Julie Hesmondhalgh: Corrie fans might be surprised by my Cucumber role

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Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh says that Coronation Street fans could have a hard time reconciling her Cucumber character with Hayley Cropper, but that she can’t believe she’s in the Channel 4 show.

Hesmondhalgh rose to fame playing British TV’s first transgender character in Coronation Street for 16 years until her character’s death a year ago.

The actress told the Channel 4 website: “I had no game plan at all when I went to Coronation Street and said that I was going to leave, and I just couldn’t have anticipated the beautiful storyline that they gave me.

“So that changed things for me a little bit, I felt that change happen and that I was in a different game than I had been in before. So it was all very open and all very exciting – but I never in a million years expected it to be something like Cucumber!”

As a friend of the show’s writer, Russell T Davies, and a self-confessed fan of his ground-breaking 90s series Queer as Folk, Hesmondhalgh said his involvement in Cucumber was a huge draw for her.

“Yeah and the amount of people that said ‘Was it a conscious decision to do a Russell T Davies drama” and I said “oh yes, it’s that easy!’ It just came up and it was amazing. I got offered a couple of jobs that I had to say no to in order to do this. They were really lovely and I was really happy to do them but this took precedence over anything else really.”

Asked what her first thoughts were when she read the script, Hesmondhalgh exclaimed: “I absolutely loved it. I got the first two episodes to read and I loved them and thought, ‘this is going to be amazing, what a wonderful thing to do 16 years after Queer as Folk’. Queer as Folk came out around the same time that Hayley arrived on Coronation Street so I was very much part of that cultural group in Manchester at that time, you know around Manchester Pride.”

Hesmondhalgh said her role as Cucumber’s Cleo Whitaker is worlds apart from Hayley in Coronation Street, and she found having to deal with sex scenes initially “a bit terrifying”.

“When I accepted the part, they said ‘you might want to read episode four’ and I laughed with my husband and said ‘what could it possibly be? What could put me off this unless it’s a sex scene?!’ I started reading episode four and shouted to my husband in the other room ‘I’m on a date!’ and sure enough I do have a sex scene of sorts which was a bit terrifying but turned out to be more than fine actually.”

The actress continued: “I enjoyed it a little bit more than I could have anticipated. Having not even kissed anyone else apart from my husband for about 17 years it was quite a big thing for me and I was very aware it would change the perception of me. It would be a big shift in audience who were following me as Hayley from Coronation Street. It would possibly be the biggest brain shift they would have to do…”