Emmerdale are going to revisit the Rhona rape storyline next week as Pierce Harris returns to the village.
He’s begged to come back by Paddy Kirk who thinks Rhona needs help as she’s turned back to taking painkillers.
Paddy has no idea Pierce raped Rhona on their wedding day but the truth is about to come out and Jonathan Wrather says there’s more secrets to explode…
Is Pierce worried Rhona’s gone to the police?
He’s really stewing on that one because he don’t know what she’s going to do. He receives a phone call out of the blue from Paddy, who says, ‘look, Rhona’s in a bad way, you need to come back. She needs you’. Of course, he’s oblivious of what’s happened to date. So he arrives and we don’t know, is he going to spin this to his advantage? He’s got form for manipulating situations, you know, we saw the whole sex tape thing, how he manipulated that to his own advantage with regards Vanessa, so what is he going to do now? But certainly the whole drug thing and that aspect of it could be something in his favour in order to help him wriggle his way around this current predicament – which it is for him, really, without sounding flippant about it.
Does he accept that he’s raped her?
He doesn’t. He’s had lines, we’ve seen scenes where he’s actually said, ‘look, I couldn’t help myself. You brought this on yourself’. And he’s testing the water. But he’s also one of those people, I think, that if he says it, if he believes it, then there’s an element of truth to it, and therefore he’s convincing himself. He’s delusional. So he has this capacity to be able to switch off from the reality and go, ‘hi, it’s me. Oh, I hope everything’s okay, I missed you’. He’s a lawyer, and he knows the law, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he manages, if he manages, to work his way through this one. On the surface he’s a swan, but underneath he’s paddling like hell, because he’s panicking. But he doesn’t give much away, as you know, because he has this duality to him, and that’s what’s eerie about him, I suppose.
Does Pierce feel any remorse for what he’s done?
We’ve seen a little bit about his backstory, and obviously we’ve touched on his mother Martha’s secret, which is also in the backstory. But there is something there, he’s quite a textured character, there’s something about his past… he’s a disturbed, perturbed, kind of damaged character. And that makes him unpredictable, and that makes him more sinister than the sort of out and out villain, as it were. So yeah, there is an element of remorse – he knows, I mean, the scene immediately afterwards when he comes out with the glass of water and says, ‘look, I hope you’re not going to make more of this then it really was’. He’s testing the water – he knows what he’s done, but he has this capacity to sort of switch off that side of it, and turn on the kind of, ‘oh, well I think I might be able to get by, get through on this, I can spin this into something else. If I just deny it and say something else, then that’s the truth’.
Presumably when you were cast, they told you the whole storyline?
No, that’s why it’s great. Normally as an actor, you might be in a drama that has a beginning, middle and end or a play and you can sort of plot your journey through it, but with this it’s kind of open ended, but the benefit to that is you get to develop a character from scratch and Emmerdale have been fantastic in just letting this be a slow burn and we see this relationship develop against all odds in rather bizarre circumstances and in real time, it’s been over a year that this relationship has happened, it’s completely plausible that they would fall in love, genuinely, and that they would get married, and so that gives a chance for the audience to invest in the characters, invest in the relationship and then what happens as it unfolds becomes all the more shocking, surprising.
Do you think we’ll find out that he’s done other things?
Well, genuinely I don’t know. But Martha, his mother, has been introduced, and she’s harbouring some secret, and we don’t know to what extent. There’s something slightly mysterious about it, and yeah, she seems to be harbouring some kind of secret, and we don’t know what that is yet. It could be something very big – it could be something he’s done like this in the past, it could be something else. Do we believe what Martha said, or do we believe Pierce? You know, it’s out there.
What has the response been like to this storyline?
The response has been extraordinary, and it’s partly because Rona is this strong, independent woman who runs her own business, Pierce is a plausible, seemingly respectable, coherent, professional – they’re not the kind of people that you would associate with the kind of received perception of this kind of relationship, which somehow you might think would be violent. And there hasn’t been violence to date. And the scenes that we saw, he snaps, and this happens, and it’s truthful to… that’s more common than the perceived view, it would seem from the research, and what we’ve heard a lot about.
How do you research a monster like Pierce?
We have had access to research, ITV and Emmerdale do their own research, we’ve done some of our own, we were able to rehearse some of those scenes which is a big help, with our fantastic director Nicky Lister who had her input on it, so we have had input in a way that you don’t normally get on a day to day basis here. That’s helped consolidate how we want to portray it and which direction, where we want the emphasis to be, and it make it as truthful as possible. He didn’t plan to rape her, he doesn’t plan to attack her, it’s not like a grand scheme, he’s not Mr Evil, he just has the capacity and the tendency to do these things and actually he’s quite normal on the surface and like we just said, he’s not the kind of person you would expect to do this, these are not the kind of people you might expect to be trapped in a coercive, controlling relationship and that’s why it’s been so hard-hitting. No-one else in the village has seen through him – Vanessa has, she was there at the very beginning when he arrives – but none of the other characters have seen through it.
How do you see this ending for Pierce?
Do you know what, on so many levels, in a show like this, this kind of character has to be seen to have their comeuppance. Someone asked me, is Pierce rehabilitable, and I think he may have been at some point, not in the not too distant past, but it’s just gone beyond that. I think there’s scope to do some interesting things with it with the story which are consistent with case studies with some of the research we’ve had with regards to does he get named, does he go down for it, does he get off with it, what happens after that, can he exist, be involved in another relationship, all those kinds of things, and they are all sort of questions that are up in the air. And I actually don’t know, but I do genuinely think there is scope for some interesting stuff to continue, especially because there’s been such support or positive response to us raising this and portraying this issue, playing this out in the way that we have. So we’ll see, I genuinely don’t know myself.
Do you have any concern about the implications of the character on your career, moving forward?
I was thinking about it earlier today actually. But if you were in a major movie and it was seen globally, you might be allied to that kind of role, whatever it may be. Soap, it’s on every day and you’re in people’s front rooms every day so you become notorious, so yes, I agree with you, it could become a millstone or it could be a boon. I haven’t stopped to worry about it.