Following Dr Joanna Graham’s shocking departure at the end of the last series, Peak Practice had to find itself another easy-on-the-eye lady doctor to keep pulses racing in Cardale.
Actress Maggie O’Neill will start seeing patients this week as The Beeches’ Alex Redman, an ex-army doctor with a bad past in Bosnia and a marriage on the rocks. No wonder her bedside manner’s in need of a brush up. ‘She doesn’t come in as a totally charming character,’ admits Maggie, 36. ‘She’s prickly because of things going on in her personal life, but then she softens up a bit.’
Alex takes Joanna’s place in more ways then one – a romance with Dr Tom Deneley is promised for next season.
Joining a year-round drama is new to Maggie, who’s usually chosen shorter stints in high profile projects such as Births, Deaths and Marriages with Ray Winstone, and Hero of the Hour with Ross Kemp.
A year out of work between these roles changed her mind. ‘It got longer and longer between jobs and the longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to get it,’ says Maggie.
Having never played a doctor before, Maggie was soon up to her elbows in blood and gore. On her first day on set, Alex had to deliver a baby. ‘I was there between this woman’s legs wondering ‘what the hell am I supposed to be miming down here?’ That was quite nerve-racking but the scene went on for pages and was frenetic, so I didn’t have too much time to dwell on what I was doing and started thinking, ‘No one’s going to believe this’.
But pretending to be a doctor is the easy bit. In fact, it’s quite a miracle that Maggie took this role at all. Not only does she have to leave her artist boyfriend behind in London while filming up north, but she’s an ardent townie.
‘Countryside frightens the hell out of me!’ says Maggie who rents a cottage in Crich, where Peak Practice was filmed before much of it was moved to a studio.
‘You can hear the animals, and it’s too dark. Remember that series, Tales of the Unexpected, when a psychopath would suddenly turn up at this country house and slash everyone up? That’s how I think of the country.’