Casualty’s Kellie Shirley on the ED’s newest character Sophia

sophia, casualty
Casualty’s Kellie Shirley on new character SophiaBBC

Casualty spoilers from tonight’s episode (June 22) follow.

Note: The following story mentions topics such as bereavement, sexual abuse and alcoholism.

Casualty's new boxset, 'Storm Damage', has seen several new faces arrive in the ED to shake things up for some of the show's most beloved characters.

One of these new arrivals is psychiatric liaison nurse Sophia Peters, played by Kellie Shirley – best known for playing Carly Wicks in EastEnders between 2006 and 2012.

In an exclusive chat with Digital Spy, Kellie explained that this new role came about after she took part in a BAFTA scheme for actors from working-class backgrounds and underrepresented groups.

During a discussion titled 'Invisible Barriers', it was highlighted that, over her career, she had played more than 20 sex workers, a statistic that gave her food for thought.

sophia, casualty

"That's great," she said, "there's some very juicy stories to be had. But obviously I want to play lots of different characters, characters who have different jobs."

Casting director John Cannon took notice, and got her in to audition for Casualty, and it was exactly what Kellie was looking for.

"My heart was singing," she said, "to play a part where I was switched on, at the top of my game, but still from a similar background to me."

Speaking about Sophia as a character, Kellie explained: "She's funny, she's down to earth, she knows her stuff, she doesn't sit on the fence. She's sparky, naughty, a bit cheeky. She's a terrible flirt – a bit like me! I absolutely love playing Sophia, she's a breath of fresh air."

sophia, casualty

Going from EastEnders to Casualty, two shows that are approaching their 40th anniversaries, Kellie is no stranger to appearing in a TV institution. But this doesn't mean it was any easier being the new kid on the block.

She said: "It's something that's been in people’s front rooms for so long, it's part of the fabric of TV. So going into a show like that, it's comforting but it's terrifying at the same time, because it's so well loved, and there are some superfans. So you obviously want to do it justice."

It's a responsibility that Kellie doesn’t take lightly, and on her first days on set, she even asked Barney Walsh, who plays Cam, to show her around so she could get to grips with her new surroundings. But she also called on family and friends to give her some pointers.

"I am using my mum, who was a nurse for 30+ years," she explained. "My mother-in-law and my granny were too. And there's a school mum called Emily who I've become friends with, who is a psychiatric liaison nurse, exactly the same job as Sophia.

"So I was able to go to her and ask: what does this mean? If I give this medication, what happens? Would I ever have my hair down? Just little details, so it is as authentic as possible."

abigail, casualty

Sophia made her first appearance in the show last week, in a particularly emotional episode. She was called to help her patient Abigail (Elin Lloyd Harries), whose baby daughter was injured in the storm, and later died despite the best efforts of the team.

"Casualty doesn’t shy away from big, dramatic storylines, that's for sure," Kellie said. "In the first episode, Elin was so incredible, I was floored by how fantastic she was. What a storyline that was to start with.

"My baby was six months old when I was filming that, and I was an absolute mess. I had to keep going off and having my makeup retouched. I had to remember that [Sophia] had to be professional and would have been in this situation before, whereas I found it hard to film. And Elin was so good at making it feel real."

Sophia didn’t get off on the best foot with doctor Dylan as she called out his approaches, which led to friction between the pair. But in tonight's episode, they worked well together to treat a patient who was struggling with his mental health.

After being quietly impressed with one another at work, a debrief chat left Dylan uncharacteristically flustered. Could there be romance on the cards for Sophia and Dylan?

dylan keogh, casualty

"If anyone is really good at their job, it's just sexy!" Kellie laughed. "And I think that's it for her, really. And also he does challenge her, and I think she's up for the challenge of getting him to realise she's more than what he thinks she is."

Alongside her new Casualty role, Kellie also has another project on the go, a podcast drama series called ROAR which she has written and starred in, alongside the likes of Danny Dyer and Lorraine Ashbourne.

Directed by Christiana Ebohon-Green, who has worked on shows such as The Pact and Outlander, it deals with sensitive topics such as child sexual abuse and alcoholism, with all proceeds going to charity The Children's Society.

"It’s been a real labour of love," she said, "and I would love it to be on TV. It'd be fantastic as a TV series."

Casualty airs on Saturday nights on BBC One and now streams first on BBC iPlayer, where episodes are released at 6am on the day of transmission.

Read more Casualty spoilers on our dedicated homepage

Organisations including Sands and Tommy's are able to offer help and support to anyone affected by baby loss.

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