her screen hus­band, Roy

Above David Ten­nant, Olivia Col­man and Julie in Broad­church Right With hus­band Ian Ker­shaw

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