Gillian Wright on her portrayal of Jean's bipolar storyline
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Jean Slater is in the midst of a severe bipolar episode, and heartbreaking scenes have seen her being sectioned, returning home and struggling to adapt as her family tries to support her. The EastEnders actress, 62, has played the challenging role since 2004 and in that time, has tackled some hard-hitting storylines involving Jean’s mental health. Speaking to The One Show’s Alex Jones and Ronan Keating, Gillian recalled a touching message from a fan who detailed how the BBC soap plot makes her feel “less lonely”.
Acknowledging Gillian’s nominations for this year’s British Soap Awards, Alex commented: “Congratulations for all of those nominations.”
She added: “Your character Jean, she has had some huge storylines – cancer, the bipolar storyline.
“As an actress, do you feel a weight of the responsibility in terms of how you go about portraying those storylines and bringing them to life?”
“Yes, completely,” Gillian replied. “What I do has to be believable, however emotional the part is or however funny she is, whatever it is she’s doing, it needs to come from a place of truth for me.”
“Gillian, what’s really powerful is the way we can see the effects on Jean and her whole family,” Ronan pointed out.
“The show has such an important role in teaching the public about mental health, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does,” the actress agreed. “My part in this isn’t to teach, it is to play the part of Jean.
“But a lot of the messages that I’ve been getting on Instagram have been teaching me myself even more.”
Giving a recent example, Gillian shared how one fan’s message touched her.
She reflected: “Somebody for instance, messaged me to say that they are diagnosed with bipolar but they don’t necessarily know anyone else with bipolar, so watching a character on television with a storyline that is a bipolar storyline has made them feel less lonely – and that means the world to me.”
“Yeah, it’s a huge tribute to you as an actress, isn’t it?” Alex remarked.
Ronan asked: “How do you go about researching your character and the work that you have to put in?”
“The writers work with Mind, the mental health charity,” Gillian explained.
“And I did a lot of work with Mind in the very early days playing Jean, and then I’ve just been carrying her bipolar with her over all the years.
“So, even if the story isn’t about her bipolar, it’s part of her. It’s her shadow, as it were.
“So it’s always there and even if it’s not a bipolar storyline there can be ways of turning on a sixpence so that you’re not expecting what she’s going to do next, that can be incorporated into her scenes.”
Alex highlighted how Jean also displays some comical moments in scenes.
“She can be so funny, how difficult is that for you as an actress to change from one mood to the other?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s what I love,” Gillian admitted. “I love the fact that, well I’m hoping, what happens next isn’t expected.
“And what I love about playing Jean is that I try to turn on the sixpence so that what comes next is a surprise.”
Alex read out a message sent in by a fan stating Gillian “deserves to win big” at the upcoming soap awards.
The One Show airs weekdays at 7pm on BBC One.
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