Coronation Street favourite Julie Hesmondhalgh was afraid she’d get the wobbles when she left the cobbles six years ago.
The actress thought she would end up an “old crone” actress who couldn’t remember her lines without the soap’s special “elixir” that had kept her young during her 16 years as Hayley Cropper.
But now, after landing big telly roles from Broadchurch to Happy Valley, Julie is ready for the Dawn of another new era in her career – working alongside one of her own teen idols.
This week we’ll see her in ITV’s The Trouble With Maggie Cole, playing the best friend of Dawn French’s lead character.
The six-part series, set in a close-knit seaside village, revolves around a gossip whose loose tongue causes serious consequences.
Of course gossip is something Julie got very used to from her Hayley days in Weatherfield – a place she was so wary of leaving.
“When I started to think about leaving Corrie I wrote a list of the pros and cons for leaving,” says Julie, who turns 50 this year.
“Very high on the list of cons was how that show keeps you young and alive and engaged with the world.
“You’re thrown together with everybody from babies to 80-year-olds who have been in the business long before you were even a twinkle in your mum and dad’s eye.
“It’s very good for your mind and your spirit. That’s why all these actors in it last for ever.
“It’s like they’ve drunk some elixir. I thought, ‘I’m gonna pack it in and then my memory is going to go and I’ll turn into an old crone within three weeks’.”
Instead, Julie – who won a National Television Award for her role as transgender cancer victim Hayley – went on to star in highly acclaimed cop series Happy Valley two years later.
And when she landed her latest role, it wasn’t memory loss she had to worry about but rather a bad case of butterflies.
After growing up hero-worshipping Dawn, 62, she admits: “I was nervous before meeting her but also extremely excited to be working with her,” she says.
“French and Saunders was a huge part of my growing up. I just loved what she did in that. The 1980s was a real comedy renaissance.
" I was 15 or 16 when The Young Ones came out. Of course when you meet people who were big icons and idols in your life it’s always a bit, ‘Oh God, I hope this is going to be all right.’
“You just don’t know when it’s people who are properly famous as themselves as well – not like me being famous as somebody else in a soap.
"You wonder how guarded and protective they’ll be about opening up to new cast members. But she's a dream. She’s just a really brilliant, open, funny, warm person.
“Sometimes when you meet very famous people there’s a little bit of a pane of glass between you and them that you can’t ever penetrate.
“Not at all with Dawn. It’s been a real joy. She proper makes me hoot and she’s so smart as well.” And Julie thinks Dawn would be perfect back on her old beat – the Corrie cobbles.
“I think Dawn would nail it. Corrie is hard – some go in thinking, ‘I’m not going to do Corrie acting. I’m going to do deep naturalism’.
“It’s a style. And sometimes people underplay it.
"Then you get others who go, ‘I’m gonna do my Corrie acting’ and they do too much. The right style is a tricky thing to get, but I think Dawn has a real sense of that.”
The Trouble With Maggie Cole starts on Wednesday on ITV at 9pm
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