In 1998, when she was one of the most recognisable young women in Britain, Angela Griffin swapped the cobblestones of Coronation Street for a long walk into the unknown. Because of her youth, her optimism and her “naivety”, she didn’t appreciate at the time just how much of a gamble she was taking. Only now, years later, does she feel she really understands. In the Nineties, especially, Corrie was a gig you quit at your peril. She might have been leaving a dream job for an extended trek into the wilderness.
“I joined Corrie when I was 16 and left when I was 21,” says Griffin, who, as Weatherfield hairdresser Fiona Middleton, became a fixture in the lives of 17 million viewers three times a week.
“I don’t think I realised at 21 what a risk it was leaving at the time. All I thought was, ‘well, I’ve done this for a while’. Now, I want to do something different. I didn’t research how many actors and actresses have left Coronation Street and gone onto other jobs.” She was reminded of that time in her life filming her new Netflix mystery, White Lines. The series is a stylised whodunnit from Álex Pina, creator of the cult Spanish hit Money Heist.
He has assembled a glittering cast, including Laura Haddock (Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers: The Last Knight ), Daniel Mays (Line of Duty) and Laurence Fox, who, since filming, has become somewhat notorious in the UK because of his views about British society and for stating he would not date a “woke” woman (he has also embarked on a career as a singer-songwriter). Griffin, meanwhile, plays Anna, a Nineties raver turned organiser of sex parties in Ibiza.
Pina has a reputation as a bit of a mad professor of TV. For White Lines he collaborated with Left Bank Pictures, the UK production company responsible for The Crown and recent Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating drama Quiz. They have woven an intricate puzzle-box, centred around a missing Ibiza DJ and the quest by his sister (Haddock) discover the truth behind his disappearance.
We are introduced to Anna in the present day. She is in her 40s, about to be divorced from the father of her two kids and making a living hosting high-class orgies in the Balearics. We also meet her in a flashback to the Nineties, when she is a bright young thing , her life is a blur of non-stop partying, future full of possibilities.
“It made me nostalgic for Manchester and for a time when I had no responsibilities,” says Griffin, speaking by Zoom from the London home she shares with her husband, actor Jason Milligan, and their two children.
“You could go out and not worry what time you were going to be home. You didn’t have to get up for kids the next day. I was young. [Because of Coronation Street] I was very aware I had to be on my best behaviour at those times. I still went out. I was still a kid being a teenager.” It also set her pining for the sun holidays she would take with her friends back in the day. “It makes me nostalgic for Ibiza. But as the series goes on, I also go, ‘oh, it might look at shiny on the outside. But underneath…well, you only have to lift the layer and it’s not as nice as it appears’.” White Lines is a gripping mystery and can be enjoyed strictly at the level of glamorous whodunnit. But it has smart things, too, to say about nostalgia and the lies we tell ourselves about our tearaway youths.
That’s especially true of Zoe (Laura Haddock) who, in her teens, idolised older brother Axl. But when she goes to Ibiza to investigate his disappearance 20 years previously she discovers a dark side to his outwardly jetset life.
“In the first few episodes you think, oooh this is quite glamorous,” says Griffin. “However, as you go further in, you realise nothing is quite what it seems. In real life, it seldom is.” That makes White Lines sound rather intense. But it doubles as intriguing social history, with the Nineties rave scene and its legacy conjured with thrillingly. If you were part of the glowstick and VapoRub generation, this plunge into the annals of dance-floor excess will give you tingles. Veterans, for instance, of Sir Henry’s in Cork, may feel their cockled warmed by an early scene in which Axl commands the decks at a vast warehouse rave.
“When they are shooting in 1996 – it’s considered period!” exclaims Griffin. “Period, for god’s sake. That’s my 20s.” Griffin was born in Leeds in 1976. While still in school, she was cast in Corrie as nattering hairdresser Fiona.
She had five memorable years on the soap. This at a time when Coronation Street was one of the most watched things on television. However, she eventually began to yearn for other challenges. And so she swapped Weatherfield for BBC medical drama Holby City.
“I wanted to do something different,” she recalls. “I didn’t really research how many had left Coronation Street and gone onto different jobs – or not.” British soaps are today often a first step for stars on the rise. That wasn’t always the case. In the Nineties, they could be a life sentence. You became synonymous with your character. Good luck if you wanted to cast off the shackles.
“You have people like Sarah Lancashire, Suranne Jones, Michelle Keegan…there are quite a few success stories,” says Griffin. “And then you think of the other 150 actresses that have left and haven’t been successful.” But at the time of her exit from Coronation Street the industry was changing, she feels. The cliche that a soap typecast you for life had been superseded by the understanding that actors and actresses brought with them a considerable fanbase.
That may have been one of the reasons she was cast in Holby City, she says. The producers understood people who enjoyed her in Coronation Street would be eager to discover what she did next.
“It’s what youth does,” says Griffin of her bravado at the time. “The guys in White Lines decide to up sticks and move to Ibiza. I upped sticks and moved on from the biggest show on TV.” Griffin recently finishing filming Isolation Stories, a forthcoming ITV drama anthology about life in lockdown. It also stars Robert Glenister, Eddie Marsan and Sheridan Smith. All episodes are shot in the actors’ homes, and directed and edited remotely.
“They delivered all the equipment. We set it up as a family. The director was in his house. They accessed the cameras remotely. We were speaking over Zoom. Four weeks ago, I didn’t even know what Zoom was.” She thinks White Lines is arriving at the perfect time. With its sweeping vistas of Ibiza and banging rave music, it is wonderfully escapist. You can slap it on , draw the curtains and let all thoughts of lockdown and social distancing melt away.
“Going to Ibiza to make it really is the opposite of what is occurring at the moment,” she says. “There is no social distancing in White Lines. It’s just six months ago that we finished shooting. I remember us all sitting on the roof of the hotel where we were staying. It was 26 degrees.” She shakes her head and smiles sadly. “To go from that to the crazy world, we’re in at the present… White Lines was always going to come out around now. But, my gosh, this is perfect timing. People need this show right now.” White Lines comes to Netflix May 15