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Wednesday 20 March 2013

Pregnant Pause

Actors are - and this may come as a shock to you - human beings.  They breathe, eat, defecate.  Obviously they do all this in a much classier, more inspiring way than you or I, but they're still people after all.  Some of these people (experts call them "women") even get pregnant.  This can cause a few problems.

In regular jobs, if a woman gets pregnant, it's quite simple.  She gets bought a load of chocolate, people pass round a card, then everyone complains that she isn't pulling her weight round the office just because she's up the duff.  "She says that the baby's pressing on her bladder and that's why she has to go to the toilet six times a day, but I saw her take an OK! magazine in there, so I think she should be penalised for taking unauthorised breaks".  Then the woman goes on maternity leave and everyone steals the office supplies from her drawer and she comes back after six months to find she now has the desk in the corner beneath the rattling air conditioner that probably has Legionnaire's Disease festering inside.

On a soap opera, things are different.  The old way to deal with an actress getting pregnant was to make her character pregnant as well; after all, it would save the make up department money on prosthetic tummies.  This method went out of favour after Jill Chance on Crossroads was pregnant for over a year (the actress lost her first baby, but then became pregnant again shortly after - the writers just extended the character's gestation accordingly).  The other inconvenience is that the actress tends to want to give birth to her own child just as the character is due, which means her availability for huffing and puffing in Weatherfield General may be limited.  Natalie Barnes was pregnant in real-life and on the show, but she disappeared to the Cotswolds when it was actually time to force it out.

You also have the problem we currently have in Corrie: a character who definitely, absolutely can't have a baby is suddenly six months gone.  Poor Julie went through the trauma of having her reproductive organs removed last year.  I bet the writers wish they hadn't bothered now Katy Cavanagh is asking for maternity leave.  We've yet to discover how they're going to write her out, but let's hope it's as imaginative as the fate that befell poor Hayley.  For obvious reasons, Mrs Cropper could never have a child, so the character was sent to prison while Julie Hesmondhalgh dropped her sprog.

The current default is simply to disguise the baby bump.  The trend was started by Michelle Collins over on EastEnders: the Cindy Beale Memorial Handbag has rightly passed into legend.  No matter what she was doing - arranging for the murder of her husband, having illicit sex, abducting her children - Cindy's four-foot wide handbag remained close by her side.  The handbag has since been passed around, with Carla Connor being a particularly keen user.

Costuming has a part to play in all this.  We're used to Julie having eccentric taste in clothes, so her sudden fondness for a cape doesn't seem out of character, and those puffball skirts can hide a multitude of sins.  Similarly, Carla married Tony Gordon in an Empire line wedding dress - handy for concealing a tummy, not so good at hiding enormous pregnancy breasts.

If all else fails, just give the character a job that requires her to stand behind a lot of things.  Leanne Battersby was working in Underworld the first time Jane Danson fell pregnant; cue her wandering around amidst shoulder high racks of knickers and deploying careful use of a clipboard.  For her second pregnancy, Jane was put behind that high counter in the bookies, leading us to conclude that if she decides to have a third baby Leanne will take up a job inspecting sewers and will spend three months with just her head poking out a manhole.

Eventually, the actress will have to leave to actually have the thing.  If it were up to the producers they would work until the mucus plug fell out, but those lawmakers at Westminster have gone and intervened and demand a proper period of rest.  A sick relative is always a good option to get rid of a character; Sally Webster disappeared for months to look after her mum, despite previously showing absolutely no inclination to even phone her on Mother's Day.  The payback for this uncharacteristic bout of generosity was Kevin ravaging Natalie Horrocks in the inspection pit, so she never did that again.

A good trauma can drive a character off somewhere, no matter how unlikely it sounds.  Maria finally managed to assemble four brain cells in a line and deduce that Tony Gordon was a wrong 'un, sending her scuttling off to Ireland long enough for Samia Ghadie to have her baby.  A similar revelatory moment drove Carla to sun herself by the pool in Los Angeles; I can't help thinking Maria must have been a bit annoyed by this. 

You have to remember that a pregnant actress is a fragile thing, too; you have to give her some interesting storylines, but you can't chuck her character under a tram or in a burning bus shelter.  Over stress her and you end up with the disaster when Kym Marsh Ryder Marsh Lomas had to be written out sooner than expected due to her delicate health.  Her storyline had to be rewritten with Maria, presenting us with a world in which Maria - a woman who has to be repeatedly told that curling tongs get hot - became a high powered business woman.  Admittedly, this is only slightly less believable than a universe in which Michelle Connor is the new Hilary Devey.

Above all, she has to be written out in a way which means she can come back as if nothing happened.  Maria returned from six months in Ireland and went straight back to the flat above the hairdresser's; Carla returned to be amazing in very high heels all over again; Hayley went back to wearing that duffle coat.  Their time away was discussed but it was made clear that no matter how wonderful that sunshine and swimming pool was, it couldn't compare with a tatty back street sweatshop.  What you really don't want to be is Claire Peacock.  Julia Haworth must have realised that her character was doomed when she was told how she would be written out during her pregnancy.  "We're just not going to mention it.  You'll just disappear for six months and then afterwards we'll just have you say you'd been working nights in the cab office all that time.  Fair enough?"  I bet she was straight onto her agent to update her showreel after that...

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njblas said...

Love your work Scott:)

Karl said...

Brilliant post!

Anonymous said...

Very witty

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! Love it!

Joseph who decided to be anonymous today

Anonymous said...

Wow! ...and I thought I was cynical!

Mavis Pendlebury said...

No, it started with Curly's fiancee Kimberley. She wore her coat indoors a lot because the actress became pregnant during her big storyline.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I also love the shots of pregnant actresses taken from across the street, stood behind a car.


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