I've got a lot to prove, but I'm enjoying it... Tabloid favourite Michelle Keegan shot to fame as Tina in Coronation Street, but the former soap star says she's keen to move on and mix things up. She tells GEMMA DUNN of her joy at working on comedy Plebs and shaking off the 'sexiest female' tag.
MICHELLE KEEGAN is girl-next-door epitomised. When we meet, the 28-year-old Mancunian first and foremost apologises for running late, which is quickly followed with a frank: "I'm starving, are you eating, Gem?" - abbreviating my name like we've known each other for years.
The former soap star is famed for her good looks and enviable figure, but has no qualms ordering a fair-sized lunch, telling me she prefers to eat what she wants, when she wants - and simply "be good" the next day if she over-indulges.
Since waving goodbye to the Corrie cobbles in 2014, after playing Tina McIntyre in the much-loved ITV soap for six-and-a-half years, Michelle's been busy. She's tied the knot - to reality TV star and presenter Mark Wright, resulting in a move from her home town to Essex, flexed her acting muscles in BBC1 series Ordinary Lies, and is currently in South Africa filming army drama Our Girl.
One thing she's yet to really prove her chops with, though, is scripted comedy - until now.
This month Michelle joins the Plebs cast, as Vestal Virgin Ursula, and she couldn't be more excited.
Before her screen debut in the multi-award-winning comedy, she tells us more about it...
WELL PLAYED A SELF-CONFESSED fan of Plebs, Michelle admits she was "chuffed" to secure a part in the quirky comedy.
Explaining how it came about, she reveals: "At the Brits last year, I was on the same table as Ryan (Sampson), who plays Grumio, and I mentioned that I was a massive fan of Plebs. He said, 'Oh, you should come for an audition'. So when they were casting for this series, I went for it, and got a call-back."
Her first day on set was far from restrained. Of her sex scene with the gormless Stylax, played by Joel Fry, she cries: "It was the first time I met Joel and basically I was straddling him!
"I was really nervous, but as soon as we did it and they shouted, 'Cut!', it was fine. We high-fived each other."
HAVING A LAUGH COMEDY is new territory for the actress, but it's certainly left an impression on her.
"It was much lighter and so much fun," she declares, stating she would "definitely" love to do more funny stuff.
"Not everything was about screaming and shouting or crying, like I'm so used to," she adds.
"It's nice to have something quite light-hearted."
She admits it was sometimes hard to keep a straight face on set, though.
"I had to deliver a line, and all three guys burst out laughing, which made me laugh," she recalls of one scene where she cracked up. But that's what's good about it: you don't get shouted at for it."
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION CURRENTLY filming in South Africa for her lead role in Our Girl, Michelle is used to travelling for work, and Plebs was no different.
"I was in Bulgaria for 10 days," she begins.
"I've worked away from home before. When I worked on Ordinary Lies, I went to the Dominican Republic, but I'd already worked with the people (on that). This time, I was on my own flying out and I'd never really met the boys before, so I was quite nervous. It was daunting but I really enjoyed it.
"I love period things and history things," she continues. "I love getting dressed up, so to dress up in Roman clothes was so funny."
LIFE AFTER THE COBBLES DESPITE having landed a number of prime-time dramas since leaving Coronation Street, Michelle admits she still feels pressure, as she's still so associated with her soap character.
"I've got a lot to prove, but that's fine; I'm enjoying it," she says.
"Everyone thinks you just get given jobs, but you don't. You still have to audition and go through the normal process of getting the next role. I enjoy the buzz of it; I like the fact that I'm not settled in one job, like I was with Corrie."
And for this down-to-earth actress, variety is key.
"I've done Drunk History and Plebs, so I've done something that's out of my comfort zone, but I do love the drama. I'm a fan of drama and I love watching drama. I'm so used to it."
SEXED DOWN WITH her cascading long brown hair and olive skin, Michelle became a bit of a pin-up during her Corrie days, securing the coveted "Sexiest Female" gong a whopping six years in a row at The British Soap Awards. It's a tag she prefers to leave at work, however.
"I was lucky with Ordinary Lies, as my character Tracy wasn't sexy, she was just a normal girl who got in trouble. Again with Our Girl, I'm going into the army, so all the roles I'm getting are not the typically sexy, stripping off ones, which is great for me," she adds.
IN FASHION THIS May marks Michelle and Mark's first wedding anniversary - "It's gone really quick!" - and they've openly spoken about their desire to start a family when the time is right.
For now, Michelle is concentrating on her career, with talk of LA and a busy year ahead in both TV and fashion, including the latest drop of her Lipsy Love collection. A champion of the brand, she laughs as she recalls: "I was watching the Brits this year and the girl behind Ant and Dec was wearing one of my dresses. I paused it, took a picture, and texted my mum. I still get dead excited!" But when it comes to watching herself on screen, she's somewhat less keen.
"I hate it. Any interviews that I do, I can't watch. It makes me cringe so bad," Michelle exclaims. "I don't mind watching the acting side of it."
| Plebs continues on ITV on Mondays at 10pm.
| Michelle Keegan, right, and in her role in Our Girl, left, which she is currently filming in South Africa
| Michelle Keegan as Vestal Virgin Ursula in Plebs
| Michelle with her husband Mark Wright