David Hennessy talks to Gillian Kearney of Emmerdale as her character Emma Barton’s dark side threatens to show itself again
“I think she gets a red mist and gets out of control and it becomes a bit destructive,” Gillian Kearney tells The Irish World about her role of Emma in the popular ITV soap Emmerdale.
Emma came into the programme recently when Finn Barton decided to search for his birth mother. Her return was not welcomed by Pete Barton and it soon became clear why as it was revealed that Emma tried to kill her son Ross when he was a baby.
Although she is a nurse, Emma seems to have a cold streak and the audience could see this when she caused a farm accident that left estranged husband James unconscious and trapped. Emma was prepared to leave him like that until Pete arrived and encouraged her to treat him.
The Liverpool-Irish actress says: “It’s good she has that side to her, the caring side. She’s been without her boys all their lives and that(nursing)’s what she’s done with her life so she had the potential, she could have brought him back and she chose not to, she was kind of forced into doing that and was glad that she did.
“She doesn’t know what she wants in a way. I think she very much thinks as she goes along, she’s not a planner. I think she’s very spontaneous and that’s what is fun about playing her. Each thing that is thrown at her, you don’t know what she’s going to do with that. She takes it on board and deals with it there and then and that can be fun.”
This is a big week in the village and for Gillian’s character. When she was a young mother, she suspected her husband James was having an affair with Moira, his brother’s wife. Viewers found out last year that this was the case as James is Moira’s son Adam’s biological father. Now that she knows this, Emma is set to show her dark side again: “Adam will be the next target. She’s been quite possessive of James. On one hand, she was cold enough to walk away from him in the barn and yet on the other, she was there with her son bringing him back to life and genuinely wanted him to come back to life.
“He supports her and encourages her to stay when the other boys just want her to leave and I think she misreads that and thinks, ‘I do love him and maybe we could just become a family again’. That’s her idea and what she truly wants deep down and I think when she realises James wants a divorce, she kind of channels all her anger against Adam who is obviously living proof of James’ infidelity years ago.”
Gillian played a nurse in Casualty from 2008 to 2010. Prior to that she enjoyed a stint on Shameless. Much earlier, in her career, she launched her career on another soap, playing Debbie McGrath in Brookside.
Was it the complex character and rich back story that attracted Gillian, who has family roots in the West of Ireland, to the show? “Yeah, when I was asked to come in and read, they mocked up a scene especially just to show different sides of Emma.
“She was like a rollercoaster: She’s full of love, she’s full of hatred, she wants to take revenge but she wants to reunite with her sons, she’s very tender towards her sons. She genuinely regrets what she’s done in the past. She has suffered in the past with postnatal depression and made a big mistake with Ross and has paid very heavily.
“It’s good fun to play someone who has been through so much and yet still has so much to give. She still wants to reunite with her sons. It’s nice to play someone who’s devious but is also very fragile and vulnerable as well. She’s not just a bad evil person and she’s not a saint either. She’s very human.”
Did Gillian have to do research on postnatal depression in order to relate to the role? “I did do a little bit of research. It’s more common than you think really. There’s lots of different factors, it can just be completely hormonal but it can be outside factors too.
“It would be nice to show different sides of her. No one’s ever solved, are they? It’s an ongoing problem, people’s history never really leaves them. They can try to improve the situation. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen.”
So what kind of reaction has Gillian been receiving since playing the character? Have viewers been telling her that they dislike Emma? “Do you know what? They’re not saying that. They’re kind of saying, ‘ooooohhhhh… What’s she going to do?’ They’re enjoying it because obviously Emma comes in and sets her stall out straight away and tells Moira where she stands but also, I think it’s nice that people see that she shows one face to one person and then she’s quite good at being other things to other people so I think it’s fun to watch that happen and unfold.”
Emmerdale continues all week on ITV.