EastEnders icon Kat Slater makes an unforgettable return to Albert Square next week – just days after Big Mo has told everyone that she’s dead.
Walford’s residents won’t know what’s hit them when Kat arrives back just as everyone is busy making plans to give her a funeral to remember.
Digital Spy and other media recently caught up with Jessie Wallace on set at EastEnders to hear all the gossip about Kat’s comeback.
What can you tell us about Kat’s return?
“Kat basically turns up and she’s got the debris to clear up – all the damage that a certain person has caused by saying that Kat’s dead. It’s great coming back to EastEnders. It’s that whole family thing which [EastEnders‘ executive consultant] John Yorke has gone back to the roots with, because he brought the Slaters in 18 years ago. There’s the hustle and bustle of the Slaters, supporting each other, arguing with each other, laughing. It’s just great.”
Is Kat unaware that she’s ‘dead’?
“Unaware, yeah. She turns up in a cab and she sees a leaflet on the floor saying ‘Kat Slater’ and there’s this picture that made me laugh. I’ve never looked so orange!”
What’s the backstory? The last we saw of Kat, she was close to death in Redwater…
“That’s mentioned a few times, and she sent a postcard. It’s brushed over. I was actually worried because the way that I was in Redwater, I felt a million miles away from Kat Slater – the whole costume and everything. When I knew it wasn’t going to a second series, I thought: ‘Where do I go from here? Where does Kat go from here?’
“But luckily John has brought me back and I asked him: ‘Please let her be full whack Kat’. It is and I’m so pleased. I’ve got the cleavage out, the red lips, the red nail varnish, the leopard print. I just love it, I love putting all her clothes on and getting back into the character again.”
Did you miss that?
“I really missed her, yeah. It’s a character that we’ve created over the years. She’s such a strong character and the look too – there’s not another character like that, so it was great coming back to it.”
Has it been strange coming back without Shane Richie, who plays Alfie?
“Yeah, because it’s always been Kat and Alfie. We’ve worked together over the years, we’ve got a strong bond and he’s like my best friend, my brother and we bounce off each other really well so I do miss him, yeah.”
Is Alfie’s absence going to be explained?
“I don’t know, that’s up to the writers and up to John. I’m just doing what they’re giving me and working with it. I think he’s focusing on the women, that’s what John likes, he likes to have strong women there.”
Would you like to see more of the Slaters come back?
“I’d love Michelle Ryan to come back, I’d love Kacey Ainsworth to come back and Elaine Lordan, it’d be great. We’ve got a new Slater called Katy Jarvis (Hayley) who is fantastic. She’s got that real rawness about her. We’ve done a few scenes together and she’s a perfect Slater, she’s great. And she’s loving it here as well, she’s always been a big fan of the show.”
What kind of mood is Kat in when she returns to the Square?
“Well because she walks into this situation, she’s got a lot of stuff to sort out, which she takes upon herself because that’s what the Slaters do. But I think she’s happy just to be with her family.”
How was the whole Redwater experience for you?
“I enjoyed it. It was lovely being in Ireland – it’s a beautiful place. I got to see my family out there and I spent a lot of time with Shane. But it did feel odd playing a character that I’ve played for so long, taking her out of that environment, putting her somewhere completely different and having a whole different look. That felt a bit odd. But I did love it. I loved working with all the actors – they were a great cast.”
Were you disappointed that it didn’t go to a second series?
“No, it just came to an end, we didn’t have anywhere to go. I wasn’t disappointed, I just wanted to come back here!”
Was the door always open?
“Well I did have this fear that I’d be watching it one day and Stacey would pick the phone up and go ‘Oh, Kat’s dead’. I always had that looming over me. So I was lucky, I’ve been really lucky. I love John Yorke to bits and it was like ‘I’m going home now, I can’t wait’.”
What did John say when you first got together again to talk about EastEnders?
“He said: ‘Kat belongs in the Square’. I said: ‘Yeah, she does.’ It does feel like coming home. I’ve literally been on the road for two years – touring and travelling to Ireland – so it’s nice sleeping in my own bed every night and being 20 minutes up the road.
“I just love it. You take it for granted when you’re here. But because I haven’t been here for a while, I don’t take anything for granted now. I don’t moan anymore. (Laughs.) Ish. I try not to! And I’m always early. I never used to be like that.”
What is Kat going to be doing for a job?
“I can’t say, sorry. I want to!”
Would you like to see Kat back behind the bar?
“I think Kat can go anywhere and do anything and just make it fun. I was doing a scene back in The Vic the other day and it felt comfortable again.”
Is she getting on with the Carters?
“I can’t say that either!”
Who does Kat get along with and who does she clash with this time round?
“She’s with her family most of the time. There’s all that banter between her and her nan, which is great. Mel’s back so I’m doing some scenes with Tamzin, which is great because we were always rivals in the past. That was to do with Steve Owen. We’re all grown up now. That’s what it feels like.”
What about potential romances for Kat?
“I want Kat to be single for a little while. It brings out the child side of her. She can be a little bit of a scallywag. I like that about her. I want her to be Kat on her own for a while. It’d be great if Shane came back. Kat and Alfie go together so well. But I’m enjoying running around with my nan and my cousin at the moment.”
Is there anyone from the new characters you’d like Kat to have some scenes with?
“Karen Taylor, definitely. I could tell you so much but I can’t. It’s really exciting. When I got the scripts I was screaming with laughter.”
Where are all of the Slaters going to be living?
“At Stacey’s house with Whitney and Tiffany. It’s a great household. We were filming the other day with all of us in the kitchen and I thought: ‘This is a good household.’ It’s all banter. The relationship that Kat has with her nan, they’ll bark at each other, say something really horrible then just carry on as normal – which happens a lot with family.”
Are you hoping to rediscover Kat’s fun side?
“Yeah, that’s all come back. They’re great scripts. Really funny one-liners.”
What’s the reaction been like on social media?
“People are really excited. I’ve got a great fanbase. I’ve only been on Twitter a couple of years but people are really supportive.”
Are there any other characters you’d like to see back?
“I’d like Ann Mitchell to come back as Cora. I’d like to work with Ann. I think she’s a great actress. I love working with actresses I learn a lot from. I did The Dinner Party and I learned so much from Alison Steadman. I learnt a lot from Fionnula Flanagan in Redwater. And Ann. I could sit and just watch her. She’s great. Sheila Hancock as well, when she was doing scenes in The Vic. Even if I’d finished work, I’d just sit on set and watch her. It’s like a masterclass.
“And June Brown – definitely June. She’s just unbelievable, she’s so switched on and knows so much. She’s so experienced – I’d like to work more with her, she’s great.”
When you first started, did you imagine Kat would become such an iconic character?
“No, you have no idea. John took us all into the office and told us that our lives were going to change dramatically over the next six months, because you are coming into a show mob-handed that is on in people’s living rooms so many times a week.
“But it wasn’t six months, it was literally overnight – it was like being catapulted into fame. I couldn’t deal with it, as it was really daunting. I was at a party once and there was a movie star – I won’t say his name – and we were chatting and people were coming up to me all the time and pulling me round to have photos taken, but they wouldn’t go anywhere near him.
“That is really interesting – when you’re a movie star, you’re almost untouchable and in this kind of bubble, but when you play a soap character, you’re public property. That took a while to get used to, but now it’s part and package and you embrace it, almost.”
Do you remember the intense reactions from fans back then?
“Yeah, I can only describe it as walking around with no clothes on. It was scary. Some people do it because they want the fame – I didn’t expect it, it just happened. It took a long while to get used to it.
“When you’re here, you’re in a bubble, as you’re like a big family. But when you’re out and about and you see the magazine covers and you hear people talking, you think: ‘Oh my God, it’s mad how popular it is and how many millions of people watch it’.”
Were you nervous to be back?
“Yeah, I was so nervous – I was shaking. Luckily I was with Laila Morse and Gilly Wright – we came in as the three of us, so that softened the blow. I was really nervous before I did my first scene but as soon as I did that, I was on the floor and running. It was just like being home, really.”
Was it nice catching up with some old faces on set?
“Yeah. I miss Rita Simons and Sam Womack – we used to have a right laugh. It’s so nice bumping into people, they’ve all been so welcoming. It’s great and they’re all pleased I’m back. I haven’t stopped smiling since I came back.”
EastEnders airs Kat’s return in a double bill on Thursday, March 22 at 7.30pm and 9pm on BBC One.
Digital Spy Soap Scoop video – hit play below for all the latest EastEnders spoilers, as Keegan’s father brings trouble to the Square, and Ian decides that he wants Mel back.
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