George Rainsford hasn't been watching the changed Casualty: 'I needed some time'

George Rainsford recently left his role as Ethan Hardy in Casualty and is now touring the country playing the role of DSI Roy Grace in a theatre production of the Peter James novel.

Ethan’s departure came after nine years at Holby ED. He left with his young son, Bodhi, planning on travelling the world and spending as much time together as possible, aware his clock was ticking a bit quicker than others after his Huntington’s diagnosis.

Shortly after Ethan left, Casualty endured a massive change. The show also said goodbye to Robyn (Amanda Henderson), David (Jason Durr) and Marty (Shaheen Jafargholi) and welcomed four new nurses – Jodie (Anna Chell), Rida (Sarah Seggari), Cam (Barney Walsh) and Ryan (Eddie-Joe Robinson), as well as seeing the return of Holby City’s Donna Jackson (Jaye Jacobs), who now works in the ED as a Clinical Nurse Manager.

With the show entering a new era, George Rainsford made the decision to stop watching the medical drama, explaining in a recent chat with that he needed a bit of a break.

‘I haven’t watched it. I needed a bit of time away from it’, he said.

‘I watched Amanda [Henderson]’s last episode. I suspected it would have changed a bit because I know the cast has gone through a lot of changes. We’ve had different producers coming in and with the new series Jon Sen has started his imprint on it.

‘I went back in October, which is only about six or seven weeks after I’d finished myself, for Amanda’s leaving party and already it felt quite different. There was a similar exodus around the time when people like Sunetra and Jane Hazlegrove left, around 2016 I suppose. There were nine months where the cast went through massive changes. I think it’s just one of those things where it’s a bit of a swing door, isn’t it?’

What was the response like from fans to your final Casualty episode?

We tried to find a balance between it feeling permanent enough but with the option of going back. I still think there are loads of storylines to play and relationships to explore. With characters like Stevie, I think Ethan and Stevie would have had some more stuff to play.

People were really nice. Friends and family who maybe hadn’t tuned in for a few years tuned in for the last time. I’d left, obviously, so long before, so it felt like a second leaving.

Do you think it’s important for Casualty to continue highlighting the problems in the NHS?

It’s really important. Often people don’t know first hand exactly what it’s like and I think if it’s researched correctly it’s a really good way of highlighting those issues. Casualty was always conceived as a love letter to the NHS and it was a response to the Tory cuts at the time. It was quite edgy. It wasn’t a year-round drama when it first came out. I think given its makeup it’s always wanted to tell those stories.

Everybody likes it for different reasons. They sometimes focus more on those impactful storylines and people complain that it’s not enough about the characters, then they do the characters and people say it’s gone too much the other way.

How is the theatre play going?

It’s completely different from Casualty which is really nice. I love the live audience element and getting to tour has been really fun, getting to see all the different places, lots of the venues I haven’t played before. We’re kind of into the groove a bit more now, which is nice.

What’s it like working with Katie McGlynn after working with Giovanna Fletcher? Was there an adjustment period?

Katie has been amazing. It’s particularly difficult for her. She hasn’t had the same rehearsal period we all had back in January so she came in and we were rehearsing with her in the day but still having to do the show in the evening so it kind of meant we were marking it through more than committing to everything. We’d all done about 70 shows by then and it was in the bones and everything. Katie opened last week and she was completely and she was completely off-book straight away and it’s been really fun. I feel like this week we’ve all settled much more into it.

I love Giovanna, she’s going to be a friend for life for sure. We’ve got loads in common and she was really good fun, and she only lives about 15 minutes from me.

They’re both brilliant, basically. It’s quite nice to have something different to think about, maybe. We are doing bits of it differently which is no bad thing after so many shows.

Do you get a lot of Casualty fans coming to watch?

I had one very funny lady two nights ago who basically said, ‘Why did you leave Casualty? You were good in that!’ I don’t know whether she meant ‘because you weren’t in this!’ It was the way she said it, I was like oh, thanks.

What was it like to adapt from playing Ethan to your new character, Grace?

They’re very different, and also theatre is such a different discipline. You are repeating the same show every day but you’re trying to keep it fresh. Those are different challenges to filming TV. Grace is very different from Ethan.

This play is also different for people who might be familiar with the Roy Grace stuff from TV because it’s Grace on holiday and he’s with his wife and actually he’s trying to have a nice time. It’s not the sort of dark murder stuff you’d expect. Obviously because it is Roy Grace all that stuff starts to leak in and crime comes a-calling. The second half is more of that. It’s fun to do because it’s quite light at the beginning and then it starts getting a bit more sinister.

Do you have anything on your list work-wise that you still want to do?

There’s tons of stuff I’d love to do. I’d love to do a very different TV show. I recently had an audition for another play. I’ve loved doing theatre. It was my first love. Maybe not necessarily being out on the road again straight away, because it’s exactly the same reasons why I left Casualty which is I wasn’t seeing enough of my family. A variety, I suppose, loosely, is the stuff you want. You don’t get bored but it’s nice to do different challenges.

Would you be interested in reality TV?

My family always ask me about Strictly but I’ve never had the call. I would definitely be out of my comfort zone. I’d have to give it a good old think. If it’s anything like my dancing at drama school it might not be a pretty watch.

Obviously I’ve just been spending time with Giovanna and Tom [Fletcher] did Strictly and Giovanna’s done I’m A Celebrity and won it. I was hearing all about that. I’m A Celebrity, I have no idea again and they haven’t asked me. I would really struggle with some of the stuff you have to do on that.

I do like the idea of those survival-type reality shows. I’d love to do more of the Bear Grylls Island type of stuff.

How about if one of the soaps called you up?

I’m not against anything if it’s got a good storyline or is a good opportunity. My in laws would like it, they love Coronation Street.

What sort of things do you do to relax and switch off?

I’m still a keen runner. Because I’ve been on tour that’s been really nice, just finding new routes and trying to explore the countryside a little bit. I’m in Shrewsbury this week, which is really pretty but there’s been torrential rain.

Very busy with the family, really. Two rambunctious young boys, they take a lot of my head space. We do Face Time but when I come home they haven’t seen me for four or five days so I get all the facts and all the questions. It’s lovely, though.

Can you tell us about the work you do with the Huntington’s charity and the importance of the Awareness Month?

I got involved with the Huntington’s Disease Association about two years ago when they were launching a different campaign and each May they tend to push a different side of what it’s like to be living with the disease, just to highlight some of the issues and things. I was brought in initially when I was speaking to somebody to fact check a storyline for Ethan. It was the time when Fenisha had her pregnancy scare and decided to keep the baby, who became Bodhi. Obviously the angle from Ethan’s point of view was that he hadn’t disclosed that he was living with the faulty gene.

I wanted to make sure I was performing it authentically and we were checking on other factual things. Then I got invited to join this campaign and met some families living with HD and I’ve just become more involved with the charity from that side of things.

Then this particular month the campaign is called ‘Mindful of Huntington’s,’ so it’s focusing more on the cognitive which is the unseen side of living with the disease, so the thinking or memory loss, having to be prompted, recognition – those kind of things. There’s lots of data that they’ve found that the mental health side of things has been exacerbated by people not being correctly diagnosed, I suppose, or having the correct services available for them.

It’s difficult even for medical professionals to be able to point people in the right direction. Because I think people understand Huntington’s as something that affects movement but they might not know that it affects behavioural and cognitive issues too.

You ran the London Marathon recently for the charity. What was that like and have you recovered?

I’ve done the last two marathons for HD. I love the marathon, it’s an amazing event. The crowds and the atmosphere is amazing. It was a real honour to be able to run with my HDA vest. I got to meet some of the other people who’ve been campaigning and running the marathon for the charity as well.

To be honest, I really struggled this time. I’m very busy on tour at the moment. We’ve got Katie McGlynn coming in, who’s now started, playing my wife in the play. So we had about three weeks where we were rehearsing with her in the day and doing the show with Giovanna Fletcher in the evening. It was all a bit nuts and happened to coincide with the marathon.

So I woke up on Sunday morning and was basically really tired and thought, why have I chosen to run all the way around London? It was great anyway. I’ve just about recovered.

Even though your work with HDA came about through Casualty and the storyline with Ethan, is it still important for you to continue with the work?

Absolutely. I’ve now met people who are first hand dealing with it and I feel if I can shine a light on it I really want to because I know how devastating and how difficult it is for these people and they do it so positively and stoically. Anything I can do to help raise awareness, I’m really keen to.

Do you still get people reaching out to you about Ethan’s storyline?

Definitely, which is amazing. One thing Casualty can do quite well is shine a light on something people might not know about.

The website has got all the information about the campaign but beyond that about all the recent successes in Parliament and about the charity ramping up the awareness.

George is patron for the Huntington’s Disease Association and is supporting their Mindful of Huntington’s campaign for Huntington’s Disease Awareness month to shed light on the impact that Huntington’s related cognitive impairment has on quality of life. For more information, please visit the website here.

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