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Actress Sue Johnston has enjoyed a variety of roles, from the drama of Brookside and Waking The Dead, through to the deadpan comedy of The Royle Family. Now she tells TV Choice about joining telly institution Coronation Street…
How did your role on Corrie come about?
They asked me. Phil Collinson [the Coronation Street producer] rang my agent to see if I'd be interested in playing Stella's mother and I thought, ‘A job in Manchester, and my baby grandson up there’. My god-daughter's also up here and I'm honorary nana to her little boy. I got a little feeling in my head that it was meant to be.
How are you enjoying being a grandma?
To see your own child with their child is an extraordinarily emotional thing. It's wonderful. My son Joel actually met his wife in Liz Dawn’s [Vera Duckworth] pub, The Old Grapes. She was a student and worked there part-time as a barmaid. Joel was working in Manchester at the time and he used to go in there for drinks. He invited her to his birthday party and that was it.
You were briefly in Coronation Street in the Eighties – what do you remember of that time?
Doris Speed [Annie Walker], Pat Phoenix [Elsie Tanner], Liz Dawn [Vera Duckworth] – they were so iconic. I was very nervous of them all. If you sat in the wrong seat in the green room you were in deep do-do! It's all changed now.
I remember they all played bridge at lunchtime and one day Bryan Mosley [who played Alf Roberts] put his head round the green room door and said, 'Does anybody play bridge?' and I put my hand up and he said, 'Would you make up a four?' and I just said, in a very small voice, 'No.'
How are you getting on with Michelle Collins who plays your on-screen daughter Stella?
I know Michelle and she's lovely. I’ve never worked with her before but I've met her at functions and things. She's a lovely woman. And the fact we're in The Rovers is nice.
Were you nervous on your first day on set?
I wasn’t nervous on set, but I did get over-excited when I went into the green room. I was a bit giddy when I saw the other members of the cast. It’s a very strange feeling, you have to divorce what you know about the characters and get to know the real actors. I even called Craig Charles 'Lloyd'. I apologised straight away and he said it was OK as he'd been called worse!
Who were you most giddy to be in the presence of?
Barbara Knox. I hadn't really met her before, but she sent me a wonderful welcome card and was very sweet. She's one of the old school.
How are you coping with the filming schedule on Corrie?
It’s not that much different to Waking The Dead, which was fast, fast, fast. I think most telly is these days.
Will you be watching yourself as Gloria in Coronation Street?
I’m not sure. I've watched The Royle Family and Waking The Dead. It's a funny one because Coronation Street belongs to a history of watching, I grew up with watching it and that makes it feel different. I probably will, eventually.
What do you like to watch on TV?
I’m loving Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander. I like the original too, and The Killing. And I’ve just watched the whole set of The Bridge.
Would you like to be in Corrie for the next 10 years?
I’m not thinking that far ahead. I’ve never planned my career, I’ve just sort of rolled along.
When you’re recognised in the street, who do people associate you with?
I get Barbara [Royle Family] and Sheila [Brookside] still, especially in Liverpool. When I'm at the match [Sue is an ardent Liverpool supporter] I get She' or Bar'. But I get Sue a lot now, too.
Do you think you’ll ever retire from acting?
That’s not something I would even consider. I don't know what I'd do if I wasn't acting. Having no work for me is hell. I'm not very domesticated. I don't like doing housework. I'll read and potter around the garden and take the dogs for a walk, but after a bit I go berserk because there's no creativity. Acting's all I've known all my life, so for it not to be there is unthinkable really.
Was there ever a time when you thought of giving up acting?
Yes, when my son Joel was little, about three or four, and I'd only ever done theatre. I was a single mum and it was very hard to look after him and do theatre, especially rep. I gave myself a year to see if I could crack getting into TV, if not I was going to go back to college to get a teaching diploma. But, within the year I was in Corrie and then Brookside.
What else will we be seeing you in?
The BBC is making a six-part spin-off series from Lapland, and there’ll be another Royle Family Christmas special this year. Both of those will be filmed in Manchester as well, so it seemed like a good idea to come back to the North.
I’m going to relocate and I’ve put my house in London on the market. I’m feeling a bit wobbly about leaving London because I love it, but I'm prioritising. Work is important to me because it defines who I am, and my family is also very important. I want to keep my family close at this time in my life.