Michelle Keegan is wearing bed socks. Bed socks and grubby tracksuit bottoms. Which is not what I expected when I called her on this boiling hot May afternoon, but this, she says, is her lockdown uniform.
“I haven’t got a lick of make-up on,” she explains. “I don’t think I’ve washed my hair for four days. I think people think, ‘Oh god, she wouldn’t be seen dead like that.’ But I genuinely would. I love being at home and getting my comfies out.” She adds, laughing, “I’ve got a bed-sock drawer. Genuinely.”
The 33-year-old actress has had a hectic 18 months filming the second series of Sky comedy Brassic and her final season of Our Girl, which involved three-and-a-half months in South Africa. And so, while the lockdown has been tough for Keegan, like the rest of us, she says there have also been benefits.
It’s meant she and her husband of five years, presenter Mark Wright, have had a break from their busy schedules. They’ve been tucked away at their Chigwell home, which they share with their two dogs.
“We were saying we’d enjoyed it. It’s been nice because we’ve both been working from home. Normally we could be out all day or I have to go to Manchester [to film Brassic] or Mark is in London. I’m taking my dogs for daily walks, I’ve been doing a jigsaw a week and I’ve taken up cycling on a proper road bike. We go out three times a week and do 11 miles!”
When we speak, filming for the third series of Brassic is on hold. This has allowed Keegan the chance to take a step back for the first time since she made her debut as Coronation Street’s Tina McIntyre in 2008. Since then she’s had roles in everything from comedy Plebs to biopic Tina And Bobby. But Coronation Street is what made her.
She was 20 years old when she won the role. At the time, she was working on a make-up counter in Selfridges while living at home with her parents in Manchester. After leaving school she had felt “lost about what I wanted to do”, but had always enjoyed drama.
So while her friends went off to university, she decided to sign up for weekly lessons at the Manchester School Of Acting and give it a go for a year. “I thought, ‘At least I can look back and think I tried,’” she says.
Thankfully her plan worked. Coronation Street was the second audition she ever attended, and a few weeks after it, she was summoned to the office of the show’s producer.
“They put six heavy scripts down in front of me,” she says. “It was a thud on the table and the next thing I heard was, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got the role of Tina.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks. I never believed for one second I’d get the role.”
Two weeks later, she stepped onto the famous cobbles for the first time. Keegan was incredibly nervous. “I was a huge Corrie fan, as was my whole family, so it was a big deal.
“It was so quick. I couldn’t get my head round it. I had to leave my job at Selfridges, learn all these lines. Walking onto the cobbles for the first time was so overwhelming. It was my first official job. I didn’t even know which chair to sit in when we went into the green room!”
It was the first time that Keegan experienced a feeling of not belonging. “I thought, ‘I’m going to get outed here. I shouldn’t be here.’ Even to this day I still have a bit of imposter syndrome, [like] someone is going to find you out; you shouldn’t be here. Acting is so new to my life.
"My friends and my family are not from the industry. So every job I get, it’s the same thing.” I suggest it’s a nice quality to have. “I never take any job for granted,” she concurs.
This doubt in her abilities wasn’t the only thing Keegan had to contend with when she first landed herself a job on TV. Almost overnight people were interested in her personal life and she had paparazzi following her everywhere.
“It was really daunting,” she remembers. “It happens very quickly on a soap because you’re in people’s living rooms five times a week, so people start believing they know you. It was scary, I was still a young girl and I was growing up in the public eye.
"Everyone had their own opinions – how you act, how your hair looks, what you’re wearing, how you physically look... Growing up in that was very hard and I let a lot of negative comments get to me. There’s an inner confidence now. I don’t let negative comments affect me the way that they did 12 years ago.”
That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, however, when during her time on Our Girl, news outlets and people on Twitter occasionally focused on how much make-up she was wearing in scenes, instead of her performance. The fourth (and her final) series of the show, in which she played Georgie Lane, aired earlier this year. “It’s about how I look, how my make-up looks. It’s frustrating. I was away for [nearly] four months [this time] and gave it everything I had.
"I worked until 8pm at night and was up at 4.30am. I haven’t got that much make-up on. But I still get ridiculed for having tattooed eyebrows, which, unfortunately, I can’t erase. A man never gets ridiculed like that. For me that’s just trolling,” she says with a sigh.
Growing up in the spotlight has had its highs and lows. She recalls appearing on the cover of “lads’ mag” FHM when she was on Coronation Street. At the time she was encouraged to do it, but she regrets it now.
“It wasn’t something that I necessarily really wanted to do. I remember feeling very shy because I was really young. But I thought it came as part of being on TV. Now that I’m older, I realise that it is OK to say no to something that you don’t feel 100% happy with.
"You don’t have to do it because you think you have to do it." Former Coronation Street actress Suranne Jones also recently said that she felt uncomfortable about lads’ mag shoots she did while on the show.
Keegan adds, “But I will say, this is no reflection on Coronation Street. I had a brilliant network and team and the PR team were fabulous and really looked after me. It was a different time back then. Everyone did it at that time. It was just the norm to do a sexy shoot.”
What would she tell her younger self? “It’s OK to say no and go with your instinct. I always wanted to please people but I think if something doesn’t feel right, just say no. I go with my instinct a lot now. I am still that ‘yes’ person as I don’t like upsetting anyone. But I feel like I am getting stronger. That comes with age.”
Keegan left Coronation Street in 2014. It was a strange time. People typecast her. “At the beginning I was stereotyped – people still called me Tina.” She also found it weird not having the stability of a regular job, going from a monthly income to not knowing when her next job would land.
She’s currently going through that again because TV production had to stop during the lockdown. She’s still waiting to hear when Brassic can start filming again. She denies rumours that she will take over from Holly Willoughby on Celebrity Juice this year.
“I have such a good time on Brassic. It’s going to be eight episodes instead of six, so that takes me into early next year, but I’ve got nothing lined up for next year, which is daunting but exciting.”
She adds, “For me, it’s exciting as you don’t know what you’ve got coming up next. On the flip side, there is no stability and you don’t know when your next pay cheque is coming in.”
Equally, her job means she is away from home a lot. In 2017 she spent eight months on and off away from home. When series three of Brassic starts filming, the shoot will be six months long.
Keegan enjoys the travel but does struggle with the long stints away from her family and friends. “You have good days and bad days,” she says. “When I was in South Africa recently I loved it because I knew it was only three-and-a-half months. Mark came out twice, and I was alright.
"The one before that was eight months. That’s a long time to be away from home.” At the time Wright was a presenter on US TV show Extra and living in LA, and there was speculation in the tabloids that their marriage was under pressure.
“If you go away for work it’s seen as a negative and not a positive,” she explains. “I just don’t understand that and find it hard. You’re trying to carve yourself a career and people say you shouldn’t be doing it because it impacts your marriage.
"It’s ridiculous. That can be quite difficult because it’s hard enough being away from home as it is without negative stories. A few years ago it would have bothered me more than it does now.”
Keegan says that she and Wright made a decision a few years ago to limit what they shared on social media. The couple reportedly met in 2012 in Dubai. “What I’ve had to do since I got married is pull back and keep my private life for me, and I feel a lot happier and [more] settled since I made that choice.
At the beginning people didn’t understand it and were like, ‘You talked about it all the time four years ago.’ But I feel like I have to hold things back for me because I need to regain control. A few years ago I felt like I’d lost that control.”
Keegan and Wright both shared Instagram posts to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in May. Keegan’s read, “Thank you for always holding my hand.”
How do they decide what to post? “We talk about it together. It was our anniversary and we’ve been married five years now. It’s a stepping stone, it’s half a decade, and things like that you want to celebrate.
"Of course I put a picture up. But day to day, I wouldn’t just put an Instagram Story up of me and Mark watching TV because that’s private.”
Equally, she finds it incredibly intrusive when she is asked why they don’t have children. “A few years ago it didn’t bother me and I answered the question, but now I think, ‘I don’t need to answer that because nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors.’
"I remember when I finished Our Girl people were like, ‘Is it because you’re going off to have a baby?’ I know for a fact if Mark finished a job, nobody would ask him if he was going to have a baby. It’s not fair. It does make me feel frustrated.”
So having this time at home with her husband has been a blessing. It’s also allowed Keegan to finally do something she’s wanted to for years – write her own material.
“I’m writing two things,” she says. “I’ve never had the time to sit down, write and research and I’m really enjoying the process. It’s a comedy drama and a mini-series drama.
I had the idea for one of them a few years ago and this time has helped me get my ideas down on paper. I’ve had meetings with production companies on Zoom.” That’s where she sees her career heading eventually. “Hopefully it’s something we can get off the ground. It’s exciting.”
It certainly is, and, as she hangs up the phone to go and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine in her garden, we can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.
Michelle’s fashion collection is available at Very.co.uk. Brassic is available on Sky and NOW TV.
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