'Social media has been hurtful and brutal' - Co Down actress Kerri Quinn on how trolls forced her offline
As she takes to the stage in the MAC tonight Co Down actress Kerri Quinn tells Claire O'Boyle how trolls forced her off-line over her Coronation Street role and why she is cautious about the showbiz ambitions of her seven-year-old daughter
It's been a phenomenal two years for actress Kerri Quinn. Thrust into the limelight with a starring role in the critically-acclaimed BBC drama Come Home, it was clear she was destined for big things. But a contract on Coronation Street before the year was out?
That brought things up a level.
"It's been crazy," says Kerri. "It started off as 10 weeks and just got extended and extended. It's been an amazing experience - but it wasn't going to last forever."
In a big blow to Corrie fans who have loved the north Belfast star's portrayal of Vicky Jefferies, the rough around the edges mistress of chef Robert Preston, as her time on the soap is coming to an end.
"My last filming days are the first week in November," she reveals. "It's okay, all things come to an end. Vicky has to go out on a big storyline - and she definitely will."
Through her many months on the show, Kerri (36) has split her time between Belfast and Manchester.
Living mostly in hotel rooms from Monday to Saturday, when she flies home for a day to see her daughter Libby, Kerri is back on a flight by Sunday night ready for filming again on Monday morning.
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And if that doesn't sound exhausting enough, her schedule over the last week has been even more hectic than usual.
Because not only has the star been committed to filming some of the most gruelling scenes from her time on the soap as her dramatic storyline comes to a head, she's also on stage at the MAC this weekend belting out cabaret classics for new Belfast show Don't Tell Ma Ma.
"The whole premise of Vicky's storyline is that she's pregnant with Robert's baby, and his fiancEe - Michelle who is played by Kym Marsh - doesn't know," explains Kerri.
"And this week, Friday morning is me in Manchester as Vicky giving birth. Then Friday afternoon it's a flight back to Belfast for the show in the MAC that night.
"It's literally a birthing scene, then home. Yes, it is a tiny bit of a stressful situation, but it's great. Giving birth, then hopping on stage a few hours later with a glass of red and a nice wee frock."
And dressing up for the stage show is a treat Kerri's been looking forward to.
"It's so lovely that I get to wear nice dresses and get a bit glamorous," she says. "For so long I've been just getting more and more pregnant on Corrie, and now I'm literally at work about to give birth so I've definitely looked better.
"I haven't felt all that attractive in my job, I'll be honest, especially when there's people appearing on the same screen as you like Kym Marsh. Then they go and put us in a couple of scenes together and you're like, great, for goodness sake.
"Here's me like a whale in a tracksuit with this ponytail hair, and she's walking in like something off Britain's Top Model. She's absolutely stunning. You could put a black bag on her and she'd look amazing."
And while Kerri knows she shouldn't let it get to her, cruel comments on social media about the character she plays and even her appearance have been tough to deal with - even driving her to come off social media.
"Some of the stuff's been hard," says Kerri. "People can be brutal and it feels like when they get something in their head, they just run with it.
"When Vicky first went into Coronation Street she was a larger than life character who enjoyed ruffling feathers.
"Then when she came back we tried to pull her back and make her a bit more relatable, but by that time some people just didn't like her and in that position, it can feel like a bit of an impossible mountain to climb.
"Some of the social media things people say are awful, it's like they think they can write anything about you, no matter how hurtful and brutal. They don't care. I've honestly been amazed at how heartless some people can be."
But Kerri says it's not just herself who has been subjected to cruel jibes online, and she knows others in the limelight who have come under pressure, too.
"It's not just me," she says. "It's loads of my friends too, it comes hand in hand with the territory. When you're in this job you open yourself up to be judged and critiqued.
"But with this stuff on social media, when someone's being really personal it's very hard not to retaliate and say, 'Away and learn how to spell for a start'."
And given some of the things she's been subjected to, it's testament to her character that she hasn't struck back.
"I've not had it the worst," she says. "But the fact is there are people who don't like the character, and there's nothing I can do about that. I didn't write her. All I can do is try to be true to her and give her likeable qualities, because I actually get her.
"When the whole Robert storyline was revealed that he'd been seeing Vicky, people were saying, 'Oh my goodness is Robert blind? He needs to go to Specsavers. Michelle is so much hotter than her'.
"You're going, yes, I can appreciate how beautiful Kym Marsh is. But that is actually me playing a character, that is actually a real person you're saying that about.
"It's as if some of these people can't differentiate, like they look at me and see Vicky. They'll say, 'You're a horrible person and you're not as attractive as Michelle. Why would he go with you?'
"Because it's not actually real! But even though I know it's ridiculous it's difficult to be on the receiving end of it."
However, says Kerri, the people she works with have been a huge support.
"Oh God yes," she says. "You're prepped a lot for this stuff, they're really on it. And I knew myself to just come off social media. I don't have time for it.
"The cast are lovely, the crew are amazing and I have a great relationship with the producer. The difficulty is the distance is hard because you feel quite removed from it, and in reality the only person Vicky interacts with much is Robert, so you're not in the thick of things.
"I think they had toyed with different scenarios, but when you bring in someone like Vicky, who the regulars on the show don't like and has already caused a lot of upset on the street, you can't stick her behind the bar in the Rovers."
And with her time wrapping up on the cobbles, it's going to be a busy few weeks of filming before she says goodbye to this monumental segment of her career.
"It's quite surreal actually because Corrie is slap bang in the middle of Christmas at the minute," says Kerri. "It's all tinsel and baubles, and lots and lots of drama.
"I've made some amazing friends in my time there, Kate Ford who plays Tracey Barlow, Mikey North, who plays Gary and Sam Robertson who plays Adam. All the baddies. And Tristan of course, who plays Robert.
"Myself and Kym haven't done much filming together, because she obviously doesn't have a clue what's going on with Robert - but we're about to start doing more, and I could maybe end up with another wee chum before I go. She's lovely."
And after Coronation Street, it's back to the drawing board when it comes to work, says the actress.
"Honestly, it is," says Kerri. "It's exciting of course, but it's really, really daunting too. I'm excited and hopeful about what the exposure on the show has done, and especially what's coming up for Vicky between now and Christmas.
"I haven't seen this type of storyline in a soap in so long. It gets very dramatic, so I hope all that will help for whatever comes next."
What's not in her plans though, says Kerri, is a permanent move across the water.
"Definitely not at the minute," she says. "Libby is only seven, and she comes first. I have friends over there doing it, living in London and trying to get acting jobs.
"The number of them working in pubs to pay their rent is not good. It's not a regular job, so you can't take those risks and I wouldn't want to live in London anyway. It terrifies me.
"I'd sooner live in Manchester, I've actually fallen in love with it. It's like a home from home because the people there are like Belfast people. They're lovely."
Kerri split from Libby's dad two years ago, and the pair are still on great terms, managing their daughter between themselves and Kerri's parents.
"Libby and me have been living with my parents, which has been amazing," says Kerri. "But in other exciting news we're about to move out to our own new apartment in a few weeks, which is brilliant.
"Me and her dad have stayed really good friends and it works between us. Everyone chips in, and if the last year has proven anything, it's that the commute works. It's not easy, I know that, but it's doable."
And after such thorough grounding in the industry herself, Kerri is cautious about Libby's dreams to follow in her footsteps - even after the schoolgirl's amazing achievement in landing a role on feature film Nowhere Special alongside James Norton.
"I wouldn't say I'm completely happy that this is the road she's looking at," says Kerri. "Obviously she's really young for a start, but she's been the driver in it all. She wanted head shots, so I said okay. She's led the way and I've kind of supported it, but I've been quite hard on her too.
"I don't want to be filling her head with hope that it'll be easy for her and massaging her ego, because you need to be prepared for this world. It's tough."
And with her return to the stage this weekend, Kerri is set to treat audiences not only to some stunning cabaret classics alongside close pal and singer Ross Anderson Doherty, but to some brilliant anecdotes about the showbiz industry as she prepares to dish the dirt.
"Cabaret's brilliant," she says. "We'll have people ordering drinks throughout the show so they'll be well lit by the end. We want them chanting and dancing, and maybe even removing some items of clothing before the end of the night. Okay, maybe not.
"But we'll be sharing stories and highlighting the absolute ridiculousness of this industry. People think it's this glamorous thing, when in fact it's the complete opposite of that.
"You just forge these friendships in the most ridiculous circumstances so there are brilliant stories to tell. We've laughed so much even during rehearsals and I think that's such a good sign because you know we're all going to have fun - and that feeds into the audience. It's me back in Belfast, back on stage, and I can't wait."
Book tickets for Don't Tell Ma Ma at the MAC online at themaclive.com or call Box Office on 028 90235053