During his time on the show, Danny was at the centre of a series of hardhitting storylines, including Lee’s ongoing battle with depression – with particularly emotional scenes seeing the former soldier consider ending his life at the top of a multi-storey car park.
Six months after leaving Lee Carter behind, Danny is set to delve into the complex world of mental health yet again, with the actor landing a pivotal role in emotional new play ‘Eyes Closed, Ears Covered’.
The three-hander show, which plays in the intimate Bunker Theatre, explores the impact that domestic violence can have on a young person’s mental health, with Danny taking on the role of Aaron in the “raw” and “hardhitting” production.
Stopping by rehearsals ahead of the play’s launch next month, Yahoo Celeb UK were lucky enough to have an exclusive chat with Danny about ‘Eyes Closed, Ears Covered’, and how he’ll always be proudly flying the EastEnders’ flag.
Speaking about his decision to “dabble” in theatre following three years in one of the nation’s biggest soaps, Danny told us: “I love to mix it up; actors are artists and we like to paint new pictures using different tools.
“Doing theatre is a nice step away, it’s a bit of a breather. It’s like being in the house all day and stepping out into the garden. It keeps things fresh and new and exciting.
“If I were to have stepped into another TV thing, something quite heavy, straight after EastEnders, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much – some people love to just do theatre or film, but I like to dabble in it all.
“Everything I have done has come to a natural end and it’s been nice to move onto something else.”
And it sounds as though his new play couldn’t be more different from life in Walford, with the star continuing: “It’s hard to describe the show too much without giving it away, but in a nutshell it’s a thriller and set in 1986 – at a time when mental health was even more misunderstood and taboo.
“It’s about two young boys in their mid-teens on their way to Brighton, it’s a dark comedy with some funny moments in there but then there are hardhitting moments that snap you back into reality quite quickly.
“It’s a nice bit of intimate theatre with no spectacle, what you see is what you get and we are trying to keep it as raw as we can.
“There’s lots of twists and turns but there’s a real moment of clarity in it where the audience will hopefully go: ‘Ah, I understand now’… When the audience leave the theatre they’re going to be thinking about it a lot.
“Doing the play has brought my hunger back because there is nothing more exciting than live theatre, there’s no hiding from it – the actors are going to be very exposed and vulnerable and that’s going to help us in the show.”
Having already played a character with severe mental health issues also helped to lay the foundations for Danny in his new role, with the research that he did ahead of playing Lee Carter proving useful in his portrayal of Aaron.
He explained to us: “I did a lot of research into mental health and how it affects everybody differently; it’s incredibly complex, your head is just a knot that constantly needs to be untangled and some of our heads are more knotted than others and that’s something I grew to understand with EastEnders.
“That gave me a foundation for my understanding and helped me somewhat; Lee was always suffering from depression, it was always floating on the service and that’s something I have learned, we are all very delicate.
“My dad described it as: ‘We are all Humpty Dumptys’, because we are all vulnerable and fragile people, especially when it comes to the mind. We have to keep our mind active.
“With EastEnders, it was a mad experience and we got Samaritans involved to make sure that the dialogue and how we approached Lee’s issues were right and as truthful as possible because there are millions of people watching, so we needed to make sure that it could have a positive effect on anybody at home.
“But Aaron is a completely different character, so now I am going to leave Lee behind and start afresh.”
Although Danny is keen to leave Lee in the past, he went on to admit that he will always be “proud” of what he achieved in EastEnders, and even though he doesn’t have time to watch the show weekly, he is still the first to show his support.
He teased: “I don’t get time to watch two hours a week of EastEnders but I know a big storyline that is coming up…
“I do get a bit of inside information every now and then, and I should hope so as I made some very good friends in the show.
“It is nice to tune in every now and then to show my support, I am always going to fly the EastEnders flag on the sidelines because I am very proud of it and I am proud of what we have acheived.
“It is good to lay Lee’s storyline to bed for however long, whether he comes back in the future – with a new head or not – I don’t know.”
And the star also admitted that it was a “shame” to hear that his onscreen parents, Mick and Linda Carter [played by Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright] have been at the centre of a cheating scandal, with the storyline causing uproar when it aired earlier this month.
Confessing that he hasn’t seen the scenes in question, Danny shared his opinion on the plot, explaining: “The whole idea that they wanted to go with with Mick and Linda was that they would never cheat, and it was a really nice thought.
“I am going to be biased because I love the family as a whole and they are a big part of who I am, but I think it’s a shame that this happened.
“I think it could have worked if they kept it the way it was and it’s a shame that they felt the need to take their story in that direction, but it’s the way that the soap world is.”
And, as well know, things can never stay too cheery in the soap world.
Finally, after his name was linked to Strictly Come Dancing earlier this year, we just had to ask Danny if there was any truth to the rumours that he might be swapping the stage for the dance floor any time soon, with the 26-year-old star revealing: “They never asked me to take part!
“I would consider it. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it; I never turn my nose up at anything and I appreciate Strictly for what it is, it’s a lot of fun.
“My onscreen mum, Kellie, did it and she had a lot of fun and has only good things to say about it. Tameka [Empson, who plays Kim Fox in EastEnders] really enjoyed it and Davood Ghadami is going on it this year.
“You never really know, I wouldn’t say right now that I would do it but I’d definitely see how I felt about the idea if it presented itself.”
And we are certainly going to keep our fingers crossed that the idea does present itself eventually.
In the meantime, you can watch Danny-Boy Hatchard in Eyes Closed, Ears Covered from 6th September – 30th September at the Bunker Theatre.