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BBC drama The Paradise turns on the passion

Passions are being stirred up at The Paradise and the cast members are loving the second series as Barbara Hodgson reveals

Jo Vanderham is pulling aside her blonde hair to show where her fake plait starts. Like her restrained black dress, the neatly-arranged hairstyle she wears as Denise, the shopgirl at the centre of the love triangle in Victorian-set drama The Paradise, is typical of the times and her status.

Underneath the cool exterior, of course, Denise is a simmering hotbed of emotion as series two of the story, based on an Emile Zola classic set in a lavish department store, brings store owner Moray back into her life.

Where series one ended with Moray (Emun Elliott) jilting his bride-to-be Katherine, this time that love triangle is more a quadrangle as Denise’s rich former rival has a new husband, Tom Weston.

But that doesn’t mean Katherine, who’s played by Irish actress Elaine Cassidy, has cut ties with Moray or that he has finished playing games with her. Instead there’s lots of simmering emotion coming to the boil with extra intrigue, scheming and romantic interests which viewers will have to wait a few more weeks to see resolved. Unless there’s a series three of course.

That won’t be decided until viewing figures have been totted up, says series producer Simon Lewis. But, following the success of last autumn’s debut, the hopes of the cast we talked to at Lambton Estate in Durham, where the drama is filmed, is that fans will prove just as loyal this time around.

There’s certainly been plenty to keep them absorbed, with the first three episodes adding some new characters, a touch of Parisian and music hall glamour and a growing resentment between Moray and the enigmatic Tom, played by Ben Daniels.

The woman at the centre of the pair is enjoying every minute.

Elaine Cassidy says of fiery Katherine’s relationship with Tom: “They’re not the healthiest of people as they have a dysfunctional relationship.

“They love each other but it’s a different kind of love - unhealthy, negative and intense! But they do find something that works.”

When the series makers decided to give her a mother role by adding Tom’s daughter to the mix, she says: “I thought ‘I know what they’re doing! They’re trying to soften Katherine up’!”

It does bring out a gentler side to a character who she never wanted to portray as a harrigan.

“I feel like the script has moved up a gear and I can explore Katherine a bit more. I never wanted her to be a 2D panto villain but a real person. There’s a reason she is this way so this time I’m exploring all of that really.”

She adds: “I love the character. I just wouldn’t hang around with her!”

The actress, who also has a film due out - The Loft, a re-make of a Belgian film, with Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller which saw her filming in New Orleans - was heavily pregnant during the making of the first series of The Paradise and now is mother to a son as well a daughter with actor husband Stephen Lord.

How did they disguise that growing bump in the later episodes? “Like this!” she laughs, moving a bowl of fruit in front of her waist. Several scenes made use of well-placed vases of flowers.

There’s not a trace of Elaine’s Irish accent in her character while another cast member who’s a vocal chameleon is Sonya Cassidy (no relation) who plays Denise’s colleague Clara, herself a one-time lover of Moray.

The RADA-trained actress has learned a northern accent which also stands her in good stead for Vera, the north-set crime drama starring Brenda Blethyn in which she plays Celine Ashworth, wife to Vera’s sergeant Joe.

She was filming both new series at the same time, dividing her acting commitments between Durham and Northumberland.

She slips into the accent as she talks but adds: “It’s a challenge - a hard one to take on.

“I basically taught myself, listening to tapes. I didn’t have a dialect coach.”

In the first series, in which viewers discovered Clara had a child, she enjoyed several spats with Denise but things have mellowed between them since then and she’s more concerned these days with bettering herself, says Sonya.

The ambitious Denise, however, is the rising star in the glittering world of the department store, a pioneering new way of shopping in fast-changing times which have seen surrounding businesses, including her uncle’s struggling draper’s shop, go up for sale and a smart food hall replace a tatty barber’s shop.

Jo, who’s far warmer and more friendly than cool-as-a-cucumber Denise might suggest, says she was as keen as anyone to see how the Moray affair, left dangling at the end of series one, would play out.

“I wanted to know what happens next!” she says.

The 21-year-old, who made a name for herself in 2011 in Sky One’s The Runaway, gained confidence for her current primetime role after appearing in American film What Maisie Knew last year with Julianne Moore.

“I got to have a wonderful argument with Julianne Moore!” she says of it, yet after The Runaway, when she found herself out of work, she’d feared she might not act again.

“I thought that was my last job and I’d disappear into nothingness. It was a very humbling experience.

“It was that stressful time when I wasn’t working that gave me drive.”

So, she’s making the most of Denise who, in tomorrow’s episode, apparently finds it can be lonely at the top, while Moray becomes involved in a dangerous deal.

All will be revealed on BBC1 at 8pm.


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