Hayley: I’m delighted to be back on home soil

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Soap and stage star returns to Fylde Coast for filming of new British comedy film Eaten By Lions

It’s not often as an actor that a perfect role lands in your lap.

Hayley Tamaddon and Nitin Ganatra - EastEnders in the New Comedy Eaten by Lions.

Hayley Tamaddon and Nitin Ganatra - EastEnders in the New Comedy Eaten by Lions.

And it’s got to be even rarer that the perfect role lands in your lap – and takes you back on to home soil without you even realising that’s a possibility.

But that’s just what happened for Blackpool-born actress Hayley Tamaddon, when she was cast in new British comedy Eaten By Lions.

Filming has been taking place at various locations in Blackpool and St Annes in recent weeks, and we had a chance to catch up with Hayley and her co-stars on set.

“It’s really great, great fun,” she said, already settling into the cast and crew on just her second day of filming.

I’m blessed as I can do stage and telly work and go back and forth

“It almost did land in my lap,” she said of the role. “A casting director I know really well was doing the film.

“The director hadn’t found what they were looking for for my role, and the casting director said, ‘You might like Hayley Tamaddon’, and an audition was set up.

“It was probably one of the best auditions I have ever had.

“We did some comedy improvisation, which I love. He filmed me, put the camera down and said, ‘Do you want the part?’

“At that point, I didn’t even know it was going to be in Blackpool. He asked where I was from, and he said, ‘No way, that’s we are filming it’.”

Eaten By Lions is former Coronation Street and Emmerdale actress Hayley’s first job since completing a year-long tour of musical Chicago, in which she played Roxie Hart.

Finishing the run in Birmingham during the festive period, she’s been glad of the rest since.

“I was struggling with my knee come the end, and I’m still trying to get it better,” she said, of the physical demands of touring a musical.

“But the show was just amazing and brilliant – it didn’t matter how battered I was come the end.

“I definitely chose to take a couple of months out, but I have started auditioning again and things are picking up.

“You just never know when your next job is coming, but I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline – stage and TV, a bit of both.

“I’m up against some truly brilliant girls for a stage role; but if I get it, it would be a dream.”

Hayley, who grew up in Bispham, admits she’s been ‘lucky’ in a career choice where work can be hard to find, and that this year’s self-imposed break has probably been her longest spell out of work.

“With being able to sing and dance, I’m blessed as I can do stage and telly work, and go back and forth,” she said.

“I do miss filming, though. I miss being on a set and I miss Corrie all the time. Whether in a studio or on a film set, it feels magical. A stage is magical too, but on set you do something different every day; different emotions, and there’s the moment the director shouts action, and I love that moment of nervousness.

“If you’re in this business and moaning about it, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

And she’s taking inspiration from fellow actors on the set of Eaten By Lions, with a hope of career longevity.

“I’m working with a married couple today that are 85 years old,” she said. “They just don’t stop, I’m in awe of them. I want to be that person; it’s wonderful.”

So would she work with her partner, former Hollyoaks actor Joe Tracini – son of comedian Joe Pasquale? “I’d do it in a heartbeat,” she said. “But we would probably make each other laugh too much.”

In Eaten By Lions, half brothers Omar and Pete are on a journey to track down Omar’s real father, billed as a ‘funny, heart-warming journey of self-discovery for both boys...in Blackpool’.

Their new-found family, the Choudrays, are a ‘truly contemporary example of modern multicultural Britain’.

Hayley’s taking on the role of the family’s mother – with three children, aged nine, 16 and 19.

“People forget, I’m 40 in real life, so it’s perfectly possible,” she said. “People look at me and don’t think I could have children that age.”

“The film definitely has a feel of East Is East,” Hayley added, in reference to the 1999 film. “The story isn’t the same, though, it’s a very modern, contemporary and fresh story, with something for everybody.

“There are so many cross-cultural families these days; I come from one and most of my friends come from that background – so it’s great to be showing that on screen. It’s brilliantly written and very funny. Fingers crossed it will do well.”

Although Hayley’s a familiar face on British TV screens, thanks to her stints in Coronation Street and Emmerdale as well as being a Dancing On Ice champion, Eaten By Lions marks her first film job.

“It doesn’t differ that much really,” she said, of the difference between film and soap. “The main thing is on soaps you’re on 14 scenes a day but with movies it’s one scene a day so it takes a a lot longer.

“I’m loving every second of it. It’s a great cast and crew.”

And she’s been taking advantage of the shoot in St Annes and Blackpool, taking time to catch up with her parents and staying at their home, as well as returning to her own home in Manchester.

“It’s so nice to be filming here,” she said. “I’m looking up at the Pleasure Beach, I grew up there; every day of my life from age 11, it’s where my dance school was based. I could never get bored wandering around there.

“I’m taking the cast to the Pleasure Beach later, they’re excited to go on the Big One.

“It would be great if every job was up north, but then it’s great that I get to travel like with Chicago when I got to visit so many towns and cities, or places like Devon and Cornwall. But this is a special job; this is my home and this is what I know to do.”

And it’s not just Hayley who’s been enjoying her time in the resort.

All the cast members who took time out of their filming schedule to speak to The Gazette are having a great time - there’s a real sense of fun from all the actors.

Playing half brothers Omar and Pete are Antonio Aakeel (E4’s Skins, and this week’s harrowing drama Three Girls on BBC1) and Jack Carroll (Britain’s Got Talent child comedian), with former EastEnder Nitin Ganatra, Asim Chaudhry - from recent BAFTA-winning series People Just Do Nothing, and Johnny Vegas all involved.

Nitin hailed the set as ‘one of the happiest, fun and anarchic sets’ he’s worked on, while Asim has praised the creative atmosphere on set.

“It’s coming from the top downwards, from Hannah [Stevenson] as producer and Jason [Wingard]. They want a set full of funny people, doing funny things and it’s their job to catch it on camera – and that’s liberating,” Nitin added.

“I haven’t been to Blackpool since I was four or five. My mum and dad were excited I was coming here. It’s a magical place. I got here at night and had to take a little photo of the Tower all lit up.

“There’s something really nostalgic about the place... It’s a good atmosphere to work in.” Nitin and Asim play another set of brothers in the film, Malik and Irfan.

Asim said: “I haven’t been to Blackpool since I was about eight; my parents brought us when they were on the brink of divorce, but it didn’t save them.

“I don’t think I have any illegitimate children hiding in the town, though, so my role in the film’s quite different. I’m very much the idiot of the family, though, which I’m used to – because I am.

“I’m being allowed to go wild with my improv’, and people can pitch in or suggest things and that makes for a good creative environment.”

Filming of Eaten By Lions comes two years after low budget Brit flick Away was shot entirely in the area, as well as pivotal scenes from Tim Burton film Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, and just weeks after Sir Daniel Day Lewis came to the Tower Ballroom for scenes in his return to the silver screen in The Phantom Thread.

Manchester-based director Jason Wingard said Blackpool’s iconic skyline had helped “elevate the whole film and gives it production values” and that the team had enjoyed the “freedom of the Prom’’.

“Visit Blackpool are looking out for the town’s image,” Jason said. “With comedy, you can’t wrap things in cotton wool and people want control of things, but we always knew anything we were doing wouldn’t reflect badly.

“The support has been great. People will come back if you have a place which is film friendly. And there’s no reason why Blackpool has to only be a seaside location on screen, it has everything you need to shoot British drama.”

Antonio added that the film brings a different outlook to Britain, moving away from the traditional period-type pieces and hopes Eaten By Lions can break the view of the country’s film industry.

“We are highlighting our experiences as British people, potentially to a global audience, with this film,” he said. “We export things like Downton Abbey, but this is a modern look at what were are today, it’s great to be showcasing what it is to be British in 2017.”