The meteoric rise to stardom of Derry actor Peter Mitchell took its latest surge yesterday when he made his debut on Channel 4 hit soap ‘Hollyoaks’.
The Waterside actor - who is originally from Limavady - plays Pete Hamill, the new head teacher at Hollyoaks High, and is to be at the centre of a intriguing story which will unravel in the coming weeks.
Its been a big move for the former professional footballer who played with Leeds United before a horrific car crash left him paralysed in 2002.
“It’s a whole new start in my life - it’s such a big change for me. I’m so fortunate that Pete is coming into the show and that it’s such a big story in Hollyoaks.”
For former ‘Cast-offs’ star Peter, Hollyoaks is the big break he worked so hard for in the last couple of years, having made his TV debut in the Channel 4 satirical black comedy in 2009.
The 26 year-old begin filming his new character in the popular Merseyside soap when he moved to Liverpool in January. And despite the mountain of work he’s had to get through, he’s “really loving the experience”.
Speaking exclusively to the ‘Journal’ he said: “When I was offered the job it was surreal - to be here just a year and a half after my first time on film is just unbelieveable.
“The atmosphere around the place is electric, there’s always a buzz and every day there’s something different - it’s an exciting experience and an amazing place to work. There’s a really big cast here, about 70 people, it’s not like anything I’ve done before but everyone gets on so well.”
Peter admits that he has been “out socially” with his new colleagues, but points out that there’s been little time for partying due to the workload.
“It’s been hard work but that’s fine with me because it’s great to be here. I’ve been getting up at around 5.30am and I’m not back in the apartment until 8.30pm - after that I have to learn my lines for the following day. It just hasn’t stopped, it’s been all Hollyoaks. For the first three weeks I was doing eight scenes a day and then going home to learn lines for eight more scenes.
“Whenever I got the Cast-offs job all I did was worry about my lines - now it’s new lines every day but I’m getting used to it.”
His character shares a mysterious history with Hollyoak’s bad boy Brendan Brady and suspicion grows that he is responsible for the wheelchair user’s disability.
Peter first heard of his role after his agent Michael Ford told him that Hollyoaks wanted to speak to him. The Hollyoaks team had seen the local actor in Cast-Offs and then it was onwards and upwards for Peter.
“I first heard about the role in July or August time last year, when my agent phoned me and told me that Hollyoaks wanted to meet me. So I came over to Liverpool and I met with Paul Marquess, who was the producer at the time. There was no audition process as such, it was a meeting with Paul and the first word of conversation was, ‘Peter, we think your character should be…’ and then he explained it. So it soon became apparent that there was a job there for me and they wanted to create a character especially for me, which was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Peter immediately identified with the new character’s traits.
“When we first spoke about him, they said that he was very similar to myself. Like me, Pete is in a wheelchair but he’s comfortable, he’s over his accident and he gets on with it. It’s not going to be a sad story - often when you see disabled people on TV, the audience is expected to feel sorry for them because of that disability. But with Pete, he gets on with it and he’s an independent man. That was very reassuring and I was very, very excited about the role.”
And the local actor is loving his new role.
“I’ve been filming now for nearly two months - six or seven weeks - and he’s a great character to play. To be honest, there’s still a lot more that can come from him. He’s the headmaster of Hollyoaks High and he’s very authoritative inside the school. He takes no nonsense from the kids and he demands respect. Outside of school, he can be very charming - he’s charming with everyone because he’s a nice guy. But with a certain individual, things are very different…”
Although Peter admits that his character has a history with Hollyoaks bad boy Brendan Brady, he remains tight lipped about about the nature of their shared past.
“Yes, obviously there is history between Pete and Brendan. The interesting thing is that Brendan is always in control - of his past, of his friends and of his enemies. But Pete has a bit of a hold over him. It doesn’t take long to find out why, either - the story comes out very quickly.”
Pete’s first outing in Hollyoaks sees him in Ireland.
“Yeah - Mercedes, Cheryl and Lynsey are in Ireland visiting Mal’s grave and they bump into Pete. In that first scene, straight away the audience will discover that there’s history between Pete and Brendan. Once Pete leaves, Cheryl talks to Lynsey and it’s obvious that Brendan’s not going to be happy to see his old friend when he turns up in Hollyoaks.”
And there’s been some speculation about whether Brendan is responsible for Pete being in a wheelchair.
“Well, everyone knows that Brendan Brady is a shady character with some dark, dark secrets. Obviously with Pete being in a wheelchair, people are going to assume that Brendan is responsible for that. All I can say is that there is a back story there and it doesn’t take long for the truth to come out.”
Working with Emmett Scanlan, who plays Brendan, has been “absolutely amazing” for Peter.
“When I watch him go into Brendan mode, I have so much respect for him and he inspires me - he really, really does.”