Blood guns& push-ups
When Michelle Keegan landed the lead role in the second series of BBC1 military drama
Our Girl, she might have expected a little star treatment. Instead, she was packed off to participate in some gruelling army training…
‘We had to do a two-week boot camp in South Africa!’ laughs the 29-year-old former Corrie star. ‘It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but if I said anything wrong, or wasn’t listening, the captain would say, “Drop down and give me 20 press-ups!” I used to do girlie ones on my knees, but now I’ve learned to do proper ones, so I’m well chuffed!’
Michelle plays Corporal Georgie Lane, an experienced army medic sent to a refugee camp in Kenya on a humanitarian mission. Although her character is adept with guns, boot camp was the actress’s first chance to handle a firearm.
‘I didn’t even know how to hold a gun when I started,’ she tells TV Times. ‘I’d never actually seen a real one, and they’re so heavy and intimidating. We went to a shooting range to practise with numerous guns and I had an AK-47.
‘It was so powerful, it nearly knocked my shoulder out of its socket. I found it quite scary, but
Michelle Keegan on getting fighting fit for the new lead role in Our Girl – and life after Corrie
the boys in the cast got really excited. It was their favourite day, and they filmed everything on their phones!’
Although the guns were a bit alarming, Michelle had a great time playing an action heroine.
‘I’d never done a role before where I had to get my hands dirty, so this is a very cool job. We did lots of stunts. I was flying in helicopters and getting flung into cars – it was very physical. I got bruises everywhere but I found it really liberating – it was brilliant not having to worry about my nails!
I’m glad it’s not a particularly sexy role because I want people to see me in another light, in something that’s different and gritty.’
Michelle is taking over from Eastenders star Lacey Turner, who played Molly Dawes in series one before returning to Walford two years ago.
‘I’m a big fan of Lacey’s – she’s an amazing actress, and my dad and I loved series one of Our Girl,’ she says. ‘I think everyone presumed I was playing Molly, but I’m not. We do make reference to her a few times, which is great for the audience, and her husband Captain James [Ben Aldridge] is still on the show, but it’s a fresh series with a completely different storyline.’
An army helmet and camouflage gear creates quite a transformation for petite Michelle, who is usually seen looking dazzling on red carpets with her husband, former TOWIE star Mark Wright, or modelling her glamorous Lipsy clothing range.
‘My friends and family couldn’t get over it when they saw me dressed up, especially because I’m so small – the helmet was bigger than me! But I met female soldiers while doing my research and a lot of the girls are smaller than me.’
Meeting women who have served in war zones gave her a new perspective on the life of our military.
‘A lot of them had Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and some of their stories were really heartbreaking.
It gave me a new-found respect for what people in the Army actually do. They’re my heroes – I don’t think I could cope with their life.’
Apart from learning military manoeuvres, Michelle also needed to pass as a convincing doctor.
‘I had to learn all the medical stuff, which was really difficult at first. I took blood samples and checked pulses, and there was a lot of fake blood and guts…
I had to take a lot of showers!’
But despite all the challenges, Manchester-born Michelle loved filming in South Africa.
‘I’m quite a home bod, I like being around family and friends, so I thought I’d get really homesick. But I was in nearly every scene, so I had no time to miss anyone! It was the experience of a lifetime.’
after leaving her breakthrough role as Coronation Street’s Tina Mcintyre, which she played from 2008 to 2014, Michelle appeared as Tracy, a receptionist caught up in drug trafficking, in popular BBC1 drama Ordinary Lies last year.
Now she has signed up to play England World Cup captain Bobby Moore’s wife, Tina, in a new ITV biopic. The constant stream of work is a relief after quitting one of the nation’s biggest shows.
‘Leaving Corrie was so daunting,’ she admits. ‘I didn’t know when my next job would come along, so to get a role like Georgie in a BBC drama makes me feel very lucky – I’m still pinching myself.
‘I absolutely loved doing Ordinary Lies, too, and I’m very disappointed that there’s a whole new cast for its second series – I would have liked to know what happened to my character!’
Combat gear is a very new look for the glamorous star army medic Georgie shows her mettle in battle zones
We did lots of stunts – I got bruises everywhere but it was brilliant not having to worry about
Michelle’s Mr Wright is husband Mark
as tragic Tina with lover Peter (Chris Gascoyne) in