Hi Joanne, I can't tell you how much of a thrill this is, not only to meet you, but to meet you in Coronation Street's beautiful new home as well. How long have you worked here?
I have been here seven years now. I used to work in theatre.
I know you did, I met with someone a couple of days ago who remembered you from your Oldham Coliseum days, and said to say hello, and to ask you if you remembered being on the back of a bus with him, with his hands under your boobs?
Oh well, that could be one of many! (Cue much laughter all round, and I remind her it was Mark Llewellin).
Oh yes, I remember Mark very well. Actually we were doing Canterbury Tales, and I was dressed up as a buxom wench, and he was standing behind me with his hands positioned, and our poster was on the back of buses all over Manchester!
Actually I started off as an electrician. I did all the lighting and sound for the shows, then I moved into being assistant to one of the directors from there, mainly because I didn't want to get my hands dirty any more. I fell in love with the production side of the shows, and slowly from there I went into casting. I stayed in theatre casting for approximately nine years before I made the leap into TV.
Do you do the casting for all roles, or are there several of you?
There are several of us. I do the casting for the Background Artists and those with just a couple of lines. But as a department we all work together, when we know a certain character is coming in, we can make suggestions as to someone we have seen at a theatre or somewhere that would be perfect for the role.
That is something I am curious about. Do you have a set idea of what you are looking for before you begin?
No not usually, we can have an idea of the type of person we are looking for, but will audition for the role. For the big regular parts though, you will have the Director, the Producer and the Executive Producer involved with the casting. For the Background parts though, it would be my decision.
Oh really? I am surprised on two fronts here then. Firstly I am surprised that so many people are involved in who gets the big parts, and secondly that you audition for background work. So you don't just take any Joe Blow off the street?
Ha ha! Everybody wants to have a pint in the Rovers! But no, I work with about fifteen agents, plus the Background Artists we class as 'Directs'. Each of those agents have people they class as 'regulars' who live in Weatherfield, people you will often see in the Café, in the Bistro or in The Rovers
I know you also have regular people in The Factory, as we see the same ones in there all the time.
Yes, I have about eight Factory staff, and normally on a block, an episode will have between four and five of those in.
I have noticed too that you rarely have the same people in the Bistro as appear in The Rovers.
This is true, it is age specific as well, the younger ones tend to go to the Bistro, and you see a lot of older regulars in The Rovers. I have just started introducing even younger people. sixteen to eighteen year olds, not really in anywhere, just hanging about on street corners etc.
Well that is certainly realistic, as you do see youngsters hanging around with their friends don't you?
Yes, and you have to represent a community. I would like to put more children in, running up and down the street, skipping or playing, but that is very difficult to do because of the licencing.
What is the procedure regarding children then? I have heard there are strict rules on the hours children can work etc. but does that apply to background children too?
There are many rules regarding all children, which are age specific. They can only work a certain amount of hours, they can't work before or after a certain hour depending on their age, to get a licence you have to have their birth certificate, a letter from their school, a letter from their doctor, clearance from the local education, it's like a three week process to get a licence, even for a background child. So as you can imagine, when young Simon has a birthday party, I don't sleep for weeks! However, I have very good agents I deal with who help with the licencing.
So you can't just have one of your existing Background Artists appear as the Mum, and bring their own child along for the day as one of the party guests?
Not without a licence, no.
I must get at least twenty letters a week from people asking if they, or their Mum, who is having a birthday, could come and have a drink in the Rovers as a special treat, and as much as I would love to help, I just can't do it. Our schedule here is so tight, that it would take too much of my time to come down and explain to someone what they can or can't do. I have to have people who know what they are doing in front of a camera. Also, we have an agreement with Equity, as they would see it as taking work away from the regular background cast.
That's understandable, but they don't have to be a member of Equity any more do they?
No, not any more. It used to be very tricky, you had to be a member of Equity in order to work, but you couldn't get an Equity card unless you had worked. I remember when I worked in the theatre, you were allowed to give two Equity cards a year to a new person, but that's all gone now.
I have a couple of questions posed by my readers, which may or may not be relevant to your particular job, but I am sure you know how the system works so can give us an answer.
'When you need someone, do you look for the looks and characteristics of that character, or do you hire the best actor, hoping they can become that character?'
Well, if they are a good enough actor, they will become that character. But a lot depends on whether you are casting for background or main role. The way the system works is when we have a new character, we invite submissions from agents, giving them a breakdown of the character, what that person is going to be like, what kind of storylines they are going to have, who they will be related to, or have a relationship with. The agents will suggest people, we will look at those people and decide which should be brought in for an audition. We could audition up to twenty people. We will then put them on tape, look through the tape afterwards and narrow it down to maybe five of them. These will be called back, and we will put them onto the set they will appear in, along with the character they are going to be playing against, and do a screen test in front of the crew, the Producer, the Director etc. We will then watch those scenes back, seeing if there is a connection, a chemistry between them.
We actually did one yesterday between Paula Lane who plays Kylie and a new character coming in, just to see if it works between them. It's not essential they love each other, or even get on, but you have to be sure they are professional enough to leave it behind when they are on screen.
(I didn't press Joanne to know who this character was, but since then it has hit the news that Sean Ward is coming in to play Kylie's ex-boyfriend Callum Logan, so you will probably have seen him by the time this goes to print)
Does everyone have to audition? For instance, when you have a well known name coming in, like Jimmi Mistry, do they have to go through the same audition procedure as a less well known actor?
When you have a well known name come into the show, you know what work they have done, and aware what they are capable of, usually the Producer would meet them for a chat about the character etc and maybe ask them to perform a scene with another established cast member, but sit them down and have them read a script? Not really.
How long does it take from the time the Storyliners decide a new character will come in, until that character is developed enough to start casting?
It's varied. If the Storyliners decide they want a new character in six weeks, we can do that. Sometimes we will audition on a Thursday and the character will start filming on the Monday, because scripts are changing all the time, and dates we are filming are changing, so sometimes I can be auditioning for 'Walk-on Threes" for filming the very next day.
Wow that is fast! Back to another reader question. 'If you are in a public place, and spot someone you think might fit a role perfectly, would you approach them?'
No, we don't do that, but I know some agents that do. They might approach someone and ask them if they have ever considered background work etc., but we don't.
This next question has already been covered earlier, they are asking about the different types of Background Artists for the different locations on the street.
Yes, well the main thing about Background Artists is just that, they are in the background and are not supposed to be noticed.
Until you get someone like me come along I guess! LOL!!
Yes - LOL!! But they are told not to wear anything that will stand out, or make them noticeable because that is not what we want.
You do hire people who are different from time to time though don't you? Like Annie, who is registered blind and is there from time to time with her guide dog? Do you have legislation in the UK, like we do in Canada, that federally owned companies are obligated to hire a certain percentage of handicapped or visible minority employees?
Well, it's not legislated here, but we do like to do as much as we can, and hire a wide range of ethnicities as well. But we have to be real, we are a back street community of Salford, and have to represent that.
I think it was good that you hired Cherylee Houston for the part of Izzy, because it has given us a chance to see the person beyond the wheelchair, and see that they lead normal lives like the rest of us.
Yes, and you should really talk to Annie, as she has a very interesting story to tell, and has overcome so many obstacles in her life, plus her dog is a bit of a legend around here, she is amazing.
I definitely will. (And I did! Watch for Annie's page coming up very soon!)
Who decides how many Background Artists are needed in a scene, and who decides which ones they will be?
That would be me. I work with the First (Director), and the First is the person who runs the floor when they are filming. So they are the person who says 'Action' and 'Cut', etc., and they are talking to the Director through the headset. The First is given a block, which is the week's five episodes. They will schedule it into a program of filming that we do. So we might have three scenes filming in the Rovers on one day, that actually transmit a couple of days apart from each other. So we try to do all those in one, so it is never filmed in sequence.
Then we will look at the areas, and the First will say what they would like, I will then sit down with them and decide what is needed. Because I work across all the blocks, I know what works at any one time. For instance, I will say "Because you have a lot of cast in the Rovers for this scene, you don't need as many background people", because we have to work to a budget as well. So at any given time we will use roughly eight people for the Rovers, the Bistro around ten, and we can get away with approximately six in the Café. However, because the Street is so much bigger here, it takes much longer to get from A to B, so we have had to increase the people there. At Quay Street I could get away with six people on the Street, but here we need ten or twelve. So in the Rovers I will put a mix of ages, gender and ethnicity, so yes, it is me that decides that.
It all sounds extremely complicated, and boggles my mind how well it all comes together in the end. How exactly does it get from the Storyliners to what we see on the screen?
It starts with a storyline conference where the Storyliners, the Writers, the Producers, the Editors, and the Script Editors will all come together for three days away from the office around a big board table and discuss what they want to happen in the next six months. Once this is decided, the Storyliners can then pass it on to the Writers, who are told what needs to happen in a given episode, and the Writers will go away and do it.
It's like a massive jigsaw, where everyone knows what they are doing, and in the end it all fits together. But when it goes wrong, it goes wrong royally!
I can imagine. If the Writers each do an episode, how on earth do they tie it in with each other?
No, the Writers are aware and know that in their particular episode they are writing 'this' has to happen to 'him', and he has to be doing 'that' and seeing 'her', etc.
My goodness! It is very clever, such a lot of work involved by everybody. It really is amazing that it comes to our screens as smoothly as it does, five times a week!
I have never seen your name in the credits Joanne? Why is that?
The main Casting Director is always there, but we have 500 people working here, if we put everyone in the credits it would be longer than the programme. That being said, they are just starting something new where they will rotate names, so everyone will get a chance to be in the credits.
Well good! I want to see your name up there. CBC in Canada were reducing the credits to a minute size and advertising an upcoming show over them for a while, making them impossible to read, which was extremely annoying to a lot of people, and I think they must have had many complaints because they have stopped doing that now.
Do you sometimes interview someone for a role, and although they are not right for it, keep them on file as you know you want to use them one day?
All the time. They may not be right for what I am looking for, but I will make notes and bank them. Then when a part comes up they would be perfect for, I will call their agent, because I will already have seen them, and know what they can do, so it's just a matter of bringing them back. Happens all the time.
That's good to know for those who audition and don't get it. It's nice that they are still earmarked for something else.
Oh absolutely. So many are very good actors, but were turned down because they were not right for the particular role, but could be absolutely brilliant as someone else, so are banked for later.
Do you have any influence over the Storyliners when you want a character written in to suit someone you have in mind?
No, we have no influence over them at all. Obviously we can make suggestions, but no guarantee they are going to think it a good idea.
Now, how about your own life Joanne? Will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I have a little girl, Lottie, who is nine, and amazing!
Does she have any ambitions to get into the business?
To be honest, I wouldn't like her to go into acting. It's too disappointing, and I wouldn't like that to happen to her. Eighty percent of actors are out of work at any one time, and I wouldn't like her to go through that. She loves animals, and I think her forte lies with them.
She has been here and met the cast. She wasn't star struck in any way, which is great. She did think Tina was a princess though, LOL!! She was always a bit coy and shy when she met Michelle.
That's understandable, she was gorgeous, and very 'Princess Looking'.
A little bird tells me you were also recently engaged - true?
True. Darren is my partner, we met again almost 2 years ago after 25 years, he was my first ever boyfriend, we were together from age 10 -14yrs! He proposed on the years' anniversary of us seeing each other, he presented me with a curly wurly (chocolate bar) which was what we used to share when we were kids!
Oh that is so romantic! I really think they should use that as a storyline in the show. Maybe Steve could meet up with Joanne Khan again, the girl he ran away with when he was about 16. He could propose to her on a stolen motorbike, as that was what they ran away on! :-)
Do you live in Manchester?
No, I live in Saddleworth, in the country. It's great because I go home and really unwind from it all. As soon as I see those hills it makes it well worth the hour it takes me to drive home. I even have to walk down by the canal to get to the shop, it's lovely.
Saddleworth? Now that too has a Corrie connection, I am sure you don't remember this, but Victor Pendlebury bought a cottage in Saddleworth in the 80's and wanted Mavis Riley to move there with him, but as he was only willing to live over the brush, and not marry her, she wouldn't go!
Ha ha, really? No I didn't know that.
Oh yes, now that is a character I would like to see back, I loved Mavis and Rita together in the Kabin, and would love to have Mavis back.
Do you find it strange that the studios are now ITV instead of Granada?
Not really, I always think of it as Granada. Especially as here in the new studios, we are just Corrie, and once the tours are finished at Quay Street and we get all our memorabilia brought over, it will really feel more like home. I took a picture of the Granada sign before it came down, and I also got one of the Great John Street sign at the old entrance. It had been signed by loads of people over the years, and I had to take a picture of it on our last day there. It tells a thousand stories of all the people who have hovered around there waiting for autographs or pictures.
I know a few from Canada who will spend all day waiting at the gates to catch a glimpse of a cast member. They must have great patience.
Yes, and they are there in all weathers too.
Thank you so very much for this Joanne, I think I can speak for my readers when I say it has been really interesting learning more about how our favourite programme is made. It has been lovely meeting you inside the new studios too. Such a thrill.
So would you like to take a look around while you are here?
Gasp! Is the Pope Catholic? You betcha!!
We then went for a stroll around the new set, and I took lots of photos. These are all on a separate page that I will place a link to underneath Joanne's Gallery.