Ryan Hawley certainly made a dramatic entrance when he took over the role of Emmerdale’s conniving Robert Sugden last year, quickly making an impact by cheating on his fiancée Chrissie with mechanic Aaron, and spectacularly falling out with his brother Andy’s wife Katie ( Sammy Winward), who he previously had an affair with.
But his latest storyline is his most extreme, as he deals with the aftermath of pushing Katie to her death.
As viewers witnessed on Thursday night, Robert was warring with Katie over snaps she’d taken of him kissing Aaron (Danny Miller), proof of the two men’s affair. But when Robert shoved her, Katie fell through the rickety flooring.
“He’s really in a situation that he can’t handle. It’s out of control,” says Hawley, 29. “All of his lies and deceitfulness to his fiancée and these risks have all caught up with him now.”
And with his bride nervously waiting for him at the altar, a lover who is desperate for him not to marry Chrissie, and the whole matter of a dead Katie to deal with, there are a lot of problems to fix.
Not that Hawley minds… “It’s incredibly fun to play with high stakes, and to have a lot going on,” says the actor. “You’ve got all these different plots going on and these schemes. It could all change at a drop of the hat or be destroyed. It’s very risky what Robert does.”
The downside of this meaty storyline, however, is saying goodbye to new friend Winward, who has played Katie for 14 years.
“Sammy’s such a lovely person to work with, she’s great fun and very talented and I really wish all the best for her,” says Hawley.
Between emotional takes, Hawley, who splits his time between Yorkshire where the soap’s filmed, and London where he lives with his wife, has found light relief in his co-stars.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time with Danny, and Kelvin Fletcher who plays Andy,” he explains. “In a long 12-hour day, you need a break, and it’s very nice to relieve the tension, have a joke and then crack back on with it.”
Time for TV
Whatever plays out over the next few weeks, Hawley will definitely be tuning in – just not with his loved ones. “I couldn’t watch Emmerdale with my family,” he admits, laughing. “My mum wouldn’t let me speak, in case I accidentally revealed the plots!”
Growing up, Hawley’s family were all big fans of the soap, including his late nan. “She watched it right from the start,” he says.
“Sadly she passed away two weeks before I came on screen. She was terminally ill, so it was kind of a relief for her to be relieved, but she would have been really proud to see me a part of something she held so dearly.”
Hawley, whose childhood was spent partly in Sheffield and partly in the UAE due to his parents’ work, always loved acting and, as a youngster, had ambitions of becoming a film director.
“Then I got to 16, when I was doing A-level media studies and school plays, and I found being a director would be a very difficult thing to do,” he adds. “It’s long hours, and a lot of sitting in a basement in an edit suite… I found that to be a very arduous process and didn’t think I was best suited.”
Forever the baddie
Acting, however, was “immediately rewarding”, and through the encouragement of his drama teacher, Hawley went to drama school and toured with a production of The History Boys after graduation. “I’m very happy,” he says. “I think I’ve chosen the right path.”
That said, his mum would prefer it his next role wasn’t as villainous as Emmerdale’s Robert. “My mum wasn’t too pleased [when she found out who I’d be playing],” he reveals, laughing. “She said, ‘Why can’t you be a good person?’ If it were up to her, I’d play Superman or Romeo!”
Emmerdale continues on weeknights on ITV.