Michelle Keegan: 'I'd have loved Georgie and Elvis to live forever... it wasn't to be'
The next instalment of military drama Our Girl sees a grieving Corporal Georgie Lane back at the front. By Georgia Humphreys
It's four years now since Michelle Keegan left her much-loved role in Coronation Street behind. But with a workload as busy as hers, the Mancunian actress has no reason to look back. There's an exciting new show in the pipeline (she doesn't give much away, but will be filming from August to Christmas), her fashion collection for Very and not forgetting the return of BBC One's Our Girl.
The next instalment sees her character, Corporal Georgie Lane, head to northern Nigeria, tasked with assisting local forces after a group of schoolgirls are kidnapped.
"I just want to do it justice," she says of the role. "I always want to tell the story right. I'm constantly learning with this job, not only with the storyline of what's going on in the world but also being a medic."
Keegan (30) took over as the lead of Our Girl, which follows the extraordinary adventures of female medics in the Army, from EastEnders' Lacey Turner back in 2016 for series two.
Series three has been done a little differently - the 12 episodes have been split into three parts, with each one following Georgie and her comrades on a different tour.
The ending of part one, set in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in Nepal, left fans shocked as Georgie's on/off love interest Elvis Harte (Luke Pasqualino) died in her arms on the battlefield.
"I was in bits!" cries Keegan, who appeared on the cobbles for six years as Tina McIntyre, before her character was killed off. "I love romantic storylines. And I would've loved them to have lived happily ever after. But their characters ... that just never would've happened."
Now we find a heartbroken Georgie burying her head in the sand, as she returns to work after six months' leave and is thrown right back into the action.
And Keegan is the first to admit the physical side of the show isn't exactly something she finds easy.
"Oh, God. I hated it, I hated it," she recalls, describing having to crawl under barbed wire. "If the boys were in here now, they'd be laughing because I was always last."
It would seem Keegan is always up for a challenge, though.
"I would love to do more action, I really would," she suggests, when asked what else she'd like to try in her career. "I feel like I've just sort of touched the tip of the iceberg there."
But while she reckons she's strong-minded like Georgie, Keegan insists there's no way she shares her bravery.
"Even when I'm doing it (filming scenes), I'm thinking, 'What is she doing?'. But I love playing a strong character, anyway. And I love how brave she is as well. I'm living what I want to be through her eyes."
As much as she's loved the role, towards the end of three months working in "unbearable" humidity in Malaysia, Keegan was really starting to miss normality.
"I was staying in hotels, eating Malaysian food - I was sick of noodles. I just wanted to have a normal Sunday afternoon, with my family, with Mark (Wright, her husband of three years), with the dogs and just chill."
Since wrapping on Our Girl, she's spent the past few months having downtime in LA, where former The Only Way Is Essex star Mark is now working as a TV presenter on US channel Extra.
Does she have any interest in working in Hollywood herself?
"I've got an American agent and I had a few meetings while I was out there, which was good, but nothing yet, no. We'll see. But I do like it out there."
However, she doesn't reckon she could live across the pond full time - she's too much of a "homebird".
Her closeness to her family is one reason she took part in BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are?
The "very personal journey" was a totally different experience for Keegan: "I hide behind characters a lot of the time."
And in tracing her family tree, she made huge discoveries - her maternal great, great grandmother was a suffragist, who knew Emmeline Pankhurst. (The iconic political activist even signed her great grandma's birth certificate.)
Overall, filming the documentary series was an emotional experience at times.
"I was really, really close with my grandma and my granddad," she reflects. "So, the fact that I was doing it through them, but they weren't around for me to ask questions to ... I found out new information about their lives that I would have loved to have spoken to them about, but I didn't get a chance to do that."
She loved getting to travel to places she really didn't expect, like Genoa, on the Italian Riviera. There, she visited a stunning church where her relatives were once baptised.
"It's giving me goosebumps just now thinking about it."
While Keegan knew that her grandmother was from Gibraltar, discovering she also has Italian heritage was a surprise.
She's told her parents about it, but others in her family might only find out when the episode airs.
"We're going to have a family night at my mum's house. They don't know why, but we're going to have Italian food and it'll all click into place when they watch the TV."
The experience has encouraged Mark to look at his family tree now, too.
"He was actually round at his grandparents yesterday, and I was there, and he was asking them about their roots!" she enthuses.
As for Keegan herself, she knows she will treasure the episode for years to come.
"I'm sure my great-great-great-grandkids would watch the show in 100 years from now and think, 'No way were we part of the suffragette movement' and, 'No way have we got Italian roots.'"
She adds proudly: "I've got something really special and unique that I can take back to my family."
Our Girl, BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm; Who Do You Think You Are? BBC One, Wednesday, 9pm