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Derry girl Casualty star Elinor Lawless feels 'honoured' to play a doctor after surviving heart surgery as a child

elinor relishes new revenge plot in long-running drama

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Elinor Lawless. Photo BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

Elinor Lawless. Photo BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

Elinor Lawless. Photo BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

New Casualty star Elinor Lawless is honoured to portray an doctor after the health service saved her life.

She's new consultant Stevie on the long-running show who's out for revenge because medics at the hospital left her sister brain-damaged.

An explosive series opener set Elinor up for a dramatic storyline this season as Stevie is blinded by her vendetta against her new colleagues.

The Doctors and Shakespeare and Hathaway actor says it's her chance to pay tribute to the doctors and nursing staff who cared for her as a child.

And when her four-year-old son Joe was born prematurely she saw at first-hand how hard hospital staff worked to care for him.

Elinor, from Draperstown in Co Derry, was diagnosed with two cardiac conditions at the age of three, a hole in her heart and anomalous pulmonary venous drainage, where blood runs in the wrong direction.

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Elinor Lawless. Photo: BBC

Elinor Lawless. Photo: BBC

Elinor Lawless. Photo: BBC

At the age of seven she had open-heart surgery in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, and she is now fit and healthy.

"I was in and out of hospital loads as a kid so I'm au fait with things like cannulas," says the 39-year-old.

ambulance

"I remember that time vividly and you remember the level of care. I remember being in the ambulance on the way to surgery and the amazing nurses - Hazel and Ann were my go-to nurses - and the fantastic Dr Craig and Dr Gladstone. Even at that age I was aware I was in good hands.

"I'm all fixed now. I was checked every year until 21 and they fixed me good.

"That's why shows like Casualty are so important. These people get to see us at our most vulnerable."

Elinor got a glimpse of what her parents went through when her own little boy was born early, weighing under 5lbs, and spent days in a specialist baby unit.

"When Joe was in neo-natal it made me step into my mum and dad's shoes and ask how did they do this with me?

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Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Alistair Heap

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"My little boy was in hospital for ten days and I saw how accomplished and adept the staff are. They looked after my little boy like a nest egg.

"I have a huge amount of respect for the NHS and it's an honour to get to create these amazing characters and tell these amazing stories.

"And for the last couple of years the NHS has been a tour de force. I feel so privileged to be part of a show that shines a light on that."

Elinor started filming in Cardiff in April, with fellow newbie Osi Okerafor from Death in Paradise and King Gary.

She says it was daunting to go into an ensemble cast on an established show - Casualty is celebrating 35 years on air this year - but they were both made to feel immediately at home.

"Osi and I were going in as the new kids but neither of us were playing it cool. We were both saying, 'oh my god' and being very honest about the fact that it was scary the first day on set.

"You don't want to be the person who messes it up.

"But in terms of being brought into the fold the cast and crew and production team have been so supportive and welcoming."

It helped that she hit it off with actor Jaimi Barbakoff, who plays Stevie's sister Emma, and that her new character is so complex.

Stevie is a hard-drinking party woman who's quick with a quip but her real reason for her move to Holby City is revenge. Flashback scenes show how she played a pivotal role in the disaster that ultimately led to her sister's brain damage.

"What's so fun is that Stevie is so flawed and human. Because she is so focused and on a mission, she is blinkered to a lot of the realities of what happened to her sister," says Elinor.

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Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Grabs

Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Grabs

Elinor Lawless BBC - Photographer: Grabs

"She is such a meaty character, and my job is to bring a bit of light and shade to her so that she's not a complete Lady Macbeth.

"She has a tragi-comic vibe. I love that in people in the NHS who have that thick skin, who deal in life and death every day, and are the kindest people in the world and so sharp and razor-witted."

Elinor has also worked as a stand-up comedian and in Comedy Central's all-female sketch show Flaps.

She went back to acting because she missed being part of a team, and then landed her leading role.

"I did a lot of stand-up stuff about growing up in a very Irish household and I really loved it, but I found I missed being part of a creative team. There is a loneliness to it and I just missed people."

On set in Cardiff she loves the blood and gore created by the props team, and a medical advisor is on hand to take the actors through the jargon, where the biggest challenge is to match the medical equipment with the correct terms.

For the resuscitation scenes the cast have to wear full PPE to reflect the reality of working with Covid, which can be a challenge during long hours of filming, but she is getting used to it.

"We're in full level three PPE which is a gown, apron, mask, visor and gloves and those days are really hot and sweaty.

"My cousin is a brain surgeon and if I ever think this is hard, I think of him working on a brain in full PPE, and the worst I have to worry about is a bit of upper lip sweat," says Elinor.

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