As Doctor Heston Carter, Owen Brenman has been through the mill at The Mill recently, after suffering domestic abuse at the hands of his partner, Marina. But now he feels strong enough to fight back. Here, the actor talks about his time on Doctors…
The domestic abuse storyline about a woman hitting a man is very sensitive. How did you feel when you first read it in the script?
I thought it was really interesting. I’ve been in the show for three-and-a-half years. You have your moments in the sun with a good storyline and then you take a bit of a back seat. So it was nice to tackle something like this as it’s so well written. You just have to make whatever you have in front of you work, without necessarily knowing where the scripts are going to end up. And when you’re acting opposite someone, you try to make it interesting, real and believable.
Luckily, in real life, you get on well with Marian McLoughlin, who plays Heston’s abuser, Marina.
The audience might think, ‘Oh they hate each other,’ but we didn’t. We got on very well, which, in a funny way, made the scenes easier to do. When it’s collaborative, you feel you can take more risks.
What do you think it is that finally makes Heston snap?
Other people may have reached that point sooner, but he eventually thinks that this is enough. Maybe this is true of people who are abused, and why it carries on. But he does reach that point where he realises that he doesn’t deserve to be treated like that and he stands up for himself. It takes him a while to get there.
At least he has the support of his colleagues…
Yes but it’s complicated by the fact that Owen and Marina have already broken up before and everyone convinced them to get back together because they didn’t know about the abuse. Maybe he thinks it’s a case of better the devil you know. But obviously then it got really violent and all ends again.
Do you think Heston has changed since he first arrived?
Initially, Heston was quite a comical figure – a bit more of a buffoon. I think that was because I tended to do more comedy than drama because I was the next-door neighbour Nick, in One Foot In The Grave. So they pushed the comedy a lot more with me, which was fine. But then they moved me sideways and took a more dramatic line, which was very interesting and I liked it a lot.
Will Heston be able to trust another woman again?
That’s a good point. Heston has had a lot of suffering and difficulty in his life - particularly with women. In previous storylines, he was married and his wife had a child, but it was someone else’s child and he didn’t know. He’s been let down a lot. It would be quite nice for him to have a successful relationship with a woman. I think he’s probably quite hopeful and, at heart, quite romantic. He presents this image of not caring, but I think inside, he’s quite soft.
What do you think the future holds for Heston now?
Although he tries to put the whole Marina situation behind him, it will affect his life in other ways, and he starts behaving in a way that he maybe wouldn’t have behaved if that hadn’t happened.
As well as appearing in front of the camera, you’ve also worked behind it as you’ve directed some episodes of Doctors haven't you?
Yes, I’ve done that twice now. I’ve done six episodes all together, because you do three episodes at a time. The last three I did just before Christmas. I loved it. It’s very hard work because it’s very fast - you’re shooting about 12 minutes a day. It could be one of the fastest shoots in TV!
It sounds exhausting!
Each episode takes just over two days and it’s great.