EastEnders star Tony Clay has promised that there is more to come from Callum Highway’s journey into the police force – which is bound to cause some friction with the Square’s very own crime syndicate, the Mitchells!
Callum is currently dating Ben (Max Bowden) and supporting him through his hearing loss. But as they become a closer unit, Callum plans to see his career through and Tony admits that he is excited to explore the story and where it goes from here.
In an extended chat, he also shares his love for working with co-star Max, reveals who else he wants to work with and talks about his most iconic scene to date.
What is your earliest memory of EastEnders?
It goes back to Bianca and Ricky – Frank and Peggy and Pat, I loved it so much when I was younger so it’s such an honour to be a part of it now.
Any classic iconic moment that sticks out?
I loved the reveal of Max and Stacey’s affair with Bradley – that was so special. It’s got to be my highlight episode, such a brilliant one and they were all so good in it.
Who have been your stand-out characters over the years?
June Brown as Dot is an entity in herself – she’s incredible and the fact she’s so professional and as lovely as ever – she’s class through and through. I also loved Frank and Peggy – there are so many characters, it’s timeless. Working with Steve too – an absolute legend – it’s really special.
What do you think it is about the show that has resonated so strongly with fans for 35 years?
I think it’s all about portraying everyday life! For me the show is at its best when with storylines that people can empathise and relate to more than anything else. It can be something as simple as two people sitting down talking about a real issue, those scenes are so beautiful. They’re the moments the audience watch and think ‘wow that’s something I have been through!’ That connection is why people watch – it’s complete escapism but rooted in reality – in people’s living rooms every night.
What have you enjoyed most about filming Secrets From The Square?
It was really lovely to come back and to see Max and Stacey Dooley too. She was so great. It was also really nice to look back at all the things we’ve done. It’s easy to forget sometimes because you’re doing so much that you don’t really have time to take it all in and to process it all. So it was really nice to be able to look back and talk it through with Max. It was a such good laugh!
What can fans expect to learn by watching Secrets From The Square?
We look back on our first days on set, how we built up a rapport over time and I think it shows that we gelled very quickly. There’s a real trust between Max and I a real confidence in each other and it’s a really lovely thing to have. Now he’s one of my close pals too!
How was filming the Pride episode? It’s a real turning point for Callum in his journey with coming to terms with his sexuality….
It was a big few weeks definitely! We really wanted to get it right and make it brilliant. I hope that we did that – it seemed to get a great response. To be trusted with such an important storyline was a real blessing and I feel really thankful to Kate and Jon.
I try to make every part of Callum’s journey believable and true so that people can relate to it. I had a lots of messages over that particular episode – people saying ‘this was my story’, ‘I’ve been through something similar’ or a simple ‘thank you so much’. It feels like we are doing our job properly because that’s such an important thing – portraying real stories that are meaningful… it’s why we do it.
What’s your favourite thing about working with Max?
I love Max as a person anyway but equally I love working with him. We have a really good understanding of each other and how we work. We also have times where we can have a laugh too – we take the work seriously but never take ourselves to seriously.
He’s such a talent – looking at his work over the past few weeks on screen, it’s clear to see how incredibly talented he is. He puts a lot of work into it, there’s a lot of effort and research that goes into everything because he cares and its lovely to work with someone who shares that. He’s a really good friend of mine now too so I love working with him – long may it continue!
Favourite scene you’ve filmed together?
For me it was the first time that Ben confronts Callum and holds him up and says the famous ‘I smell queer’ line. Those scenes were very exciting to play and when you watch back as a viewer you think ‘that is a real turning point in Callum’s journey’. You see him let out that side of him that’s a bit feisty and there’s a real vulnerability to the moment because someone now knows this secret. He’s been hiding it and now there’s a chance for it to be out there in the open. it was really exciting and a real pivotal point in Callum’s journey.
How would Ben and Callum have got on in Lockdown away from all the outside pressures?
I think, much like regular life, there would be ups and downs as with any relationship. It would have been difficult definitely. Also depending on whether they’ve locked down together or if they’ve had to isolate in separate homes – we don’t know that yet! Something we’ll look at in the future so keep watching!
Fans loved the scene between Callum and Sharon – what was it like filming that scene with Letitia?
Tish Dean is an icon! For someone that’s been on the show and in the industry for so long, the fact she is as lovely, professional and talented as she is – it’s an honour to have scenes with Tish. She’s a joy to work with. It’s definitely something I can look back on and think ‘wow I loved that scene’! They’re not always the big, major smashing things in the middle of the square type moments, it’s those little scenes where the characters are connecting and chatting that are great. Having scenes with the iconic characters is something that every kid that’s grown up watching EastEnders wants so it’s great.
I am so happy she’s the new landlady too. It’s where she should be! I thought the reveal was great, history repeating itself and I hope Mick and Linda do alright out of it as well because I love them too!
Phil and Callum’s relationship is improving…he’s not been the most welcoming father – what’s it been like working with Steve?
Working with Steve is amazing – he’s a complete professional and a lovely man. He’s such a brilliant actor, he really is phenomenal! I think sometimes actors in soaps can get taken for granted and when you work with people like Steve and Tish or Kellie and Danny – it’s amazing. We all have a laugh but there’s a real level of professionalism that goes into EastEnders and Steve is the pinnacle of that. A great bloke and I love having scenes with him.
Anyone else that you’d like to have more scenes with? Personally and for Callum’s character.
I always love scenes with my brother Stuart – played by Ricky. I love doing scenes with Danny and I’d love there to be more scenes with Callum and Whitney. I love working with Shona, she’s a dream and an ionic character – so talented – she’s a gift! I think the show is so strong at the moment and it’s amazing to be part of that company.
Ben’s deaf storyline has been such an important one – did you do any research beforehand?
Absolutely – it’s such an important storyline to portray so when you’re a key part of it you have to do research. The best form of research really came in Rose – who plays Frankie. She walked on set and was incredible – a tour de force! She owns it and she was always there explaining and helping bring authenticity. She’d say ‘No this is the correct way to do this’ or ‘that would not happen in the deaf community, this is how we are going to do it’ and I loved that!
That’s exactly what we need, someone like Rose to come in with her perspective – she has lived this life and this is how it has to be portrayed to do it justice. She was incredible. Her work on screen is amazing and I really hope she sticks around for a very long time. She’s massively important not only for the show, but for the deaf community and the audience that watch it too.
You’ve been using a bit of BSL in the show – how has learning been?
Yeah where I can – we have advisors that come in that help us and a lot of the signing scenes are with Rose so it’s great she’s always there to talk things through and advise us on what we’re doing right and wrong. I’m always learning it’s a great skill to have and, so important.
Callum, Lexi and Ben have a lovely relationship – what’s working with Isabella like?
She is incredible! That girl – she is amazing for such a young kid. If I imagine myself at her age, I would have been so nervous and she has none of that! She is such a brilliant little actor anyway but it’s the personality that comes with it. She’s so well behaved and a real credit to her Mum and Dad. She’s so funny and a has a proper little cockney voice on her, I love doing scenes with her, Max and Lola as a family.
Callum is now qualified in the police – are you looking forward to exploring this new aspect of his character? Any research done?
It’s early days with the Police and you’re always learning when you see things in the script I immediately look at how I’m going to tackle it and do it properly. It’s another exciting journey to play with Callum and one that we can do right. It will be an interesting dynamic, being part of the Mitchell crime syndicate when your day job is in the Police! I’m sure that’s going to be exciting to play.
If you could spend quarantine with any character from EastEnders, who would it be and why? Same but any actor?
I would have to go with Ricky Champ – I love all of the them but Ricky plays my brother and he’s become like a brother to me in real life too, I love him to bits I really do.
I think he can cook a lot better than me too! He’s a man of many talents not a lot of people know about every now and then he’ll mention something else he can do, I’m always surprised. A man of many talents!
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