Thirty years ago a role in Coronation Street was Sue Johnston's first job in television, when she played Mrs Chadwick (see picture above, right), but now Sue is set to arrive in style as Stella's mum Gloria (see left), on Wednesday 5th September.
Producer Phil Collinson said: “I'm delighted to welcome Sue Johnston to the cast. She is a national treasure and a stunning actress. She has been at the heart of the very best comedy and drama the UK has produced over last 30 years and will step into the heart of Coronation Street as her character, Gloria, takes up running The Rovers with daughter Stella.”
Here we talk to Sue about her new role, get an exclusive preview of the trouble Gloria's set to bring and discover more about Sue's first appearance in the show.
TELL US ABOUT GLORIA
I think people will be in for a surprise as she’s not the sort of character I’m usually associated with. She’s certainly not got the warmth or maternal instincts of Barbara or Sheila, in fact she’s a terrible mother. I’ve still got so much to learn about her past with Stella but it’s fair to say she hasn’t always been there for her daughter and she gave her a bit of a rough ride when she was growing up. She’s very straight talking and just doesn’t care what she says and to whom she says it. She’s the sort of person who takes pride in shooting from the hip. It never wins her any friends but she’s clearly not bothered about that. She wastes no time in ruffling feathers when she arrives in Weatherfield, which she thinks is a dump. As well as being blunt to the point of rudeness, she’s also a terrible flirt which is terrific fun and a great combination to play.
HOW DOES GLORIA LOOK?
Her appearance is also very different to many of the parts I’ve played in the past. I decided I didn’t want to go down the path of showing my cleavage and wearing animal prints. Gloria’s a bit of an old hippy and I wanted her dress sense to reflect this. I went out shopping with the wardrobe department and we’ve chosen long skirts and flowing tops with lots of colours and lots of layers. Her look is very distinctive.
HOW DOES GLORIA ARRIVE IN WEATHERFIELD?
She comes from Spain where she’s been running a bar. Her reasons for leaving are murky to say the least. Aside from the fact that they involve a man called Cliff and something a bit dodgy to do with his business, it’s clear she’s playing her cards very close to her chest when Stella quizzes her about her sudden appearance. Although she’s thrilled to see Stella and Eva and to meet Leanne, it’s not long before she’s showing her true colours. Stella never does anything right as far as Gloria is concerned, and she thinks running a grimy pub in a Manchester suburb represents her hitting rock bottom. She thinks the Rover’s is beneath her, and therefore so is anyone who drinks there. That doesn’t mean when she’s given the chance to rule the roost she doesn’t lap it up of course. When Stella goes away she leaves Gloria in charge and she decides she’s going to save the Rovers by putting it on the map at any cost.
HOW DOES SHE REACT TO THE NEWS THAT STELLA HAS THROWN KARL OUT?
She’s devastated. She thinks the world of Karl. She doesn’t care about his money problems and his womanising or that he’s had an affair with another woman. She thinks you have to pay a price to end up with someone as good as Karl and makes no bones about telling Stella she’s made another huge mistake by getting rid of him. One of the first things she does when she arrives is try to engineer a reunion. She knows perfectly well how much Karl has hurt Stella but that doesn’t matter. She won’t listen to anything anyone says. She’s always in the right and she’ll stop at nothing to get her own way.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU WALKED DOWN CORONATION STREET’S COBBLES?
I played Mrs Chadwick the bookies wife and it was my big break. It was whilst I was playing the part that I was seen for this new soap that everyone was talking about called “Brookside”, and I got offered Sheila Grant. I’ll never know if Mrs Chadwick might have become a regular character because I only did a few episodes. But I remember it so clearly because I was terrified.
At this time the characters were truly legendary and some of the actors were very intimidating. It really was true that if you sat in somebody else’s seat in the green room, you’d get in trouble. Thankfully Liz Dawn took me under her wing and we’ve been very close friends ever since. She was one of the first people I called when I knew I was going into the show and she was delighted.
One of my strongest memories from thirty years ago was being in the ladies loos when Doris Speed entered. I froze. This was Doris Speed! I stood in awe as she chatted away to me ten to the dozen. She then brought her Annie Walker wig out of her bag still talking away. She popped it on, snapped into role, left the toilets and walked straight into the Rovers. I thought about that on the first day that I walked onto the Rovers set and had a chuckle to myself.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMING BACK?
Not at all like the old days. I was still incredibly nervous because obviously I’m working with all these terrific actors who’ve created iconic characters but everyone has been welcoming and very kind. I’ve just filmed some scenes with Barbara Knox, because Rita is one of the first people Gloria goes into combat with, and she was wonderful. Because the characters are so familiar and I’ve always watched the show as a fan, I have to make sure I call people by their real names. So far my only mistake has been calling Craig Charles Lloyd and he laughed when I apologised.
DID YOU EVER EXPECT THAT YOUR CAREER WOULD BRING YOU BACK TO THE STREET?
I never really thought about it. I’ve never really planned my career, I’ve just sort of rolled along and thankfully I’ve been incredibly lucky. When Phil Collinson called my agent however to say they were interested it did feel like fate and it’s happened at an ideal time. My son Joel lives in Manchester and he and his wife Zoe have just had Rory my first grandchild. So my house in Muswell Hill, where I’ve lived for eighteen years, is on the market and I’ve decided to move near Manchester to be close to them. It’s a time of big change but it feels right. I’m entering a new stage in my career and my life
WHO DO YOU MOST GET RECOGNISED AS, BY FANS?
I’ve been very lucky to have played parts that have become so familiar. Most recently people shout out Barbara, and I like that. I love working on “The Royale Family” and I’m pleased that my contract on “Coronation Street” allows me time off to film the Christmas Special that is definitely happening this year. I also still get Sheila and it’s usually at a Liverpool match or by younger people who I always think couldn’t possibly remember “Brookside.” I hope one day people might shout out “Gloria”, but of course I really like people calling me Sue best of all.
More about this story:
See all the pictures from Gloria's arrival in Weatherfield and her fight with Karl.
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