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At home on Hope Street

Karen Hassan plays DC Jo Lipton. Here she is pictured with Finnian Garbutt who plays PC Ryan Power.

Belfast actress Karen Hassan told David Hennessy about joining the cast of BBC’s daytime drama Hope Street, returning home to Northern Ireland after some years away and her characters being routinely killed off.

Former Hollyoaks and The Fall actress Karen Hassan has just joined the cast of the BBC daytime drama set in Northern Ireland, Hope Street which has just returned for its third series.

Karen plays Detective Constable Jo Lipton, a newcomer to Hope Street.

No nonsense as an officer but somewhat aloof and mischievous in herself, Lipton is a love interest for Niall Wright’s Callum McCarthy.

But what has brought her to Hope Street? As the series plays out, the audience may found out she also has her secrets.

Detective Jo Linton seems like a fun role to play, what do you like about her?

“I think I like her hardness.

“I know that sounds maybe weird to say but I kind of like characters who maybe are not so two dimensional, you have to dig a bit deeper to try to get to know them.

“That was definitely something that occurred when I was delving into the character.

“There’s some choices she makes probably wouldn’t be the most popular choice but it makes sense for her and when you scratch the surface a little bit more, you kind of get to the real her.

“I kind of put a lot of walls up around her because we never really know her background.

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“That was something I leaned into.

“She could have a lot of secrets hidden and she wasn’t going to just let anybody know them.

“She has a storyline with Callum.

“She has a softness to her but it takes someone like Callum to get through her barrier.

“I would say her hardness and her directness is something that I probably like.
“Even though audience members might find it hard to instantly connect with her, she does show a softer side too.”

Jo Linton enters the series in dramatic fashion. She hasn’t even reached the police station when she stumbles upon a prison van that has been attacked with a convict now on the loose.

Jo is first on the scene to provide help.

“She’s good at her job and that’s something that I kept going back to.

“She’s Detective Constable.

“She’s high up.

“She’s a unit of one basically so she holds herself accountable.

“She enjoys her job. She’s pushed herself to get where she is.

“So when it comes to doing her job, it’s no nonsense, get in there and that’s what she wants.

“When you’re dealing with authority people as well, you don’t want them to be a holy show, a mess. You want to put your trust in people like that.

“It was like, ‘She’s in police mode now. This is how she gets through. This is how her mind works’.

“You can see when she’s starting to put something together.

“She kind of goes into herself and is like, ‘Right, I’ve figured this out’.

“I think she enjoys that.”

Karen with Niall Wright who plays Callum McCarthy.

I think the shock for her is really coming to this small town where everyone knows everyone making policing very different than in a big city. That’s the shock for her, isn’t it?

“I know. I kind of had a few lines in there where we would be investigating.

“When it’s, ‘Let’s ask Barry this’, ‘I used to go to school with this character’ or, ‘Or we grew up together’.

“I had a line, ‘Does everybody know everyone here?’

“And they were like, ‘Practically, yeah’.

“But I said it with a bit of spiciness because I feel like when Jo first comes in, she maybe comes in thinking, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this, I’ve got this down, I know what I’m doing here’.

“This is a small, little sleepy village, nothing’s gonna faze her.

“And then obviously she starts getting more and more welcome, starts feeling the warmth of the place and then soon she starts seeing the benefit of the fact that everyone knows each other, people look out for you and there’s a sense of community there which I feel wins her round.

“She ends up loving it, I feel like she really sees that she could put roots down somewhere like that, and maybe falling for its charms.”

She has a sense of fun as well, doesn’t she? When Callum gets oil on his trousers, she makes him take them off if he wants a lift back to the station..

“Yeah, I think she likes pushing people out of their comfort zone.

“So when she feels like that it makes Callum slightly embarrassed, she’s like, ‘I’m gonna pull on this thread. This is gonna be fun’.

“I love to see what things like that do for her as well.

“She’s serious about her job but there’s other sides to her as well.

“I was talking about this the other day: She’s drinking in the inspectors office, sitting in his chair with her legs up and she’s just like a truant from school.

“She’s challenging Callum to show his naughtier side.

“I love playing those scenes, they’re really good craic.

“Like I say, she’s serious at her job but there’s definitely a playful element to her and maybe she finds things funny that Marlene doesn’t find funny.

“Like forcing him to go back with no trousers on obviously would be a big no, no in usual police behaviour but for Jo, it’s just a bit of craic.

“Why not push the envelope a bit?”

Are you like Jo?

“It’s funny.

“When I tell people that I play harder characters- I said to a friend the other day and she’s like, ‘You’re so soft’.

“As a person, my personality would be a bit more caring and softer and more compassionate, I would say.

“Obviously I have sides to me that are like that (Jo) as well.

“Whenever I get a character, I do try to bring elements of myself because that’s what you’re relying on really, I like to play into naturalism quite a bit.

“I’m always kind of thinking, ‘How would I react in this situation?’

“And so I guess that’s always my base level.

“I feel like she’s quite abrasive as a person sometimes.

“I just like creating characters that are not so surface level.”

Is it a novelty to play a police officer? It’s not something you have done much of before..

“No, it’s not. I’ve actually quite enjoyed it.

“I remember getting my first scene where I had to arrest somebody.

“I was like, ‘This is a tick list for actors, getting those memories and those lines’.

“And I ended up arresting quite a few people in the show.

“I really liked playing a police officer.

“I did it when I was in a TV series called Doing Money.

“That was about slavery and set in Northern Ireland as well, so I played a police officer then but that was a slightly more serious version of a police officer, obviously a very challenging topic.

“But to play somebody like Jo, a police officer in a sleepy little village, that’s quite good fun.

“I’ve definitely loved playing a police officer again.”

Are you getting reactions to the new series?

“Yeah, and so far all the reaction’s been quite positive.

“I was a fan of the show before I joined it so it’s really nice to be a part of it  and now that it’s on screen getting people’s reactions to Jo and how she’s fitting in to the show is really nice actually.

“I’ve had a few friends message me from the gym saying, ‘I’m currently on the treadmill watching ya on telly’, so that’s been quite funny.

“But it’s nice to be in something that’s kind of homegrown.”

Hope Street is a co-commission between BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Daytime and Britbox International, made with support from Northern Ireland Screen.

“I love filming in Northern Ireland.

“It’s my home town and It felt like when I was living away in America or England, I was always coming back here to film things so it’s great there’s a massive community here now for home grown talent which we didn’t have so many years ago.

“It’s fantastic.”


Karen has made the move back to her native Belfast after years living away in the UK and United States.

“I don’t think I’m ever gonna be fully settled somewhere, the idea’s in my head that I will move on somewhere else at some point but for now, I feel really happy and settled and close to family and friends.

“It’s been really nice actually.

“I went away initially to Liverpool for Hollyoaks and then stayed in Manchester, then London for a few years after that and then off to LA.

“I came back just before the pandemic actually and then I was close to family and friends for that.

“It’s easy to say there’s no place like home but it is true, I feel really settled and happy and content where I am for the moment. That’s not to say that in a couple of years’ time I won’t take myself off and go on an adventure somewhere else.

“But for now, it’s my little rock.”

It sounds like you’re enjoying the experience on Hope Street.

“It really is such a friendly set so it’s kind of like going to work with your mates and having a bit of craic.

“As much as we deal with hard topics in Hope Street, everything always gets tied up neatly.

“Going to work and enjoying ourselves and we are a real team down there.”

Would you have known many of the cast before joining them? Niamh McGrady would also have been in The Fall..

“I would have known her for years.

“I had never worked with Niall before but obviously heard of him and we have mutual friends.

“I’ve known Kerri (Quinn, Sergeant Marlene Pettigrew) for years, and the same with Rachel Tucker.

“Rachel used to live around the corner from me when we were younger.

“She and my sister would have been quite good friends when  we were growing up, Belfast is a small place so it was lovely and I knew loads of the crew as well.

“When I walked on set, it was so nice.

“Sometimes when you do be acting parts, you go off to, say Budapest, for two weeks and you arrive and you don’t know anyone on set- This was completely the opposite. I knew practically everybody.”

It seems like, going all the way back to Lynsey Nolan in Hollyoaks getting murdered by a serial killer, your characters have a trend of dying..

“Every time I get a part my mum always jokes, ‘Do you die in this one?’

“The only thing I would say is when you do know your character is gonna be killed off or die that it’s good and it’s memorable and it means something.

“I’m quite lucky with that.

“I have died quite a lot in different roles.  Probably the most fun one was when I did Vikings.

“I got garrotted with a steel wire at a banquet in front of the king so that was quite good fun.”

If that’s your idea of good fun, I suppose.

Ironically one show you weren’t killed in was The Fall with your character surviving being attacked by the predator played by Jamie Dornan. 

The Fall was a massive show at the time, what was it like to work with Gillian Anderson?

“She was fantastic.

“She’s just an amazing actress and she was lovely to me during our shoot, and Jamie as well.

“They couldn’t have been more welcoming.

“Gillian was lovely and it was amazing to be able to work with an actor of that calibre, and Jamie as well.

“I love what they both did with that show.

“Obviously the show rests on their shoulders and they’ve made it what it is and a success at what it is.

“Yeah, that’s something that I’ll be proud of for a long while: Being able to be part of something like that.”

Karen has also recently starred in Wait for Me. Set in Halifax in West Yorkshire, Karen plays a drug-addicted prostitute searching for her missing child.

“Again, that was one that I was very lucky to get.

“It was a really hard hitting character.

“She was a prostitute who was trying to escape her life and reconnect with her long lost daughter but it’s a tragedy because as much as you feel for this character, you realise her world just isn’t a good  environment to live this happy little life that she so much wants and in order to protect her daughter, she has to put her somewhere safe not close to her.

“It’s quite a heartbreaking wee story.

“I absolutely loved that film.

“Getting to play a really interesting character Like Alison was challenging but very, very, very rewarding.”

Sean McGinley was also part of the cast..

“When I realised it was like a mini heart attack.

“I was like, ‘Are you serious? I get to do a scene with Sean McGinley’.

“That was phenomenal and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the movie as well.

“It’s hard hitting.

“He’s giving her some advice about being a sex worker which is just so jarring but Sean just delivered it amazingly.

“It was phenomenal.

“For me as an actor to get to work with Sean was unreal, brilliant.”
That’s the beauty of an actor’s life, isn’t it? That you go from playing a gritty part like Alison to now Jo Linton in a daydream drama..

“I know.

“It’s funny because you try to imaging what parts you would like to get and then all of a sudden, something else lands in your lap.

“But then you become so attached to the character and they kind of live with you for a bit.

“You live those characters for a bit and they become a bit of the fabric of your own life.”

Behind the scenes of Hope Street.

They live with you… until they get killed off!

“Until they get killed off,” Karen laughs. “Then they become a nice memory.”

Speaking of characters getting written off, haven’t you also been writing some drama with your friend and former Hollyoaks cast mate Claire Cooper?

“Yeah, so we’ve got a period drama we’re trying to get sold.

“It’s set in the north of England.

“Can’t say too much about it but it’s something we’re both really passionate about.

“It’s a really interesting female led story and based on true events.

“That’s doing the rounds and then the other one we have is still in development is something we wanted to write about toxic relationships.

“I know they have been in the media quite a bit recently and people are talking more about them but it’s something that we’ve been very drawn to, so it’s more of a modern piece.

“It’s something I really enjoy doing actually.”

Back to Jo Linton, what can you tell us about her journey in this third series of Hope Street?

“I feel like they have brought Jo in to really explore Callum’s character, so her storyline is very much tied up with him but It would be lovely to see where she has come from as a character too and see how she would fit in in Hope Street on a more permanent basis.

“All will be revealed.”

Jo has a secret and a past that will emerge.

“It’s brilliant and it helps create a bit of light and shade for Jo as well.

“I absolutely love working with Niall as well.

“There’s a bit of a Ross and Rachel relationship with Callum and Jo. Will they? Won’t they? On again, off again and the audience willing them to just get themselves together and be happy.”

Hope Street is on BBC One on Fridays at 1.45pm, the whole series is available now on BBC iPlayer.

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