Actor Max Bowden faced one of his toughest challenges yet when it came to filming next week's episodes of EastEnders.
After a fallout with Callum, Ben returns to his wild ways. But his flirting ends in a shocking rape ordeal as Lewis Butler won't take 'No' for an answer when Ben has a change of heart about sleeping with the Walford newcomer.
And the star reveals that he decided to keep away from actor Aidan O'Callaghan – who plays Lewis – in the run up to filming the traumatic scene, in a bid to get inside Ben's head and convey the trauma that his character goes through convincingly.
"I was probably a bit of an a**e really!" said Max when discussing approaching the tricky scenes in Ben's latest storyline.
"I deliberately kept my distance from him for about six weeks, because I didn’t want to find myself in a position where we became close. After we’d finished the scene, I said, 'I just want you to know I’m not an a**e,' and explained why I was doing this. After that we had a good chat. I did feel quite bad for doing it, but I think it helped."
Max explains that everyone approached the scenes with sensitivity to try and convey the story honestly for the viewers.
"We had to kind of choreograph it, to make sure there’s no confusion for the audience about what’s happening and the decisions the characters make. There was an intimacy coordinator on set, so that helped free up the experience."
Like many soap stars do when tackling challenging storylines, Max turned to experts to understand the situation that Ben finds himself in.
"I met with some survivors and I spent hours in conversation with Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester [a charity that supports abuse survivors]. What an amazing man and what an amazing charity," added Max, following his research.
Longtime EastEnders fans may realised that Ben's rape occurs in the same building in which his mum, Kathy, was raped by James Willmott-Brown back in 1988. And Max reveals that he spoke to his screen mum – actress Gillian Taylforth, who plays Kathy – before the cameras rolled.
"Gillian and I have got the most amazing relationship, so we did a lot of cross-referencing," he explains. "I think Kathy will be very important in this."
The storyline – which sees the attack on Monday then progresses as Ben tries to deal with the aftermath – was a huge challenge. But Max, 27, who hails from Woking in Surrey, says that he was delighted – albeit nervous – when he learnt what was in store for his screen alter ego.
"Well, there’s an element of excitement that you’re being trusted with this, but also fear because we’ve got such a duty to tell the story correctly," says the star who joined EastEnders in 2019 as the sixth incarnation of Phil and Kathy's son.
And while the traumatic storyline throws everything up in the air for Ben, Max admits he really hopes that his character can get past it and repair his troubled relationship with husband Callum, played by Tony Clay.
"I’ve always said that working with Tony Clay is one of the joys of my life, so selfishly as an actor I’d always want Ben and Callum to be reunited," he reveals.
It's safe to say that Ben's storylines over the years aren't always an easy watch for viewers. But when it comes to switching off after filming them, Max has his own personal way of getting perspective on Ben's troubles.
"I watch serial-killer documentaries as it makes me realise things aren’t that bad!"
EastEnders airs Monday to Thursday on BBC1 at 8pm.
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