When EastEnders bad boy Carl White arrived in Walford in June, it looked as if a new villain in the classic soap mould was going to be established.
Sadly for fans of the ex-con, played by Daniel Coonan, it was recently revealed that he is one of a number of characters set to leave Albert Square around the end of the year.
For Coonan it’s been a whirlwind journey. Originally contracted to be in 28 episodes over six months, he ended up filming more than 60 – a schedule he calls “relentless”.
As for what will happen to Carl in the run-up to his departure, the actor says he’s becoming a “bit of a lone wolf”, having given up on trying to win his ex Kirsty Branning (played by Kierston Wareing) back.
“He doesn’t have any friends because he’s threatened everybody, pretty much!” says Coonan of his character.
If I go shopping, I’ll be stopped four or five times – but everybody seems to really love the character"
Dabbling in business
“He’s got a lot of scenes coming up with Ronnie and Roxy. He tries to muscle in on Phil’s businesses, then he tries to start working with Phil.
“He says ‘I could be your right-hand man’ – but they both realise he’s a bit too dark to get involved with. But he’s probably going a bit mad because he can’t get Kirsty back.
Coonan adds: “You find out pretty soon what happened with Shirley Carter, (Linda Henry). And Carl does have a dalliance with Kirsty. She’s in a bit of a pickle with Max (Branning, played by Jake Wood) being on remand, so she starts tapping up Carl for favours. Whether they stay together is another thing…”
Carl might be a nasty piece of work, but Coonan has found that the public have responded well to his alter ego, with an Inside Soap Award nomination for best bad boy, up against fellow cast member Steve John Shepherd (Michael Moon).
“I’ve had loads of really positive reactions to Carl,” he says. “I’ve not experienced this level of public recognition before.
“If I go out to get my shopping, I’ll be stopped four or five times – but everybody seems to really love the character.
“Sometimes you get the odd comment from cheeky builders who say things like, ‘You need a slap, mate’! But overwhelmingly, people are so friendly.”
“I was massively surprised to be nominated for the Inside Soap award (which was picked up by Emmerdale’s Dominic Power), because the story involving Carl and Max was only just starting to kick in.”
Coonan is unable to reveal much about how Carl will be written out of the show, but he does have his own ideal way of ending the character’s involvement.
I'm old school - a soap needs a bad guy to make it work"
"I remember a few months ago talking to the make-up guy on the show, and saying, ‘You know what, ideally he has to go out in a blaze of glory’.
“That would be a kind of logical end for him. Either marry him off or blow him up!"
If he’d stayed in the series, Danny said he would have liked to explore other sides to his character.
“One storyline that would have interested me would have been him getting Kirsty back and trying to go legit – and probably failing miserably!
“Or you could have turned them into a proper criminal couple; it’s already been established that she had a criminal past as well – they could have explored her darker side and Carl’s more human side.”
In praise of villains
Coonan sees Carl as something of an endangered species in the Square.
“In my opinion, a soap needs a bad guy. I’m not sure the producers want that any more, they want EastEnders to be about love and deceit.
“But I’m old school - you need a Frank Butcher, you need a bad guy to make a soap work - and they’ve got to be an absolute b*****d!
“It’s been wicked fun playing Carl, because that’s all he’s been for six months.”
Coonan is sanguine about having to leave Eastenders, but it is clear that he’ll be taking some great memories with him when he goes.
“I’ve had an incredible time on the show, it’s been a blast. I’ve loved working with Steve, my stuff with Jake was really interesting, and with Kierston obviously – I think she’s an amazing actress.
“But mostly I’ll miss the banter that goes on between takes. Most of the cast are very funny. The biggest joker is Shane Richie (Alfie Moon) – he never stops!
“As an actor, though, you crave different experiences. Right now, the idea of doing a play or another type of drama – even a period drama - has just got my mouth watering.”
EastEnders airs on BBC One on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights.