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Eastenders actress Sophie Stanton on her Suffolk childhood

PUBLISHED: 11:50 24 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013

Eastenders actress Sophie Stanton on her Suffolk childhood

Eastenders actress Sophie Stanton on her Suffolk childhood

Sophie Stanton plays DCI Marsden in EastEnders. She tells Pat Parker about her childhood in Suffolk, that exhilarating live broadcast, and how she had guessed who was the Albert Square killer

Sophie Stanton plays DCI Marsden in EastEnders. She tells Pat Parker about her childhood in Suffolk, that exhilarating live broadcast, and how she had guessed who was the Albert Square killer




As any EastEnders fan will know, DCI Marsden is the tough detective who has for years been trying to put hard case Phil Mitchell behind bars. Most recently, however, she returned to Albert Square to investigate the murder of the much-loathed Archie Mitchell a crime for which there was no shortage of suspects.
DCI Marsden is played by Suffolk actress Sophie Stanton, who was completely taken aback when she was asked to return after a long absence to investigate Archies murder.
It came completely out of the blue, and knocked me for six, says Sophie, 39, who now lives in London, but regularly returns to Stowmarket to visit her widowed mum.
I really thought Marsden was no more. It was a really great surprise because Id just finished a years run at the National Theatre, appearing in a new play called England People Very Nice so it couldnt have come at a better time.
Sophie was born in London but moved to Suffolk when she was three, living first in Onehouse, and moving to Stowmarket when she was nine. An only child, she spent much of her childhood exploring the Suffolk countryside.
I think of Suffolk as a kind of character in my childhood, because the landscape the fields and the sky played a huge part in my imagination. I was constantly making up stories about the clouds. I think of it as my friend it was a lovely place to grow up in. Its a very gentle part of the world; you can afford to be an individual there. It was a place to evolve naturally without having anything imposed on you.
Sophie would go on long bike rides in the Suffolk countryside.
My parents encouraged adventure; they were very good at allowing me to go off on my own. Its a shame for kids these days, because its not so easily done. But I would roam and roam. Mum used to send me off with a 2p piece for emergency phone calls!
Sophies dad taught art at Debenham High, and her mum was a French teacher at Stowmarket High. Today, she is a supply teacher, having taught four generations of Stowmarket children.
Mum had the unfortunate task of teaching me A-level French, laughs Sophie. I was a very uncooperative student. Id sit in the back of the class and go, Im not doing that! I didnt mind being a teachers daughter, because mum was incredibly popular, but it did mean you couldnt get away with anything you had to toe the line to a certain extent.
Nowadays, the boots on the other foot. Back then, I was known as Mrs Stantons daughter. Now, shes known as DCI Marsdens mum! If the kids misbehave, shell say, Watch out, or Ill set my daughter on you!
Sophie won a place in the National Youth Theatre, and went on to study at RADA, where fellow students included Michael Sheen and Diane Parish, who plays Denise in EastEnders.
Her first big break came when she played a leading role in the play Beautiful Thing at Londons Bush Theatre. She went on to appear in the West End production, and the subsequent film version.
A variety of theatre and TV roles followed, and her many credits include Prime Suspect, Ashes to Ashes, Shine on Harvey Moon, Birds of a Feather and Outnumbered.
She has also recently turned her hand to play-writing, penning Cariad, a study of friendship, memory and loss set in an isolated Welsh village. The play, a moving comedy, is an all-female three-parter in which two former schoolfriends are reunited after an absence of many years. Sophie plays Blodwen, an eccentric, slightly sinister cleaner with an unhappy marriage.
The play was inspired by a real-life incident, in which Sophie met up with an old schoolfriend through Friends Reunited. I hardly recognised her, and it turned out we had entirely different memories of the past, but the essence of our friendship was still the same. She was telling me things about my childhood which Id completely forgotten. It blew my mind a little, and it made me realise how memory plays tricks on us all. Sophies last appearance in EastEnders for now, at least was the tense live 25th anniversary episode in February, in which Stacey Branning is revealed as Archies killer, and her husband Bradley jumps to his death from a rooftop, pursued by a policeman.
The shows producers managed to keep the identity of Archies killer secret for 18 months. Lacey Turner, who plays Stacey, was only told minutes before the live show began. But nobody else knew, and I only knew when she said it live in the square, says Sophie.
The cast had all had bets as to who the killer could be, and Sophie was one of the few to correctly guess it was Stacey. I had an epiphany about a week before the live episode. It was a memory of the whole Who Shot Phil? storyline, and how there were eight different suspects, including some really hard blokes, and it turned out to be Lisa. I knew DCI Marsden wasnt going to get the culprit, because of a couple of scenes of the following episode wed shot in December, and I thought that narratively, Stacey was the only person who the audience would forgive, and who could get away with it. That was my theory and it turned out to be right!
Filming the live episode involved 47 cameras instead of the usual four, a series of outside broadcast vans equipped with screen monitors, and involved a spectacular stunt, in which Bradley appears to jump to his death.
It was an incredible logistical feat, says Sophie. They could have contained it all in one studio and made it technically incredibly simple, but they didnt. They really went for it.
A set of brand-new golf buggies had been brought in to transport the cast between the indoor studios and the outdoor set. They got it down to one minute 16 seconds. Youd finish one scene and then bolt out of the studio, dive on to the golf buggy, shout Go! in hushed tones, and the buggy would hurtle round the corner, and drive on to Albert Square just as the camera was about to come on you. You only just had time to steady your breath! It was like a rollercoaster, but it was great fun. For me, it was very close to doing a play the adrenalin rush was the same.
I wondered what it was like coping with the recognition that comes with a soap-opera role. Ill tell you what its like! she laughs. Picture me digging my allotment. Ive mud in my hair, a really bad hat on, a big parka coat, mascara down my cheeks because its been raining, smelly jeans and welly boots. And suddenly half a dozen people come up and ask if they can take your photo!
The allotment, she says, is her therapy, and the closest she can get to the countryside while living in London. She happily admits to being a country girl at heart, and is sure that one day she will return to the peace of her beloved Suffolk. Ill almost certainly go back one day. The only question is when.

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