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Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Richard Hawley interview: Johnny's health scare in prison

Johnny was determined to pay for his crimes, was he pleased when he was sent down?
It was the only way for him to be able to move on. It was the fact that it was someone’s son and the pain he had caused them. All the way through this story it has been connected to the loss of Aidan and knowing how he felt about losing his son and then releasing that he had taken someone else’s son away by his actions, that just went too deep for him to want to swerve that.
We have seen his condition deteriorate quite rapidly, the physical symptoms must be quite hard to portray, how are you finding doing that? Was it your decision to bring that physical sign of his condition into the scenes?
Partly yes, its roots were in the previous story where the stress of Scott and the armed robbery brought on an attack. There was enormous stress going on, it is hard to maintain the credibility of that without keeping some of that and continuing to show it. I knew that I was heading towards something that would fundamentally be going on inside his mind so I felt we had to have some elements of physicality leading up to that. I wanted to make sure it was an honest portrayal of MS, it comes and goes anyway and I felt it was the right time to bring it in before we started portraying another condition, which although related to the MS is not necessarily a part of it.
Johnny is in a terrible physical and medical state, I found it quite difficult, it's not easy remembering your lines at the same time as remembering to keep your arm shaking, and bump into something occasionally and at the end of the day I would find myself still shaking my arm subconsciously. It was a useful signifier for the audience, it felt like there needed to be some sort of external expression.  What is happening is that the whole messaging system is breaking down and I wanted to show some elements of that. 
How has he been finding life in prison, is he frightened? Has Gary been a help?
Yes he is frightened and Gary has been a bit of a knight in shining armour for Johnny, concerned  about him and more than happy to slip him  some good prison wisdom. Gary is a pretty tough cookie and he is definitely happy to help Johnny. But Gary is worried about Johnny too. This is not the Johnny he knows, it seems as though he has very serious mental health problems. 
How badly is he affected by Joe’s suicide?
Yes he is really shocked by it and he uses that as an explanation to Jenny as to why he is feeling and looking so rough. It brings up Aidan which then feeds into the hallucinations. The suicide brings up Aidan and that then projects itself onto what he is seeing, when he sees the image in his mind of an anonymous person he very much projects Aidan because he wants to see Aidan. Rather than ‘seeing’ Aidan it is more his need and desire to see Aidan.
What happens when he first starts seeing things? 
He starts seeing cockroaches and mice and he is disgusted that the prison is in such a state that they are overrun by cockroaches and mice. He sees a rainbow and musical notes flying around in the air. When other people hear him saying this and obviously they can’t see any of it they start thinking he is having mental health issues. 
Why is he not willing to discuss the situation with Jenny yet he will confide in Carla?
It is a desire to protect Jenny and he feels he can be more open with Carla. He knows Jenny has enough on her plate. Carla always tells him to be straight, it is a natural thing to do to open up to her. Particularly in this instance where they believe it to be a mental health issue Carla has experience of that.
Johnny is diagnosed with Charles Bonnet syndrome can you tell us a little bit about what that is? 
Once you have a diagnosis of Charles Bonnet syndrome things can get a little better simply because you know what it is. What happens is your brain makes up images because it is not getting enough information because of reduced eyesight. There is no attendant feeling of anything else. It is just simply hallucination, it can be an unpleasant one or it could be a pleasant one or both. When it is an unpleasant one it is a bit like sitting there and having to watch a horror movie that you don't really want to watch. But before you get a diagnosis people can look at it and can worry themselves that this is a mental health problem, which is what I tried to do with the performance with Johnny, to look like he was having mental health problems.
Was this something you were aware of and what research have you done?
It wasn’t something I had heard of before this storyline. In fact, weirdly just after the producer told me about the story I was listening to the World Service and there was actually a programme about it. We have been working very closely with a charity called Esme’s Umbrella. It is incredibly important to do the research and find out as much as you can, for me it is one of the most interesting parts of the job that you get the opportunity to speak to these people and learn about things you were either unaware of or knew very little about. You have a responsibility to the people who are going through it for real. They always bring something surprising to the table. I spoke to a remarkable lady called Nina Chesworth who has it , she has a family and is also a visual artist. The brain is a very extraordinary thing. Even though there is a commonality of some types of hallucinations it manifests itself differently for different people and everyone has a different experience with both MS and Charles Bonnet syndrome so this is still very much Johnny’s story.
Glenda Young
Twitter: @Flaming_Nora
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