Three Families: The true story of the emotional BBC dramaMay 11 | 4 min read
7 Questions With… Cheat’s Katherine Kelly: 'I relished how complicated my character was'
The ex-Coronation Street star discusses her role in ITV's psychological thriller Cheat.
Katherine Kelly is one of Coronation Street’s most successful alumni.
Swapping the cobbles for something a little more dramatic in recent years, the Barnsley-born actress has appeared in TV shows including Mr Selfridge, Happy Valley and Emmy-award winning The Night Manager.
More recently Katherine starred in tense psychological thriller Cheat and judging by her performance in the ITV series - which was shown in Spring 2019 - it could be the one that makes her a household name. After all, her fellow Corrie alumna Suranne Jones famously captured the nation's attention with her scene-stealing performances in Doctor Foster.
In the four-part drama, Kelly plays "complicated" university professor Leah, with Three Girls actress Molly Windsor starring alongside her as her student, Rose, below.
Like Doctor Foster, Professor Leah appears to have her life all together - until the truth comes spilling out.
A series of events sees the escalation of a dangerous relationship between Leah and Rose, leading to fatal consequences, which came to its head in the finale.
Although spokespeople for the channel have ruled out a second series, calling it a "self-contained" drama, there's some good news for those who want to dig a little deeper into the character - before the show launch, host Emma Bullimore and journalists went to the ITV offices where Katherine Kelly revealed her initial reaction to the script, what she loves about her character, and how she switches off from filming...
1. What did you make of your character Leah when you first read the script?
Well I was just taken by the scripts to begin with. I think I just had the first two episodes, and it was such a page-turner. I actually had to then start reading the script again and think “Leah”, because I was just swept away with it. It happened again when I watched the first episode.
It eats plot, and I mean that in a really complimentary way. It’s such a roller-coaster and it had been a long time since I had read a script like that.
And then I loved how complicated Leah was, and in the same way that Gaby [Hull] executes the plot, you know it’s a thriller and you know we’re in that genre, but you don’t feel the twists and turns coming, and that’s how I felt with Leah actually.
You think you’ve got her summed up, oh she’s an academic, tick. Then we take her to the toilets… then you think, oh she’s a happily married woman, she’s with her husband, oh maybe she’s not so keen on her husband. Does she want a baby, doesn’t she want a baby? She’s so complicated.
Then what I absolutely loved was that for her career, and it seems as though she’s having a very successful career, she’s studying the theories of human beings, and I thought that’s a great layer that we could keep going back to. She knows all this in theory, she’s in that academic bubble, especially with her father being in that profession. So she actually doesn’t know any of it in practise.
We all have theories about what we are going to do, moral decisions, the difference between right and wrong, then it happens to you, or it happens to a loved one, and things can change. I just loved how many layers there were, how Gaby didn’t wrap her in a ribbon and say “this is who she is”.
I love how complicated Leah is. I relished playing her.
- Katherine Kelly
2. Do you think Leah’s determination [to find out whether Rose cheated] is going to be both her strength and her weakness?
Yes, yes, and I love how complicated she is. I think she’s so complicated that on another day, she might have let it go. I think that’s how confused about who she is, and it’s a real test for her, and it constantly changes every moment of every day, and I completely relished every moment of that.
3. Despite the animosity between your characters, you and Molly [Windsor] became friends during filming. How difficult was it switching that friendship on and off?
To use a football analogy, you’re both on the same team, and you’re both striking, you’ve got to keep passing the ball. You work much better that way. And just the way the filming schedule fell, I don’t think we actually did any scenes together until halfway through, so we’d actually been chit-chatting in the glamorous car park up until then.
4. Your character Leah’s marriage is very interesting. Her and husband Adam have been together a long time, but she’s clearly unhappy. What do you make of that?
Well actually, the idea is that they haven’t been together that long. I think that scene is in the second episode, when you find out how long they’ve been together, but they met in their late 30s. And Tom [Goodman-Hill, who plays Leah’s husband Adam, below] used to say to me, “he needs her, more than the other way around”.
He really wants a baby, and that’s definitely causing problems. Again I enjoyed playing that as well, because it’s the relationship drama side of the show, and you get to see some of the boring bits with these guys, and that was a real joy to play. Tom’s absolutely brilliant, isn’t he? He’s a joy on-screen and off.
5. There’s a line in the production notes where you say “I can’t remember a specific time I cheated, but I probably did”. Is there anything you want to tell your teachers?
I don’t have a great memory, because I have two small children and they seem to have zapped my memory with the lack of sleep, but I seem to remember coursework was introduced while I was at school, and I am sure that my coursework would have been a little bit more of a collaborative effort. My brother was very good at music and French, and he was only 18 months younger than me...
I enjoyed school, but I must admit I think I just enjoyed the craic of it to be honest, I had a really good bunch of friends, I’m still good friends with lots of them, and I think that was luck of the draw really more than anything. I can’t really remember much about the work!
6. In the show there’s a line “There’s a difference between ego and confidence”. As an actor, how do you stop confidence spilling over into ego?
I’m only really interested in working with other artists to be honest, and therefore it’s all about the work, everything comes down to the work, that’s the only reason we’re there. And so the confidence to actually execute the scene comes from digging deep, and being open and collaborative. I’ve been fortunate enough that I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone who isn’t made that way. Honestly, it’s never really been a problem if I’m honest.
7. Some of the scenes in episode one were quite harrowing. Did you find it hard to switch off from filming, or did you find you took it home with you?
I’ve never found it hard to switch off. It’s just never been a problem for me. If I feel like we’ve examined a scene as much as possible, and it’s been as alive as possible, and we’ve made the most interesting choices we possibly can, then we come away… there’s only so many ways you can do a scene. But if we feel that we’ve all dug deep enough in the time that we’ve been given… all my scenes are worthy of my best endeavour that day.