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Interview with Claire Sweeney and Gerard Kelly. October 1999

 

It's not a sight you see every day. Callum Finnegan, the most evil villain ever to set foot on Brookside Close, enters the room, spots Lindsey Corkhill and makes his way towards her. Despite the pain and suffering she has endured at his hands over the last three years (including a kidnapping, an attempted rape and an explosion which wrecked her new club and killed two of her neighbours), she beams when she spots him, and throws her arms around him and kisses him on the cheek.

What, you may ask, is going on?

Well, today, actors Claire Sweeney and Gerard Kelly aren't in character as their dodgy Brookside alter egos. Lindsey and Callum may hate the sight of each other, but Claire and Gerard couldn't hold each other in higher esteem.

Claire has featured in some of Brookside's most exciting storylines since becoming a regular in 1995. Lindsey has been wrongly arrested and imprisoned in a Bangkok jail for drug smuggling, was raped by her first husband and cheated on by her second on her wedding day, and more recently has transformed from a dowdy single mother working in a chip shop into a hardened gangster.

A former Italia Conti stage school student, Claire intended to pursue a career as a singer and began her career performing in Liverpool social clubs at the age of 14. "My first gig was at this dingy club full of pensioners," recalls Claire, now 28. "The MC introduced me by saying, 'Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome newcomer Miss Claire Jane Sweeney to the stage. And by the way, sandwiches are being served at the back.' As I came on and belted out Somewhere Over The Rainbow, all I could see was the audience getting up and running to the back of the room!"

Despite this hiccup, summer seasons and some pantos followed before the actress auditioned for a part in Brookside eight years ago. She lost out on the role she wanted - a singer in Mike Dixon's band - and was offered a three-episode stint as the Corkhills' daughter Lindsey instead.

It was another three years before we saw her again, when she moved into the Close with Jimmy and Jackie.

"My first really big storyline was the one where I tried to run off to Australia with Mike Dixon and we were framed for drug smuggling, but after that I did nothing but serve chips for a year and a half," she recalls.

"Then Phil Redmond started writing the show again, and he totally transformed my character. He paired me up with Barry Grant, and that was the big turning point. People always go on about Lindsey becoming a gangster overnight, but it actually happened gradually over two years."

It also heralded the beginning of Claire's screen partnership with Gerard, whose character was introduced as a foil for Barry Grant. "They had Callum running a protection racket in Bar Brookie and it was down to Barry to sort it out," explains Gerard. "Then Barry's involvement with Lindsey led to the showdown between him and Callum that was featured in the video The Lost Weekend.

"It was quite funny to do, because I had to film the video before doing my scenes for the show and I didn't have a clue what was going on. I didn't know Callum had been running a protection racket, I had no idea why Barry Grant wanted to kill him... I went in every day thinking, 'I'm sure eventually someone will tell me why all this is happening', but they never did."

The 40-year-old's credits include projects as diverse as dramas such as Juliet Bravo and comedy shows like Victoria Wood As Seen On TV and The Young Ones. But despite his many and varied roles, Gerard has received the most public recognition since joining Brookside.

"I love Callum because he's very funny. I play him like a cartoon villain and I like the fact that he's so black and white. You'd find it hard to imagine Callum having a moral dilemma, because I'm sure he doesn't have any morals".

"The other appeal of Callum is this twisted relationship he has with Lindsey, who I think he really likes deep down. Every other character backs down the moment he comes across them, but she never does. That's why he never actually kills her - he sees her as sport. If Lindsey was gone, what would he do for entertainment?"

Claire has also enjoyed being part of a double act, and counts the storylines with Gerard as one of the highlights of her time on the soap.

"Gerard is brilliant, really lovely, and working with him has been an amazing experience. I really hope they don't kill off Callum, because he's just too good a character." She says.

However, soap law dictates that sooner or later the war between Lindsey and Callum will reach a gripping climax. So how would the couple like their screen relationship to end?

"I hope that they keep Callum alive so that I can keep popping in and out," says Gerard. "But I'll never stay for too long. They wanted me to do four months this time and I said no, because I think Callum works best in very short, concentrated bursts. And I like the fact that just when Lindsey thinks she can go back to normal, he turns up again to wreak havoc."

So if the pair are stuck with each other, could they ever be friends?

"A lot of people think Lindsey and Callum should end up in bed together," laughs Claire. "Fans are always asking me when it's going to happen! Then again, maybe that would be taking things a bit too far."