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A tiny lie can just get out of control, says Gemma

As the new series of Ordinary Lies begins Jill Halfpenny admits to Gemma Dunn that she's hopeless at telling porkies - honestly

It's been said that actors must make good liars, but former soap star Jill Halfpenny insists she's an exception to the rule. "I'm terrible; I go very, very red and get a bit embarrassed," whispers the 41-year-old, best known for her stints on Coronation Street and EastEnders in the early-Noughties.

"Thankfully, my son (she has an eight-year-old, Harvey-Rhys, with ex-husband Craig Conway) is a really bad liar too, so I always know when he's lying.

"But for those people who are good at it, it's hard work, man!" she cries, exposing her Geordie roots. "It's like remembering a script when you lie. You think, 'What did I say? When did I say it?' You have to back it up with the next lie, it's exhausting."

Halfpenny's protest of innocence is down to the fact we're discussing her part in the opener of the highly-anticipated second run of Ordinary Lies, the hit BBC One drama penned by award-winning writer Danny Brocklehurst.

The last series was based in a car showroom and starred Max Beesley, Michelle Keegan and Jo Joyner. This time, the action's moved to sports sales company Coopers, and viewers are introduced to a fresh line-up of characters, played by the likes of Angela Griffin, Matt Di Angelo and Griff Rhys Jones, each with their own torrid secrets and lies.

The first episode tells the story of Coopers' head of sales Joe (Con O'Neill), who's knocked when he finds his wife Belinda (Halfpenny) acting strangely. Suspecting she's having an affair, he makes the desperate decision to install hidden cameras around the house to keep an eye on her and their children.

"It opens a whole can of worms," quips Halfpenny, whose TV credits also include Waterloo Road, Babylon and Humans. "It's interesting from the way Danny has written it, that you can be in a good place, but if one little seed is planted in your head... Once you decide somebody might be lying to you, it's very easy to collect evidence, because you start to see things in a different way, you start to be very suspicious of someone. It's interesting to watch that in Joe's character - how he starts to drive himself mad."

Is ignorance bliss in this case, then? "I think it can be - or have an honest conversation. But that wouldn't be a very interesting episode," Halfpenny retorts with a giggle. "People's lives are extraordinary; they're way more interesting most of the time than what we see on television.

"There's that saying - a lot happens behind closed doors - but it's so true. You just have no idea what is going on with other people, or how they're thinking or what they're up to."

But it's Brocklehurst's talent for unravelling such secrets that she credits for making the series' twists "more interesting than MI5 on a search for a serial killer".

"What's interesting is the weird, little crazy things people do that you can't believe," she says. "You think, 'What would I do? Would I have said that?' And sometimes the tiniest little lie, for some reason, just gets bigger and bigger and you go along with it."

Halfpenny's off-screen family life - she lives in London with her son and partner, fellow actor Chris Ellis-Stanton - is far more straightforward. But she admits to struggling when she's working away from home.

"I don't know if it ever gets easier," she says of missing her son. "In fact, when they get older and they can vocalise how much they want you home, how much they need you if they have a problem, it's more gutting to not be there."

Is he impressed by her star credentials, at least? "He does say, 'When I grow up, I want to be an actor'. But I think he just says that because his mum and dad act.

"I have no idea what he will end up doing; he's very funny and creative and I know it's a cliche, but all you want is for your children to be happy," she adds, smiling broadly.

Starting out at a young age herself (Halfpenny's professional career began with a stint on youth-club drama Byker Grove, alongside Ant and Dec, in 1989), she's keen for others not to feel the same pressure in this "ever-changing" industry.

"I don't think starting off when you're young helps you in any way when you're older - there's plenty of time to carve a career as an adult," Halfpenny advises. "But for me, when I was younger, it was all I wanted to do. I do worry sometimes that kids think they have to start young."

As for turning 40 last year, she maintains she hasn't noticed a massive difference - yet.

"Probably, as I go from mid to late-40s, the bigger change will come. Obviously, I play mums with younger kids, but that's been happening for years."

With a recent part in comedy-drama In The Club and other projects in the pipeline - including Three Girls, a new BBC One drama based on the Rochdale abuse scandal - she certainly isn't short of varied work.

"I like the chance to do lots of different things," says Halfpenny, who won Strictly Come Dancing back in 2004. "I would say that's the biggest advantage of my job - that we have variety."

She's particularly proud of the influx of female-led dramas popping up, stating: "There's no reason why a female can't lead a cast and be at the centre of a main storyline. That's been proved time and time again."

Is there anything else she's hoping to tick off?

"Loads!" she retorts, smiling, before adding: "It's too easy in this industry to think about all the things you haven't done. I have to work hard on appreciating all the things I have done."

  • Ordinary Lies returns to BBC One on Tuesday, 9pm

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