When Will Mellor’s sister died nine years ago, the actor struggled with how to handle his grief. “I didn’t want to get out of bed some days, was drinking a bit too much, got into gambling a little bit,” says the 44-year-old Mancunian.
“Having my family around – my wife and my kids – really helped pull me out. I had to stop feeling guilty; I felt guilty every day, for something or other. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do any more for my family, for my sister.
“You put things on yourself, and then you feel guilty that you’ve been nasty with the kids the day before because you were in this position. So, I was in a vicious cycle. I just had to get out of it.”
Then, when his father, Bill, died in April 2020 (he had been suddenly diagnosed with cancer just two weeks earlier), Mellor saw the signs he was returning to those behaviour patterns.
“Obviously, lockdown didn’t help, because when you’ve not got to be up in the morning, there’s no excuse not to have a few drinks,” continues the Stockport-born star, best known for comedies Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps and No Offence.
“I was sick of feeling rubbish – and now I feel great. You can’t change situations, but you can change yourself, you can change the repetition of what you’re doing and keep an eye out for the little things that spark things off, the little triggers.
“And I’m all right; I was never an alcoholic or anything like that. I just was doing things a bit too regularly, and a bit too often.”
The father-of-two, who has been married to dance teacher Michelle McSween since 2007, decided to start 2021 with a positive outlook, open to whatever opportunities came his way. “And then Coronation Street rang me, and the character was put to me and I loved the character. I’ve never played a character like this.”
With his first episode airing on March 12, Mellor – whose breakout role came in 1995, playing jack-the-lad Jambo in Hollyoaks – is playing drugs lord Harvey. Harvey is the ‘boss’ of Jacob (Jack James Ryan), who has lured a vulnerable Simon (Alex Bain) into his trap.
And now Harvey takes over, piling on the pressure and threatening Simon when he wants out. Over the coming weeks, we’ll see Simon’s grieving mum, Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson), try to protect her son, which means she is also thrown into Harvey’s dangerous world. It soon becomes clear that Leanne and Simon are in way too deep – and a menacing Harvey has no intention of letting them out of his grasp.
“This is a seasoned baddie who people can recognise; he’s a street guy who’s turning vulnerable people into drug dealers, because they’re not on the police radar,” explains Mellor. “It’s the lowest of the low, for me, to do that to an innocent person, and to pressurise them into doing things that they don’t want to do with bully tactics.
“There’s an arrogance that comes with this character as well, that he can’t be touched.” Of his portrayal, he continues: “I don’t want to be too stereotypical, but at the same time you want to be realistic. So, yeah, I am very conscious and I’m a perfectionist; I want it to be right.
“I’m just trying to make it as believable as I can and as real as I can, so people don’t see me as Will Mellor, they see the character. And that’s what matters to me.”
Joining the cast of the country’s longest-running soap was something his mother has wanted ever since Mellor was signed up to a talent agency as a confident, outgoing 12-year-old.
“She’s had to wait 32 years and, finally, her son’s on Coronation Street! And not playing the nicest character, but she’s over the moon, she really is. And so are the family, my sisters.
“We’ve all had a really tough year, losing my father last year. And this has been a real boost, just a bit of fun, something for us to look forward to, and we’re all very happy.”
The character’s very specific look has helped Mellor get into the role, he adds. As part of that, we will see him wearing his father’s ring – which he says he never takes off – on screen. “I thought it would be nice to incorporate it into the character and that way my dad is with me on set all the time. He was a massive Corrie fan and he would be so proud that I was in the show, so this way he is also in the show with me.”
Meanwhile, Mellor – who’s an ambassador for mental health and wellbeing charity The Kaleidoscope Plus Group – wants to highlight the importance of talking to people when you’re struggling, admitting he has found the pandemic tough.
“If you’re a creative and you have a mind like mine… I’m bouncing all over the place. My wife says she thinks I’ve got adult ADHD, but it wasn’t diagnosed when I was a kid. So it’s very hard to deal with just day to day, when you’re doing the same thing, because I feel like I need to be creating.
“You’ve got to realise you’re just human and it’s alright to feel down, it’s alright to feel sad. I cry quite a lot, I’m an emotional person. I get highs, I get lows – but that’s just part of me. Just accept it. And, you know, it’s OK not to be OK.”
Watch Coronation Street on ITV on weeknights.