Blast from the past
Glen Wallace told David Hennessy about joining the cast of Coronation Street, how Corrie’s Jim McDonald and the actor James Nesbitt made him see he could have a career in acting and his heartbreak to see violence return to his native Northern Ireland recently.
When Belfast actor Glen Wallace made his recent entrance to Coronation Street as Lucas Kempton, it was a blast from the past for factory boss Carla Connor, played by Alison King.
An old flame of Carla’s, the businessman had intentions of luring Carla away from her sometimes volatile relationship with Peter Barlow that is further complicated by Peter’s ill-health due to alcoholism.
This isn’t Glen’s first time in a soap with lengthy stints in both Hollyoaks and Eastenders already on his showreel.
He first became recognisable for playing Malachy Fisher in Hollyoaks for three years from 2007. Glen would be nominated for Best Actor and Best Dramatic Performance at the British Soap Awards in 2010 for his work on the Channel 4 show.
It would be Albert Square for Glen years later when he arrived in Eastenders as DS Cameron Bryant, the police officer investigating Lucy Beale’s murder, in 2014. He would play Cameron for more than two years.
Glen has also appeared in Scottish BBC soap River City as well as Emmerdale, Holby City and Casualty.
Glen told The Irish World that Lucas might not have given up on Carla yet in spite of her marrying Peter.
Glen said, “I have gone in to throw a spanner in the works between Carla and Peter. Now that Lucas is involved in terms of Underworld, I think there’s the capacity for Lucas to get involved in and around Weatherfield.
“That love story between Carla and Peter, is it going to run smooth? Is there another opportunity? Who knows? That’s the wonderful thing about being part of a continuing drama. It does continue. I think there’s a fully formed character there that has a lot of potential.”
Although some might not like to see Lucas try to come between Peter and Carla, Glen doesn’t necessarily see Lucas as the bag guy in the story.
“Everything is relative and an audience will have invested in the Peter and Carla storyline for a lot longer than Lucas has been an idea. I’m fully aware that coming into the show and getting involved with those two he probably could be described as the bad guy. I don’t think that Lucas thinks that he is. I think that he’s genuine in his feelings for Carla.
“I don’t think you can go in and judge a character before you get to play them because it’s all about accepting the circumstances that are outside our control.”
Lucas and Carla first met years ago when she was on the rebound from a failed marriage and he was in a relationship. He understands Carla’s position with Peter and his alcoholism because his late girlfriend had a problem with drugs.
“She had gotten married to Nick. Things hadn’t particularly worked out and she had buggered off down to Devon which is where Lucas was based. We met on a night out, things could have happened but it didn’t because ultimately I was dating Lucy. I had a girlfriend at the time and I didn’t want to do anything against that.
“The backstory with him and Lucy is she was a drug addict so sadly she has passed away and he’s sort of going, ‘Do you know what? Maybe I should have done something. Maybe there’s more than just a night with Carla’.
“And that’s why he sort of engineered the whole thing to go back up to Weatherfield. He’s now in a situation where he can provide work for Underworld and wants to see the lay of the land, to see where she is at in her life.
“Peter and him being alcohol-dependant he has a frank conversation and an open and honest conversation with Carla saying, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve done that, I don’t want you to do what I did in terms of wasting your life because they’re not going to change. They’re always going to be like that. Ultimately an addict will always be an addict and they will choose the drug or the alcohol over a partner, over a child, over a relationship, over a job’.
“He’s coming from a place of truth. He knows it. He’s seen it. He’s lived it.
“I say, ‘I have feelings for you, how do you feel?’
“And then obviously we have seen how that did or didn’t pan out for him.
“Does any relationship really have a smooth run in any of the soaps? It would be nice to think as a viewer that Carla and Peter could ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. I’m not so sure that’s how the writers or the producers approach that kind of storyline.”
As someone who has watched the shows for years, it is specal for Glen to walk those famed cobbles but he has to put that to one side to do his job as an actor.
“I’ve been doing soaps or continuing dramas for the last 15 years. I started off in Hollyoaks and I’ve had the good fortune to do Emmerdale and Eastenders, Casualty, Holby and now Corrie.
“Those shows are the sort of shows- Especially back home in Ireland- that you grew up watching. Mam was an avid Coronation Street/ Eastenders fan so we’re all aware of it. Corrie’s been on 60 years this year. It’s an institution. It’s almost more than a show. To say that you don’t know or recognise that is a bit of a lie.
“However, the flip side of that is you’re a professional actor so you sort of put that to one side.
“Glen might be sitting in the Rovers’ Return and then remember all the storylines that he has seen before. Ultimately Lucas is there on a bit of a date with Carla Connor. He’s trying to win her over so you’ve got to forget where you are and sort of do the job in hand.”
He may have only been appearing in the show for a short time but Glen has already seen just what the show means to people.
“It’s funny. You could have done x amount of movies, you could done have done a whole run of shows on the West End but there’s something about the soaps. There’s something about the continuing dramas and I think I’ve got my finger on it now.
“There’s something about being in someone else’s living room. You go to the theatre, it’s a separate event. You go the cinema, it’s detached. Whenever you’re sitting in your front room and the TV comes on, you’re a voyeur. It’s almost as if those characters are stepping in. You’re living these storylines and experiences.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was probably naive. I wasn’t really expecting it. With the soaps, there’s an ownership. The viewers think they know you and rightly so. They know the character. They know the character and they care for them. They have opinions on them.
“It doesn’t really matter what you’ve done in the rest of your career. As soon as you do one of those flagship shows then it’s all-consuming in a way. I genuinely thought as a jobbing actor I could just go about doing my job, go home, forget about it but someone will stop you in the supermarket and go, ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing between Carla and Peter. Leave them alone’. If you’re doing a theatre job in the West End in London, that doesn’t happen.
“People invest in the soaps. That’s why they want to have that conversation with you.
“I’ve had an absolute ball. Everybody was fantastic, such a warm and welcoming environment to be in given the set of circumstances we were working under. They’ve been a great bunch. I love Manchester. I think part of my heart lives up there. I have got a season ticket at Old Trafford so I have been backwards and forwards to Manchester for over 20 years so to be working on that show in that city in the times that we’re in: Buzzing completely.”
Glen has described landing a role in Coronation Street as the light at the end of ‘the Covid tunnel’ as it came after a tough year. Actors are used to periods of not working but this came with nothing on the horizon.
“When you’re not working sometimes you can get caught in the, ‘When’s the next job coming through? when’s the next pay cheque coming through?’
“Then Covid kicked in and everything ground to a halt.
“You can spend nine months as an out of work actor, the difference is at least once or twice a week you’re getting a script through or you’re preparing or you’re having auditions. That was the thing that was missing.
“However, everyone was in the same boat so that allowed me to take any external pressure off myself because the business wasn’t working, there was nothing I can do about it.
“The first six months were fine really. I think 20 years as an actor has set me up nicely for lockdown.
“The second lockdown thankfully the gyms opened back up again. I live on my own so that gave me another environment to go to.
“I’m fully aware I use the gym as much for my mental health as my physical health. As an actor unless you’re working you don’t have a schedule so the gym provides me with that escape, with that schedule.
“I got my first job in October so that is pretty much a year of not working. It was a challenging year but listen, there were a lot more people in a lot more challenging situations.
“Thankfully now that the vaccine roll-out has started now. It appears that we have a handle on Covid, on the virus. There’s a dearth of material. There’s so much stuff waiting to be shot that I think the floodgates will open up. I hope I’m right. It feels like there’s going to be a lot of work coming through and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it all.”
Coronation Street fans will remember Jim McDonald, the Ulsterman who was in the soap from 1989 and only making his last appearance in 2018. Glen says seeing Charlie Lawson play Jim and James Nesbitt, who he would get to act with in 2016, showed him a future in acting was possible.
“Jim McDonald was an inspiration.
“There’s obviously a very long and poignant conversation that we’re having at the minute in the arts, and I guess in all forms of business, about representation and diversity and the importance of it.
“I can definitely stick my flag in the ground and say it is important because as a young lad growing up in Belfast, from a working class family who had no connections to the industry whatsoever, to have a career in the industry didn’t seem possible.
“However, when you see Charlie on Coronation Street as such a big character or you saw Jimmy in Cold Feet it allowed you to go, ‘I know who that is. I don’t personally know them but they come from where I come from so if they can do it, maybe I can do it’.
“I ended up working with James Nesbitt on The Secret a few years ago. It gives you hope. To see yourself mirrored on the television, on screen, I think gives you hope. I think it’s very important.
“Fair play to Charlie. He reached out on Twitter the other week just saying, ‘Mate, appreciate your voice and face on the cobbles. Well done, mate’. And you’re like, ‘Fair play’. It’s nice to be stepping into those very big shoes.”
An early role for Glen was a small part in the TV movie Holy Cross. Holy Cross, starring Bronagh Gallagher, was inspired by the true events of September 2001 when Catholic schoolgirls had to walk through a Protestant neighbourhood on their way to primary school causing violence to erupt.
The recent violence in Northern Ireland was disparaging to anyone who thought such dark days had been left behind.
“I think it’s a travesty if I’m honest. I think it’s a disgrace. I left Belfast in 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to go home three or four times a year every year, except last year, and every time I go back I see the city and Northern Ireland letting go of that dark past and moving forward with their lives.
“In the industry that I work in we have international award-winning shows coming to Northern Ireland to shoot: Game of Thrones. The film industry has grown unbelievably and off the back of that comes the tourist industry.
“People for years never wanted to go to Northern Ireland because of the fear of the violence.
“I have seen kids growing up in the streets I grew up on not having to worry about the things we had to worry about when we were growing up.
“I think to lose all of that, to lose that hope- I’m gutted. I’m absolutely gutted and I think the politicians on both sides of the border and actually on both sides of the Irish Sea need to take a long, hard look at themselves. I think they’ve let everyone down on the whole island of Ireland. I think they’ve let them down immeasurably. I think it’s heartbreaking.”
Glen is a season ticket holder at Old Trafford. There were controversial proposals of a European Super League recently. They were condemned by all in football before all six English football clubs had withdrawn within a matter of days. However, Glen thinks it is a bit late in the day to be talking about stopping greed taking over in football because European Super League or no European Super League, the fans have been a low priority for a long time.
“This is a massive can of worms. I find a lot of it hypocrisy.
“I think it’s really interesting the standpoint that some people have taken in the media, ex-football players and pundits, sports clubs themselves.
“If they’re really talking about the fans.. Were they thinking about the fans 25 years ago when the Premier League came about? And Sky subscription came about? When they moved the football kick-off times to suit television schedules as opposed to the fans? If they were really interested in the fans, would they still charge £70 for a replica top? Are you telling me that greed hasn’t already got its dirty fingers into what was a working class sport?”
Former Manchester United player Gary Neville was vocal in his opposition, calling it a criminal act.
“Gary Neville has been a great servant to our club. He will forever be a red.
“He bought Salford City Football Club and changed their club colours, changed the logo of the club and now he’s talking about fans. Was he thinking about the fans when he did that?
“I’m not surprised that those twelve clubs came about and wanted to start a super league. How can UEFA and FIFA, who are proven in the courts to be corrupt, turn around and talk about this corruption? Is it because they’re not making the money off it? I don’t understand.
“The Glazers took over my club. They leveraged my club against me and were using me and the rest of the fans to pay back their debts.
“I haven’t bought a piece of official merchandise from the club from the day they bought it because it doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t agree with it.
“The twelve owners of the clubs are just clearly better businessmen than the corrupt officials that run UEFA and FIFA. World Cup in Qatar? And they’re talking about corruption loudly?
“We now have American owners because they were allowed to do it, because possibly the Premier League didn’t follow financial fair play and allowed those people to buy the clubs like mine when they actually didn’t even have the money to buy it in the first place.
“And now they’re calling foul? No, sorry. I think those days of football being a sport for the working class person are long gone.”
Coronation Street is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as well as on demand.