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Friday, 26 May 2023

Daniel Brocklebank interview: Billy discovers Paul's devastating secret

Over recent weeks, Paul has been keeping his motor neurone disease diagnosis a secret from his family and friends. However, viewers saw tonight the devastating moment where Billy found out Paul's secret after turning up at Paul's court hearing.

We chatted with Daniel Brocklebank about how Billy copes with finding out the truth and hinting at what viewers can expect over the coming months.

Prior to finding out about Paul’s illness, Billy was getting a bit frustrated with his behaviour. What did he think was going on?

His behaviour was very abnormal, and I don’t think Billy was as astute as he could’ve been. But by the end of it, he thought he was going off him. He thought he made a mistake getting back into the relationship, and he genuinely thought it was him rather than something going on with Paul because he was always out with Dee-Dee, he was constantly never at home. And I think Billy thought in the end that Paul was going off the idea of being in a relationship and had made a mistake in terms of getting back with Billy. 

Is that what made Billy go to the court case?

Well, his behaviour was so shifty, so Billy goes through his belongings, which again is a very un-Billy like thing to do. And he finds a letter from the court with the date and the time of the court case. So Billy turns up thinking, “What have you done?” And then of course is hit with the news that not only has he been stealing cars, but that his sentence is being reduced due to his medical diagnosis of the MND. It’s a massive shock. 

Billy’s hearing it as a bit of car crash revelation from the judge. She played it brilliantly. And there’s no dialogue in that scene either, so the reaction is just him trying to take it in and get his head around it. The scenes afterwards are the scenes we were able to actually show that emotion between the two of us. 

There was one scene in the court afterwards, and we discussed it with the director, Peter and I… Sometimes, when you get these scenes, you’ve got the writer’s stage directions, but then sometimes, when you’re rehearsing a scene, you don’t necessarily want to play it the way that they’ve decided you should. They decide what we’re going to say, but personally, it’s my job to decide how I say that line. As long as it’s sticking to the narrative and telling the story truthfully. And the stage directions we’d been given for this particular scene, Pete and I both felt that they weren’t helpful in terms of the way… Because we’ve got such a long way to go with this storyline, and it’s such an emotional journey, we don’t want to burn all of that out too soon. 

The tears, the anger, the frustration, of course there’s going to be those moments, but sometimes, we don’t want to be crying all the time in scenes. We want to be giving it variation and colour. And also, the audiences don’t want to just be seeing us sitting and crying all the time either. So there’s choices in how we choose to play these things, and that was one of those moments where all three of us felt, actually, this scene should be played not necessarily as the stage directions were suggesting. 

The scenes back at the flat were highly emotional. What was it like filming those scenes?

They were brutal, actually. I came home exhausted after that day. And Pete and I had done some filming that day with Rob Burrows as well, which I think added to the intensity of filming them. Obviously, having spent the afternoon with somebody with advanced MND and such a hero like Rob as well, who’s made such a huge impact on the MND community and the MND Association. I think it added to filming that day.

They’re heart-breaking scenes, absolutely heart-breaking. Even during the read-through, Pete and I were welling up. Sometimes you make a choice about how you’re going to play things. Sometimes, it just gets you, and you literally can’t choose anything else because that’s how it’s making you feel in that moment.

How is Billy feeling during all of this?

He does have an awareness, obviously, and I think Billy being Billy, he would’ve gone and researched what the potential sort of outcome is for Paul. Especially as he’s not been there for the initial diagnosis.

Of course, he’s devastated. He’s going to be stuck between being a pastoral role, but also, this is a personal journey, so it’s not the same as a parishioner that’s ill. He’s very, very aware that their time together is coming to an end, and their time as it stands is coming to an end because the longer it goes on, the less Paul will be able to do.

I think he’s trying to live every moment as we all should, really. I think we all forget that our time is finite for all of us anyway. I think for Billy, it’s utterly heart-breaking. He feels he’s just got this guy back, and they’re getting things on track, and he thought that everything was going well, then all of a sudden, bang, this thing comes in and literally smashes everything out of the park and completely dismantles the future he thought they were building on. 

Does he support Paul’s wishes to keep the diagnosis a secret from his family at the moment?

I’m not sure he supports it, he understands why. There’s obviously Gemma’s wedding coming up, and I think Paul wants her day to be about the wedding, not to be about the fact that he’s ill. So I think Billy understands why he doesn’t want to share it at that moment, but also knows that’s not going to be able to keep it from them for that much longer if the symptoms continue to develop in the way that they are.

How hard is it for Billy going to this wedding now that he’s burdened with this secret?

I think it’s another one of those things where it’s about enjoying the moment, and I think for Billy, seeing Paul walk Gemma down the aisle is hugely emotional because it’s going to be one of those memories after Paul’s gone.

So it’s a big secret for Billy to keep, but Billy’s terrible at keeping secrets. For a vicar, he’s awful at keeping secrets. I’ve been playing him now for getting on nine years. I’m honestly astounded sometimes, I’m like, “Oh, my God, why can’t he keep his mouth shut? This is unreal, you’re an archdeacon.” But obviously in this situation, he only finds out just before the wedding, so he doesn’t really have much time to process it prior to the wedding. Billy is quite an emotional character, and he’s not very good at hiding anything at all, but he’s very aware that he has to try and hold it together for Gemma, and for Paul because realistically, it's not about Billy. It’s not Billy’s place to tell anyone, so he has to respect it. He doesn’t necessarily agree with it, but he understands why, and he has to respect that choice.

How have you found the reaction to this story?

I’ve been working with the MND Association for a very long time, and from the people who have contacted me personally through the MND Association and on Twitter and things like that, they’re thrilled that we are telling this story. Obviously, very sad to see Peter leaving, but thrilled that we are highlighting MND and showing someone’s journey through the illness. It has been very positive.

How are you family feeling now about the storyline?

I think it’s dredging up quite a bit of stuff. It’s 21 years since my grandfather died, so we’ve sort put all of that to bed in some respects. I have to say, there was a scene we filmed a couple of weeks ago, and obviously Paul’s physical debilitation is very visible. And it very much reminded me, telling the whole family what’s going on, and I very much remember that in our family, and in the scene, Paul gets up and walks out of the room, and I remember my grandfather doing the same thing, and all of us just sat together, not being able to comprehend what we were going to have to face as a family. And when Paul gets up and left the room, I just burst into tears. I mean, it totally worked in the scene for Billy, thank God. There are definitely going to be points where it’s triggering.

Can you give any hints about what we’ll be seeing in the coming months?

Well, I think it’s going to be a really lovely blend. I think there’s going to be some really nice moments. Billy and Paul really ticking things off, bucket lists of adventures together and sort of trying to find their happiness in every moment they can. 

Obviously, inevitably, there will be difficulties along the way, but I think there’s going to be some really fun moments as well. So it’s not going to all be doom and gloom and woe is us. It’s about balance. Even in the bleakest of moments, there is a huge amount of humour to be had, and I’m sure we’ll find it. I think we’re trying to find it even when it’s not in there, trying to stay positive, because it’s bloody exhausting having to cry for 12 hours a day. So if you can find moments where you can find little lightnesses within the dialogue, the scenes, the staging of it. We have such a giggle at work anyway. Like, it’s a joyous place to work.

Sophie Williams

Find me on Twitter @sophie_writer1

All original work on Coronation Street Blog is covered by a Creative Commons License


fairycake said...

My heart is breaking...I love Paul so much...X

Sharon Rushworth said...

The acting is breathtaking, it really showcases the journey that someone with this diagnosis would go through. Very educational and helpful for the public to understand and have that awareness that they may not have had before.

It has really moved me and I look forward to the story line developing, will really miss Paul, he is such a huge part of the street.


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