One of the most notable storylines of last series – if not also one of HOLBY CITY’s most memorable episodes ever – was that of Elliot Hope’s wife Gina’s MND which resulted in her attending an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland to end her life. The controversial storyline was both powerful and moving and actress Gillian Bevan, who left our screens in October, kindly talked to holby.tv about her role as Gina…
Congratulations on your brilliant portrayal of Gina Hope in the MND storyline, you must have been thrilled to have taken on such a challenging role?
Yes – the writing was fantastic. Plus I’d had a friend who had died from the disease so I knew a little bit about it.
Since the final – and most powerful – episode aired, have you had much feedback from viewers about the storyline?
Yes. Lots of letters – and many people stopping me in the supermarket wanting to talk about MND and Assisted Dying. But one of the nicest things was to be invited to lunch at the House of Lords by Lord Joffe, who is trying to get his Private Members Bill for Assisted Dying through Parliament. It was a memorable day!
Taking on such a controversial subject, did you feel any pressure in the way you portrayed the role?
A lot. I didn’t want to let anyone with MND down – although the symptoms vary from person to person. And the producers and the BBC wanted to remain impartial about assisted dying – but I had to be true to my character, who in the storyline was passionate about it! Gina had decided to go to Switzerland before things got absolutely unbearable and whilst she still had some function. I worried that there might be people watching with MND in the most severe stage who might not feel that the awfulness of the disease was being represented. But I could only portray what the script writers had written.
How much research did you do for the part?
I had enormous help from the MND Assosciation particularly Rachael Marsden at The Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, who put me in touch with a member of families where one of their family had MND. They were all so welcoming and allowed me to ask very pertinent questions and demonstrated the day to day difficulties they had. I think they were pleased that at last the disease was being highlighted on prime time TV.
Playing a devoted couple certainly looked very realistic to viewers. Did you enjoy working with Paul Bradley, who played your husband Elliot?
I loved working with Paul who, when things were getting a bit much, could always be relied upon to crack a gag and make us all laugh! And I loved Amanda and Luke who are both brilliant actors, who pay enormous attention to detail and work so hard. HOLBY are lucky to have all 3 of them!
What are your own personal views on how Gina coped with her MND? Did you find it easy understanding her thought process? Did it make you think of your own mortality?
I found it easy to understand the torment she felt – loving her family, and not wanting to leave them – but knowing she couldn’t endure what was in store for her. I think a lot of my own mortality! Both my parents are dead and I hope my son wouldn’t have to experience that until he is much older!
There were a lot of dramatic moments during this storyline – how do you build yourself up for emotional scenes?
Well, it is your job – you’ve taken it on and you’re trained for it, so you can’t short change people and duck out of it! I do lots of work/ prep at home, try and really know my lines backwards so I don’t have to worry about that – and concentrate and focus. No matter how hard I found it, it is much worse for people with the disease.
The scenery surrounding Switzerland looked very beautiful. How long did you film in Switzerland and did you get much time to sight-see when not filming?
We had ten days in Lucerne. I didn’t have any time off – but we did find a very simple bar by the lake where we’d go after filming and I might have had the off ‘caiphrina’. One evening we were able to take a two hour boat trip back from location – it was heavenly.
Since leaving HOLBY, do you have any other acting projects lined up?
Yes, I’ve done a guest lead in Heartbeat and Silent Witness. At the moment I’m preparing for my son’s birthday where he’ll have four chums coming for a sleepover!