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29th Dec 2016

EastEnders Michelle Fowler actress hid new role from off-screen friends Sharon Mitchell and Ian Beale

The actress was sworn to secrecy

Mike Wright

The best part of landing a dream new job is the thrill of telling the people closest to you.

However that pleasure was denied actress Jenna Russell after she learned she’d got the role as the new Michelle Fowler on EastEnders, after producers swore her secrecy.

The 49-year-old actress couldn’t tell close family members and even had to hide her new role from offscreen friends Adam Woodyatt and Letitia Dean, who play Ian Beale and Sharon Mitchell.

In an interview with The Metro Russell explained she’d known Dean since they were teenagers at stage school together and then became friends with Woodyatt when they were both young actors starting out.

She said:

“Tish and I were at the same school together when we were 14, we were in the same class, but we haven’t really seen each other since we were 19. Adam didn’t go to the same school, but in those days when you were a young actor, you all knew each other.

“We would hang out and work with each other. We did the film Made in Britain together, and socialised quite a bit when we were in our mid-teens.”

Secrecy around Michelle’s shock return in the Christmas Eve episode was so strict producers even denied Russell’s request to go to the set before her first day.

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The actress explained:

“It has all been so super-secret. I did ask if I could come on set to see how it works a week prior to filming. I was really desperate to do that.

“I thought if I got a little image in my head, and met everyone to say hello, it would take the curse off the first day at work as they are always scary. The producers wouldn’t let me though, because they wanted to keep it a secret.

She described keeping the secret as “horrid’. Adding: “I’ve not enjoyed that bit at all because it makes it feel much bigger than it is. Ultimately it’s a job and I love my job, but I haven’t enjoyed fibbing to everyone”.

Reaction from fans of the show has been mixed since producers re-introduced Michelle with Russell. The actress who originally played Michelle from 1985 to 1995, Susan Tully, has since left acting for a successful career as a director.

EastEnders producers had reportedly unsuccessfully tried to persuade her to return to the show before deciding to recast the character.

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Russell also revealed that she had turned down a chance to star on the soap three decades ago, but was now thrilled to be finally making her debut on Albert Square.

“I was asked to play Mary Smith in the show right in the beginning when the show started (1985), but I was very young and it wasn’t the right fit for me then. I always felt I would cross paths with the show again at some point, and here we are 31 years later. It’s been lovely. It’s been like a big warm hug and I think for me and Tish it’s been really special.”

If her stint onscreen is anything as dramatic as the offscreen events…