“EastEnders” star Michelle Collins is making the leap from acting to production, and hopes to champion “working-class voices” in her projects.
During a panel at Content London on Thursday, Collins discussed the ins and outs of making the career transition alongside Sir Lenny Henry, Banijay U.K. CEO Patrick Holland, Marta Dusseldorp, Alexandra Rapaport, Gabija Siurbyte, Calle Jansson and Ernestas Jankauskas. Collins is currently back on BBC soap “EastEnders” as Cindy Beale, who was resurrected from the dead after 25 years, but said she recently went through a tough time in her career.
“I went to ‘EastEnders’ when I was 26, I stayed for 10 years and then I left and I was very successful. Had a very good agent, had lots of leading roles on primetime TV,” Collins said. “And then suddenly, as women who are actresses know, it kind of stopped. It’s weird. You don’t know when it does, but you feel like that phone isn’t ringing as much. At one point I remember my agent saying to me, ‘Well you’re not really in fashion anymore, Michelle.’”
That proved to be a turning point for Collins, who found herself drawn more to the production side and uplifting undiscovered talent. During the panel, she said she has 12 projects on her development slate, with one commissioned already and another deal in the works.
“Of course I still want to act, but I just love doing what I’m doing. I’m meeting so many great writers who just aren’t out there,” she said. “We need to get those stories out there about real people, working-class people, women. There still aren’t enough women out there on screen. There’s not enough diversity. Class is a really big thing that we need to tackle on screen.”
As for her decision to return to “EastEnders” — which follows the working-class residents of the fictional borough of Walford — Collins said it’s one she almost didn’t make, but is ultimately glad she did.
“I was on a soap opera for 10 years, and I think how my career still suffers from that. It was a big decision going back,” Collins said. “It could have been the worst idea I ever made, but actually it was the best idea I ever made because I can have my production company on the side and still be a producer.”
Dusseldorp, who is the CEO and creator of Archipelago Productions in addition to being an actor, agreed that being taken seriously as a producer can be tough — especially when you are developing projects you may want to act in.
“I found it hard to advocate for myself at first,” Dusseldorp said. “When people would say, ‘Oh, do you want to be in it?’ I’d go, ‘Oh no, it’s fine.’ Now, I’m like, ‘Yeah!’”
Henry, the co-managing director of Esmerelda Productions who had miniseries “Three Little Birds” premiere this year, also echoed Collins’ call for more diversity.
“As a person of color, I worked for many, many years when I was always the only Black person in that shot they do at the end — you know that shot, where they have all the crew?” Henry said. “I just wanted to make a thing where it was a bit more inclusive, because if we don’t all work together and experience each other … it’s not good working in an echo chamber, you want to be working with a variety of people.”
Collins added, “Apart from ‘EastEnders,’ I can’t really think of many shows that have those working class-voices. There isn’t much out there, not really. So we’re the kind of people that will champion that.”