It’s rare that an actor has the opportunity to be part of TV history, even rarer that it happens twice. Tanya Franks talks about how she could tell Broadchurch would be a huge hit, why it’s great to keep returning to EastEnders and where in Islington she can’t get enough of

Let’s start with Contact.com, which you are starring in at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. What can you tell me about the play and why were you attracted to it?

It’s about two couples that make an arrangement on an internet dating site to meet for one night and stay together. What I like about it is the fact it’s a really fun piece and cheeky, but it also has a real element of drama in there, with twists and turns. It’s a scenario that I wouldn’t imagine jumping into in my own life – the thought of internet dating freaks me out a little bit. I like to explore subject matters and characters that I wouldn’t find myself in – it’s probably why I choose the characters that I do. I learn something from those characters.

Who, then, is the real Tanya Franks?

Most of the characters that I’m known for, particularly the likes of Karen [promiscuous, drunk] in Pulling and Rainie [drug addict] in EastEnders, and even a lot of characters I play on stage, are a far cry from who I am. I’m not a very daring person, I tend to choose the safe route in life. Things like debt really frighten me, being drunk frightens me, something like abseiling frightens me. I’m not a big risk taker in that way. That’s not to say that no-one else can do those things, but if there’s an element of risk with something that makes me nervous, I would always err on the side of caution.

For me when I choose a character, I like to play someone who I can learn something from, in a situation or environment that’s very different from what I am used to in my life, experiences that I haven’t had. That’s what I love about my job – and I don’t see it as a job really, it’s such fun. Playing different types of people gives me a better understanding of the world around me.

Tanya Franks on Broadchurch and EastEnders at 30

Performing opposite Jason Durr in Contact.com

How important is theatre as a medium to you?

It’s massively important. I did 14 years in theatre before I went into TV. I have really managed to combine the two, with bits of film thrown in, and lots of radio. I try to keep the mixture of mediums because they all require different disciplines for a start. I love theatre, but I also love being in front of a camera as well. I wouldn’t want to choose one over the other.

What do you make of Park Theatre – is it something this part of North London really needed?

I think it did. Islington in itself has a lot of theatres and a lot of culture in it – I see another one has opened above the Hope & Anchor [on Upper Street]. But once you get to Finsbury Park it gets a little quieter. It’s a perfect location. Jez Bond [the founder] is doing a brilliant job there – it’s only been open for 20 months or so, but it has managed to really build a reputation almost overnight. There are great actors going in there, playing to packed houses, and they are doing really excellent plays.

Is it nice to be able to walk to work?

It is. I go between Islington and South London, and it’s really lovely to be able to go a few stops up the road on the bus or just walk.

Tanya Franks on Broadchurch and EastEnders at 30

Park Theatre has been wowing audiences for 18 months now

What else do you like about Islington?

It is an extraordinary borough, it has just developed so much over the years. It’s a real haven for eating out and a couple of my favourite places to eat are up here. I love the sushi restaurant Zen Mondo, it’s one of my favourite places in London, and there’s the little café Romeo’s, which is gluten free, and Prawn on the Lawn. Then there’s the fact there’s such a good cross-section of food as well. You can get any cuisine you want up here. Oh, and Paul A. Young of course! If there’s any dealer in my life it’s Paul A. Young – I spend all my money there.

Contact.com runs into February and then we have EastEnders’ 30th anniversary – correct you will be appearing in the actual anniversary episode?

I am a part of it, yes…

I guess that’s all we are getting on the subject! What’s it like to keep returning to Rainie?

It is great, I love Rainie. She’s such a fabulous character, I learn so much through her. She’s just so extreme compared to me. She’s always a lovely challenge to play and I enjoy trying to really stick to the truth of her, rather than sensationalising anything. I like to try to find the heart of her, so she’s such a joy to play.

Tanya Franks on Broadchurch and EastEnders at 30

Tanya as Rainie Cross in EastEnders

You are also in one of the TV hits of recent times, Broadchurch, playing Lucy Stevens, sister of DC Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman). Did you realise how good it would be from the start?

I did have a sense, I could smell success with it really. The script was so well written, it was so visionary and a real page turner. I really wanted to keep reading it and finding out what was going to happen next. At the right time, the right creative team came together, all the right elements combined. I don’t think anybody truly envisaged how it became a real part of the public’s psyche – you can only hope for the best. But it’s so deserving for this team, from the producers right down, it’s such a great team of people – and a very supportive team in a lot of ways too.

What’s it like to be in the middle of all the hype and secrecy?

Yes, I am actually in the two biggest TV secrets out there – who killed Lucy Beale and Broadchurch! It’s a little bit weird that you can’t speak to anybody about it, but it’s really exciting to be part of that. What I love about it is the audience has to watch it to see what’s going to happen. We have got into this cycle of TV shows where it’s great to leak stories – that drives me nuts. Trailers for films – some practically tell the whole story! You want the audience to go on a journey with you.

Interview: Mark Kebble

Contact.com runs until 14 February 2015 – see more at parktheatre.co.uk