Charlie Lawson: I'll Corrie on where I left off
Charlie Lawson tells Sunday Life Jim McDonald will be out for revenge when he arrives on the cobbles
He's back, so he is! In a sensational storyline, Charlie Lawson is returning to Coronation Street as Jim McDonald, with his character being released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for armed robbery.
He comes back to the famous cobbles this week with a woman on his arm, and ex-wife Liz (Beverley Callard) is hugely shock when it turns out to be their daughter, Katie, who they were told died soon after being born prematurely. Played by Australian actress Hannah Ellis Ryan, her arrival on the street coincides with her brother Steve McDonald's wedding to Tracy Barlow.
"This is my 40th year in the business and when it came up I was looking forward to coming back because I knew it would be a decent storyline. To be honest, it's just a job, but it's a very nice job," Charlie told me between scenes in Manchester.
"Walking on, it was very much like, 'Here we go again, lads'. Ten seconds after working with Bev, it was like riding a bike.
"We slotted straight back into what we do best. As we were in each other's pockets for 20 years, we know each other backwards, sidewards and frontwards."
The veteran actor, who started on the ITV soap in 1989, said viewers would be shocked by how he sets out to exact revenge on those he believes have wronged him. "Some people might be disappointed, some excited, but it's not the Jim of the 90s," he added.
"He comes out of jail, where he has been abandoned by his family. We know that he has been visited by this rather interesting young lady, and interesting young ladies have to be of a certain mindset to become involved with a prisoner. They start a relationship. She wants to take care of him and has a bit of a father complex, we suppose. They hatch a plan, which you will see unfold to wreak revenge.
"What the viewer knows is that Jim has always been in love with Elizabeth and always will be. Take from that what you will.
"Episode two of his return will shock you. It shocked me when I read it - it's not what you expect."
Last seen on the show four years ago inside prison, Jim McDonald hasn't set foot on the Coronation Street cobbles since 2011, when he was jailed for trying to rob a building society. "Corrie is Corrie is Corrie and it will remain what it is, but the show has changed immensely," he said.
"Back in 1989, there were 25 people and we did three episodes a week. Now, there are 75, so there are 50 more people, and we are doing six episodes a week.
"Weatherfield doesn't really change. Age-wise it has changed, because you have to evolve, and the dynamic of the viewership has changed.
"You can't just do Jack and Vera and Barbara (Knox - Rita Tanner) and William (Roache - Ken Barlow) and me and Bev,"
But what has changed over the years is what is in the drinks served to the customers in the Rovers Return.
Twenty five years ago, Charlie (58) was able to drink pints of Guinness while filming scenes in the most famous bar on television, but over the years the alcohol has been gradually removed. "(In the Rovers) there was Guinness and I enjoyed myself immensely," Charlie said.
"There was never anyone shouting, 'Cut, red card, you're off'. Nobody ever abused it. It then used to be Bass Shandy and now it is even more revolting than Bass Shandy (with no alcohol).
"I had to drink one the other day and it wasn't very nice. But as long as it looks the real deal, that's fine.
"The whole culture of the industry has changed. When I first joined ,there would be at least three of us in the Old School Club (the staff bar) at lunchtime. That wasn't even remotely frowned upon.
"By and large, if you turned up and did your stuff, that was fine."
This time around, Charlie isn't the only Northern Irish accent in Weatherfield. West Belfast actress Kerri Quinn (35) will soon appear in at least six episodes as Vicky Jefferies, mum of gang leader Tyler.
And she has won the praise of the Corrie legend, who thinks she has a great TV future. "Kerri's a great actress. She comes with a good pedigree and I was delighted to see her. For us it's only a small wee place, but we punch above our weight in everything we do," said Charlie.
While we will see him for 25 episodes over the next two months, the door is open for the permanent return of Jim McDonald.
He could only commit to a short stint due to a pre-agreed theatre run across the UK. Charlie is starring as Edinburgh detective John Rebus in author Ian Rankin's stage adaptation of Rebus, which opens in Birmingham later this month. Co-stars include John Stahl from Game of Thrones and Cathy Tyson of Band Of Gold fame. In the coming months he will also be seen on screen in ITV crime thriller Dark Heart as a "dodgy priest".
But it is the role of Jim McDonald for which he is most recognised, so he would be delighted to return again next year if the opportunity arises.
"I will tell you that for the first time in 40 years in the business, a producer asked to see me and wanted to hear my opinion about the future," Charlie said.
"In my book he has got my respect straight away for that. That never happened to me in any programme I have ever done. If they do ask me and I am available, I would be delighted to come back. I feel the McDonalds have more to offer."
Charlie returns to Coronation Street this Friday at 7.30pm on ITV
Belfast Telegraph Digital