Steven Arnold doesn't believe in just pretending, he gets right into his character's emotions so that viewers will buy it. He's not an actor that just phones in his performance, he gives his all to it. That's just what he did here in Halifax on March 4 when the Downeast Streeters Non-Profit Society presented an Evening With Steven Arnold at the Halifax Marriott Waterfront hotel. I'm one of the board members so as one of the organizing team, I got to spend a bit more face time with Steven than just attending the show with approximately 700 other eager fans. I've always liked Ashley as a character though he's not been a favourite but I think that's going to change now that I've seen glimpses of the man behind the butcher's apron. The details of this account will be a combination of things that Steven said at the public show and some of the stories he told us at dinner as well.
Steven was asked during the show what he thought the similarities between himself and his character were. He said that they are both genuine, and he likes to think they are both well mannered and polite, both have good hearts and care a lot for their families. From what I saw of Steven over two days, I would most definitely agree with all of that. Steven does say, though, "I'm not as daft as he is". Steven has a good sense of humour and really was a joy to host. He was traveling with his dad, Steven Sr. and his dad's friend Jimmy. They'd known each other since childhood and are more like brothers than just friends. Steven is clearly close to them both and says his dad is his best friend. All three of them really enjoyed their stay here in Halifax, finding the locals friendly and warm even if the weather wasn't! He was very good natured and really seemed to enjoy meeting the fans. He's currently single, ladies!
The committee had dinner with Steven and his traveling companions on Monday night where he very graciously posed for pictures and signed books and cards for us before dinner. We enjoyed the food and the company and I actually got to sit beside him since it was my birthday! Fantastic birthday pressie, a kiss on the cheek from Steven! After dinner, Steven was presented with a certificate that we got from the Government of Nova Scotia awarding him the Order of Good Time, based on the Order of Good Cheer that was originated by Samuel de Champlain at Port Royal. He seemed really impressed by it and said he'd frame it!
Tuesday night was the main event at the hotel. Before the show started, we had a costume contest for anyone that came dressed as a Corrie character. We only had two entrants and as you can see, they were both wonderful as Cilla (complete with tan lines around the eyes!) and Bet so they were joint winners. The audience at the Halifax Marriott was nearly 700 strong and Steven arrived to a standing ovation. He was dressed from head to toe in black, with a black leather jacket as well. Everyone always asks if he talks as "squeaky" as Ashley. He does have a strong-ish accent and when he gets talking fast, sometimes it's hard to make out to our North American ears but the higher pitched Ashley tone is not there at all, that's put on for the character though even that's been toned down over the years as Ashley has grown and become a stronger person.
M.C. Jay Ettinger fielded the questions written down and submitted by members of the audience and later, Steven took questions directly. In our current storyline in Canada, we are in the aftermath of the fire at the Peacock house. claire and Ashley were staying with Eileen but have gone away for a break. Casey hasn't returned so we who don't look ahead to spoilers have no idea who started the fire. That was the most popular question of the evening, Who Started The Fire! Steven was very discreet and let no spoilers out for the most part though did say at one point that he and Claire are still together. Finally, when asked for about the fifth or sixth time, he said "It were me!!!"
A little bit about Steven, the man. Steven is from Warrington where he still lives, close to his friends and family. I think that's what keeps him grounded, living around family and lifelong friends where his local pub is the same one he's always gone to and everyone just knows him as "Steve". He's 33 and has been on the show since he was 20 but has been acting since he was about 12 when he and his brothers were cast in a movie through the drama class at school. He loves the sport of boxing and actually had a lot of input into the boxing storyline on the show which, to me, was very out of character for Ashley. Steven flies to Las Vegas when he can to watch some of the fights. He owns two rottweillers and is now the proud daddy of five pups! He was mentioning Malcom Hebden and says Malcom has cats and he has dogs so they talk to each other about their pets. Steven's favourite film actors are Al Pacino, Robert Deniro and Johnny Depp, whom he really respects for always challenging himself in so many varied roles.
He spoke warmly about John Savident who played his father, Fred Elliott for many years. He couldn't praise John highly enough, saying that he was an extremely generous actor. He considers John his mentor and learned a great deal from him. They keep in regular contact since John has left Corrie. In fact, Steven's favourite storyline was the one where Ashley discovered that Fred was his father. It was his first "big" storyline and his first challenge. He also had high praise for the little fellow that plays Joshua, Ben Beresford, who's parents are very involved with the little boy, and even had him watching the show since he was 2 and a half. Therefore, he tends to call the actors by their character names, including "Daddy Ashley" and "Mummy Claire".
At dinner, Steven us about filming the live episode to celebrate Corrie's 40th anniversary in December, 2000. He said it was a huge buzz and a big challenge. They filmed three rehearsals and every one had problems such as a mike or boom visible in the shot or actors stuffing up their lines. Everyone was really nervous including Malcom Hebden (who is very different from his character, Norris) who was very intimidated by the idea of 35 million people estimated to be watching the live broadcast. Just as the camera was going to move to them, Steven whispered to Malcom "35 million people watching, Malcom!!" Poor Malcom! He hissed "Shut up!!" with a lot of anxiety. The live broadcast went off perfectly! Steven said most of them don't remember anything after the show, they all went to the staff bar and unwound rather quickly and thoroughly.
He spoke about a typical day on the set when you're in a main storyline and the days can be long, with only a break at lunch and a short break in the morning an later in the afternoon. They can spend a lot of time waiting in between scenes where they're needed so spend the time going over lines or chatting in the green room which often leads to mischief and winding each other up. Early on, one of the producers asked how he would develop the character and apparently liked what Steven had to say and built on that to keep Ashley in the show.
His thoughts on some of his coworkers:
David Neilson (Roy Cropper): He's very different from his character and he really thinks about his role a lot. He also brings a lot of his own props in (such as the carry bag with the key on the elastic). The train props in the cafe, though, are stage props though Steven joked that he wouldn't put it past David to bring in his own train set.
Jack P. Shepherd (David Platt): He was a little monkey when he was younger but has really grown up with the role and seems to take the public reaction to David's increasingly bad behaviour really well. "A job well done" were Steven's words.
Bruce Jones: They used to play a lot of practical jokes on each other and were good mates. Bruce is going to be in an upcoming movie though i didn't catch if it was going to be a film or on television. Steven was very tactful and circumspect about Bruce's sudden departure from Coronation Street in 2007 but he'd hardly be likely to be critical of a friend, would he?
Steven's mates off screen are many of the actors who have been on the show a long time and are of the same age. They more or less grew up together. They include Julia Haworth (Claire), Andy Whyment (Kirk), Alan Halsall (Tyrone), Simon Gregson (Steve) and Michael LeVell (Kevin).
"Which character do you hate on the show? (not an actor, a character)" That was one of the audience questions last week during Halifax's An Evening with Steven Arnold. In character, he responded "Matt Ramsden"! No surprise there then! But he'd like to see actor Stephen Beckett return. The character does tend to spice things up!
After the main part of the event, Steven drew raffle prizes. The first prize was breakfast for two with Steven the next morning. Later, about 100 people had the chance to get their photos taken with him and get an autograph. There were some cheeky questions from the audience including a marraige proposal from one senior lady who got a big hug and a "Yes!" for her troubles. She was delighted! Someone else asked him to show his abs and he stood right up, took off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt straight away! He's in fairly good shape so I guess that's why he didn't mind. Any tricky questions were very skillfully fielded. He was very tactful when need be. And to the question, Boxers or Briefs? "Neither, tonight" was his response. The ladies in the audience certainly responded to that! Good news, too, Steven just signed another contract for 14 more months so we'll be able to enjoy Ashley on our screens for some time yet!
A few random items: The subject of charity work didn't come up so I didn't find out what charities he supports. He's single, as I said earlier, and has never dated anyone on the show nor dated an actress at all. Just never seemed to happen. He supports Manchester United. He does agree that storylines are becoming more sensational and yes, that is to try to draw in the younger audience. Little Ben Beresford who plays Joshua could hardly wait to film the wedding scenes because he got to wear the Spiderman outfit!
After the show, the committee members and a few of the volunteers joined Steven Jr. and Sr. and Jimmy in the hotel bar to unwind and go over the events of the last few days. We all got more hugs and kisses good bye as Steven was going to fly to Toronto on Wednesday for the British Isles Show though Steven Sr. and Jimmy kept saying they didn't want to leave! It was a really enjoyable two days, getting to meet all three of them. I know they are all going to take back good reviews of Halifax and Nova Scotians to the cast and I think we all gave him good memories of us here in the east of Canada.
My Coronation Street page with links to the write ups for previous star visits.