Gemma Bissix was just nine when she first graced our television screens as a young Claire Bates in EastEnders - and then as the villainous Claire Cunningham in Hollyoaks. She spoke to SIBA MATTI about her love of venomous characters, including her latest role as a devious temptress
PLAYING a series of nasty characters would leave most actors concerned about being typecast, but Gemma Bissix is unfazed by her bad girl image.
The 26-year-old from Surrey made a name for herself as Claire Bates in EastEnders, despite having no formal acting training.
Gemma explains: "I wouldn't say I was born with talent but I was only meant to appear in four episodes of EastEnders and ended up staying for six years, so I must have done something to impress the producers!"
But after being written out of the show in 1998, roles dried up, forcing her to work as a bra fitter and help out in her dad's electrical wholesale company.
Eight years later, the lifelong Chelsea fan was finally cast in a role she could sink her teeth into, playing devilish Claire Cunningham in Hollyoaks.
"Claire was a complete psychopath," says Gemma with a laugh. "She attempted to kill her husband, steal his money and poison his little brother's mind against him - among her many foul deeds. In real life, she would have been locked up in a lunatic asylum.
"I had no idea the character would be so evil, but the scripts steadily got darker and darker.
I loved all the meaty story lines and it is definitely my favourite character to date."
Gemma's bone-chilling performance attracted the attention of EastEnders bosses, who immediately offered to reprise her former role.
But after more than a decade, Claire Bates was transformed from an innocent teenager to a man-eating vixen.
"It was such a privilege to return to EastEnders and see some of the old faces," says Gemma.
"A lot of people compare the two Claires but I preferred the Hollyoaks version.
"In EastEnders, she became atart with a heart - she was vulnerable after years of rejection - whereas in Hollyoaks, the scripts were a lot more far-fetched."
The actress was obviously in her element, as her performance in Hollyoaks earned her four wins and seven nominations at a soap awards ceremony.
After brief appearances in celebrity reality shows, including Dancing on Ice, MasterChef and Strictly Come Dancing, Gemma is now touring with The Game of Murder, a play which you can see at the Beck Theatre.
"I can't give much away but the story is about an adulterer whose wife comes back to haunt him and his mistress, who I play," Gemma reveals.
"It's a thriller with plenty of twists and turns which will keep people on the edge of their seats."
And Gemma is taking on yet another evil persona, playing the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty, this year's Christmas pantomime in Bath.
She says: "I love the stage and one of my lifetime ambitions is to perform at the National Theatre, but I go where the work is, and if that means more nasty roles, so be it." [25cf] The Game of Murder is at the Beck Theatre from Thursday, November 19 until Saturday,
November 21. Shows start at 7.30pm, plus a matinée at 2.30pm on Saturday.
For more information call 020 8561 8371 or visit www.becktheatre.org.uk .