It feels like an age since ‘Hollyoaks’ bosses announced that Duncan James was joining the cast, but in tonight’s (Thursday 11 August) E4 first look episode, fans will get their first proper glimpse at the former Blue star in his new role.
And yes, this does mean he’ll be head-to-head with Kieron Richardson’s character Ste Hay. Who can blame him for being a little nervous?
We caught up with Duncan ahead of his on-screen debut, to chat about nerves, the ‘EastEnders’ star who offered advice, and whether Ste’s right to think there’s more to Ryan than meets the eye….
Last time we saw you was at the British Soap Awards, did you manage to get any advice from Kym Marsh or Shayne Ward on what it’s like going from the music world to being in a soap?
I didn’t see Shayne which was a shame, but I saw the lovely Kym and we had a little catch-up. I’ve not seen her for a long, long time, but it wasn’t work-related. That was it really.
Has anyone been able to give you some tips?
Rita Simmons plays Roxy Mitchell in ‘EastEnders’, and she’s one of my best mates. I used to be in a band with her before Blue, which is kind of crazy. I was an Usher at her wedding and all sorts of stuff, so when I got ‘Hollyoaks’, I rang her up and she gave me the lowdown and explained to me how it all works.
She said: “For the first couple of months you’re going to find it really weird and strange. Then, all of a sudden, everything will click into place and it will be great. Please trust me, it’s normal, and in a few months you’ll be an absolute star and think you can do it like a walk in the park.”
She was right, it has been. It’s been absolutely insane. I’ve literally jumped in last minute after starting late, and it’s been like, ‘oh my god!’. Learning on the job is like, ‘Here’s the aeroplane, and here’s the controls and you need to fly it’.
I’ve loved every minute of it though, and I’ve had the opportunity to do so many different and diverse things in my career and this is another.
What’s different about ‘Hollyoaks’?
The way the production runs is just a machine. It’s on 5 days a week. Everything is shot on single camera, it’s not like ‘EastEnders’ where you walk in and do the scene and go, but I don’t think people realise how hard soap actors work. With the single cam you go in and do your scene, then you have to do it again. It takes a long, long time but it’s so great, everyone is welcoming and really supports you and helps you. That’s what is great about ‘Hollyoaks’ and what I have enjoyed so far. I have been the new boy, and it’s been a bit overwhelming, but everybody has been really lovely and made me feel part of the team.
Especially to come in when I was not very well, and felt quite insecure within myself. I couldn’t walk, I’d lost so much weight and I was such a gym bunny before. I didn’t feel good in myself.
With your health complications, the ‘Hollyoaks’ role timing may have seemed unfortunate, but is it fair to say it’s been good, and helped your insecurities?
Yes, exactly. Because it’s such a difference, I had this huge scary operation, and it’s made me lose a lot of weight, I look different. Creating a new character is a good thing in a way, because I don’t want people to look at me and go, ‘oh, that’s Duncan from Blue’. You want them to say, ‘oh that’s Ryan Knight in ‘Hollyoaks’. It’s kind of been nice in that way, and I think it’s important that Ryan establishes himself as Ryan on screen and it’s great because I’m playing such a different character to what I would ever think of playing. I didn’t think I’d ever make a good policeman in my whole life!
This is a big jump from your last project which was Priscilla, do you think this will prove how versatile you are?
Yes. The funny thing is, for me, just not knowing what’s going to happen. This time last year I was on ‘Blue Go Mad In Ibiza’ running a bar, and getting pranked along the way. I went from that to becoming an Australian drag queen, and now I’m a straight policeman, who looks after two children. It’s been quite an interesting couple of years, with a couple of major operations too. It’s been an interesting year for me, 2016.
Your character is a policeman, will we be seeing you in uniform?
Well he’s a Detective Sergeant, which means you don’t normally get to wear uniform, so I’m in a suit. But it is ‘Hollyoaks’... Maybe I will be put in a uniform somehow, some way along. I’d actually quite like that, I do like dressing up in uniform so it would be fun.
As you mentioned, it’s ‘Hollyoaks’ and you can have quite a lot of fun. Would you like to bring your musical talents to the soap?
There are no plans at the moment but I’m always singing down the hallway at work, I just love singing. That’s something I’ve always done, I’ve been singing since the age of four. Maybe one of Ryan’s secret talents is that he’s really good at Karaoke or something!
Do you feel nervous ahead of your first scenes being aired?
Yes, I think I do because playing a character on screen is always hard and a bit strange. Also when I got out of hospital, I lost a lot of weight and just started filming so the early stuff I think I might look at myself and go, ‘oh, Duncan doesn’t look well’. But it’s fine, it’s Ryan.
Your first scene sees Kieron Richardson’s character Ste and Ryan getting off to a rocky start, how’s that going to play out?
The relationship between Ste and Ryan is pretty much on the rocks straight away, and I think it’s fair to say that it keeps getting worse and worse. If you start off on the wrong foot with somebody, it’s quite hard to recover that.
Are we going to see a good, old-fashioned rivalry?
Yes, and over the course of time that rivalry is going to get worse and worse and worse. There’s some really interesting storylines coming up, which I’m really excited to do.
Ste is also going to have suspicions about Ryan, is he right to think he’s got a nasty side?
I think that it’s safe to say, without giving too much away, Ryan has come in and been on the scene with his kids for five minutes, and it riles up Ste. If I look at it from my point of view, as Duncan, it would really rile me up if someone came into my daughter’s life and was being daddy for her, I’d say, ‘Who are you?’.
I think Ryan’s come in, he’s quite confident and an alpha-male, very headstrong. He’s taken on Amy [Barnes] and the kids, and made them his, so obviously that’s going to wind up Ste. I think to myself, ‘What kind of character is Ryan to do that?’. I’d never do that, but that is Ryan. I think the feud between Ste and Ryan is going to really pick that up and some of the stuff I’ve been reading in the scripts leaves me feeling sorry for Ste. I’m seeing a different side to Ryan, I don’t think he’s as goody-goody as he’s made out to be.
Catch up on all the latest soap news and spoilers here.
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