Exclusive: EastEnders star on backlash to Lewis and Ben story

Note: The following article contains discussion of themes including sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting.

EastEnders spoilers follow.

EastEnders star Aidan O'Callaghan has revealed what he would have changed about his character Lewis Butler's story.

Viewers know that Lewis raped Ben earlier in the year, and his downfall is playing out across this week's episodes.

Prior to that, Lewis was introduced as a bar manager at The Albert, initially sparking a positive reaction from fans. Unsurprisingly, this led to some criticism of the show when Ben's rape story was announced, and Aidan – who plays Lewis – has admitted he understands why.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Speaking exclusively to Digital Spy, Aidan said: "I was [aware of the backlash]. I remember I was so delighted at the initial reaction, because that is what you want: you want authenticity and diversity, and for people to say Lewis is great and fun.

"I was delighted and I was initially disappointed that the spoilers for this story came out so soon as I wanted to bring them on Lewis's journey for longer. I had to make people like Lewis initially.

"If I could have a magic wand, I would have wanted that to have stretched out a bit further, but, in the same breath it has been fascinating to play that arc so quick and bring everyone on that rollercoaster."

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Tonight's episode will see Ben get a chance to confront Lewis for assaulting him, in high-stakes scenes that will see Lewis fearing for his life.

"Initially, when I heard about that part of the story, I was so excited," Aidan said. "I really wanted to embrace every second of working with Steve [McFadden], Kim [Medcalf] and Max Bowden] as well. I was so delighted and then the directors were really helpful in terms of giving us time to access all those emotions.

"It was a full-on week for sure. We definitely had to use all the tools we could think of, but it was fun at the same time.

"Lewis thinks this is it for him, it's very scary. Lewis thinks it's his last chance and I think he's embarrassed afterwards as he was crying and screaming for help, so he feels very awkward about that afterwards. He absolutely thinks he's going to die, though, and he's really begging [Ben] with every ounce of his energy to not kill him."

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Discussing whether Lewis has any remorse for what he did to Ben, Aidan added: "The interesting thing about this, and it's been such a fascinating experience playing Lewis, because it all comes back to shame and a lot of people aren't comfortable with the feeling of shame as it makes them vulnerable.

"In this scenario and up until this point, Lewis has not allowed that feeling of shame to bubble up. In Lewis's head, he's thinking, 'What will it mean for me as a character if I explore this shame and admit to the trauma I've caused another person?'.

"A lot of what he is doing in order to avoid this feeling is calling out Ben's flaws such as being the Walford attacker and he is deflecting all these uncomfortable emotions onto him. This experience in the warehouse ultimately forces him to explore that and what he has done.

"He is then absolutely overwhelmed with sadness, remorse and regret for a moment. It really all comes back to that feeling of shame."

EastEnders airs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One and streams on BBC iPlayer.

Read more EastEnders spoilers on our dedicated homepage.

If you've been affected by the topics raised in this story, then numerous organisations can offer help and support including SurvivorsUK (0203 598 3898 or help@survivorsuk.org), Survivors Manchester (0808 800 5005 or support@survivorsmanchester.org.uk) and the Male Survivors Partnership (0808 800 5005 or hello@malesurvivor.co.uk). In an emergency, please dial 999.

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