It requires a certain amount of courage to take a career break in the fiercely competitive world of acting. But Wild at Heart actress Lucy-Jo Hudson recently did just that, taking 18 months off work to combat “physical and mental exhaustion” – and to focus on her marriage to Coronation Street actor Alan Halsall, 29.
Now, she’s “so excited” to be back as vet Rosie Trevanion in the seventh series of the ITV1 drama set in a game park in South Africa.
“The break really made me realise how much I love what I do,” Lucy-Jo tells hello!, chatting to us in her dressing room on set at the Glen Afric reserve near Pretoria.
The 28-year-old actress took the sabbatical because she had so much going on, including planning her 2009 wedding to Alan, whom she had met during her three-year stint playing Katy Harris on Coronation Street. She’d gone straight from Corrie to a four-year run in Wild at Heart, and also fitted in a role in the Ken Loach film Looking for Eric.
“When you’re filming, you can’t have time off for holidays or weddings,” she says. “So I wanted to start married life off in the right way. If I’d gone straight back into Wild at Heart, it would have meant me coming here for six months straight after the honeymoon. I just couldn’t do that at the start of our marriage. So they wrote me out – but now I’m back and refreshed.”
Alan supports her decision to return, even though it means spending six months living on different continents. “As soon as this came up, he was more excited than me,” she laughs. “I was buzzing and, as long as I’m happy, he’s happy. He knows how much I love working.”
Her devoted husband calls her “three or four times a day” from their Manchester home and took time off from the Street, where he plays hapless mechanic Tyrone Dobbs, to visit her in South Africa in November.
“I don’t feel homesick,” insists Lucy-Jo, who has brought her favourite tea and coffee with her. “Igotothecinemaalotonmy own.” She does, however, miss her husband and their puggle (a pug and beagle crossbreed). “We got him just before we married so I’d been with him every day. It was hard leaving him.”
Lucy-Jo made the big decision to leave her wedding ring at home. “I wouldn’t want to leave it in my bag,andifI’monsetandputitin my pocket I might lose it in the bush. I wear a £15 ring instead.” The Leeds- born actress is mindful of the need for security. While filming a previous series, she was mugged at a cash machine – then she was in a theatre that was held up by armed robbers. “It was terrifying but it’s part of being in South Africa. The crew look after you and say, ‘Don’t let this put you off.’ I wouldn’t let it.”
She was more daunted at having to work with some of Wild at Heart’s animals. “I was put in a cage with Roxy, a hyena, and the animal wrangler said, ‘Treat her like a dog, LJ, it’s fine.’ So I went to stroke her and she went for my hand! My reflexes have never been so quick.”
During her time away from the show, Lucy- Jo remained friends with many of the cast and crew, who she says are “like a family”. The cast stay at a nearby golf resort during filming.
“I’ve kept in touch with Ste [Stephen Tompkinson, her screen dad Danny Trevanion]. He came to my wedding and did a speech.”
She has also stayed friends with Amanda Holden – “She’s a diamond. We always text and email” – and has bonded with Stephen’s real-life girlfriend, diplomat Elaine Young, joining her on a trip to Mozambique.
She sees children in her future. “We always talk about kids and Al would be such a brilliant dad,” she smiles. “I’ve seen what he’s like with our dog – he’s really pathetic with him.
“It’s something we both want. If it happens it happens but right now I want to be a bit more selfish and focus on my career. Then when I do become a mum that will be my job – that will be it. I don’t know how people work and have a child. I don’t know if I could leave him or her.”
Meanwhile, would she like to return for another series of Wild at Heart? “Absolutely. They’re writing more grown-up storylines for Rosie now, which I’m loving.”
She’s also keen on other roles. “I’ve been offered two plays, and I hope that now I’m back on screen, it might lead to more dramas.
“We’ve been so lucky, touch wood. Al never takes his job for granted. He’s been on Coronation Street 13 years and loves it so much. It’s good he has that stability, and it gives me more freedom to pick and choose what I want.
“I’m so glad I took that time off to recuperate. Now it just feels as if I’ve never left Wild at Heart. It has worked out perfectly.”