Jill Halfpenny: Everybody wants to think they’ve got good, loyal friends

TM Logan’s The Holiday depicts a sun-soaked trip you’d do well to avoid.

The Holiday featuring (L-R) Aidan McCann as Daniel, Owen McDonnell as Sean, Jill Halfpenny as Kate and Lara McDonnell as Lucy
The Holiday featuring (L-R) Aidan McCann as Daniel, Owen McDonnell as Sean, Jill Halfpenny as Kate and Lara McDonnell as Lucy

For those who aren’t aware of the novel, the breakout thriller – the third from the best-selling author – tells the story of four families who gather for a luxury vacation, before the revelation of a dark secret spells tragic consequences.

It’s the perfect set up for a TV drama. Hence why Channel 5 has taken the plunge and transformed the blistering page-turner into a four-part series.

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Taking the lead is Jill Halfpenny, 46, as Kate, the headstrong protagonist whose dream holiday quickly becomes a nightmare when she discovers her husband is having an affair with one of her best friends. All of whom are with her on the trip. But which one of them is it?

“I liked the idea of being trapped,” says the Geordie actress, who started her career aged 14 on Byker Grove.

“Holidays, in our head, are escapism and a chance to let your hair down and everything that we don’t want the real world to be. So I liked the idea that everybody is gathered in this one space and just had the worst time.

“I’m not sadistic or anything but it’s quite funny.”

Joining Halfpenny in the stifling Mediterranean heat is Killing Eve’s Owen McDonnell as Sean, Kate’s cheating husband; Lara McDonnell as their teenage daughter Lucy; and Aidan McCann as their young son Daniel.

As for whodunnit? Liv Mjönes, Siobhan Hewlett and Cat Simmons make up the suspects, while Aidan McCardle and Andrew Macklin, plus Shaun O’Callaghan Wade and Molly McCann, round out their husbands and kids respectively.

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“Imagine (being away in a group like that)!” Halfpenny muses. “It’s such an awkward situation to be in, such a boiling pot, and as we all know, with friendships, there’s so much history there.

“When people react to anything, it’s historical a lot of the time. It’s about what’s gone before and what people think their friends think of them. We’re all very worried about that. Everybody wants to think they’ve got good, loyal friends, but I think deep down a lot of us think, ‘Well, what do they really think about the time that happened?’

“So when something big happens here, all these demons come up and they have to deal with them.”

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Just how does Kate deal with it?

“She’s methodical. She works in the police so she needs to work out what could possibly be the motivation for each person, and that gets her into much deeper trouble,” says the Dark Money and former EastEnders star.

“But that’s the way she’s operated throughout her life, whereas I’m a, ‘Come into the room, I need to speak to you,’ type of person because the fear of not knowing would be too much for me.”

But Kate has strong morals, Halfpenny says: “She very much feels like she knows the difference between right and wrong, and maybe she has quite a binary look on life.

“So when this happens to her, it doesn’t just rock her personal world, it rocks her ethical world, her moral world, because she now has to think in a much more grey area. And that’s not really her comfort zone.

“When we eventually find out what has really happened, you can then take the steps back and see that she herself, through her life, has, in some ways, sowed the seeds for this to happen.”

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Intriguing. Did she guess the ending, herself?

“No! What actually happens at the end, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I could never have even thought it would be that!’” confesses Halfpenny, who jetted to Malta to film the series, albeit under tight Covid restrictions.

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“That’s the fun of watching a thriller; nobody wants to be with the person who’s like, ‘I know exactly what happens’. The fun of it is, ‘It’s them. Oh, it’s her’,” she adds. “I think that’s why, as a nation, we’ve really – certainly in the last 10 years – become obsessed with thrillers.”

It’s a good thing she’s got form then, having led Channel 5’s twisty-turny drama The Drowning (Halfpenny put on a gripping portrayal of a woman haunted by the drowning of her young son) as recently as last year too.

“It’s always nice to play something that is a bit more psychologically dark,” she says.

“But while thrillers are fun, they’re also quite exhausting because the characters that you’re playing are usually consistently tense. You come home and you’re like, ‘Why are my shoulders by my ears?’ You’re always holding something in energetically, trying to keep a lid on things, and that’s really, really fun to play – but it’s quite exhausting to have that lid on for 11 hours a day!”

Discussing roles she’s yet to tick off, “There’s tonnes, absolutely loads”, says the mother of one, who shares a son with her ex-husband Craig Conway.

“But I don’t like to say as such, in the sense that I’m very lucky. There’s only a very select few people at the very top of the game that get to really truly just play anything they want. And I’m always aware that there’s people around who’d love to have your career, so I’m just grateful.

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“But let me tell you, there are a billion things that I haven’t done yet that I’d like to do,” she follows. “Every actor in the world is always wanting people to look at them differently. But I also get offered some really good stuff, so I wouldn’t want to be pushing that away.”

Next, Halfpenny – whose long-term partner died in 2017 after a heart attack – is about to start filming a documentary in her native North East about Easter.

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“It’s about walking up here and spirituality, and what does it mean to us?” she reveals. “And does religion have a place in our lives at the moment? So I’m gonna try my hand at talking to the camera.”

But what she’d really like to do in the future – “it’s one of my ambitions,” she admits – is “to do a big documentary about grief and the way we deal with that, visiting different countries to see how different cultures deal with grief”.

She acknowledges: “I don’t have a problem with talking about bereavement or grief or loss – I actually think, as a society, we’re pretty bad at it. People don’t know what to say.

“It’s happening every single day, to every one of us, everyone will experience it. So maybe if we just put it out there into more of a general conversation, it wouldn’t have to be so scary.

“Because I don’t think it always is scary.”

The Holiday starts on Channel 5, tomorrow 9pm

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