Five years ago Michelle Ryan, having fled the familial dramas of Albert Square and grown out her signature fringe, decided to seek fame and fortune in America.
She was hailed as the latest British talent to hit US screens as the surprise pick for the lead in the reboot of the Bionic Woman.
But, for every Cat Deeley success story, there is a Martine McCutcheon (who was briefly touted as the next big Brit thing after Love Actually) reality check.
The series was cancelled after just one season. Michelle, now 28, returned to London and started her acting career afresh over here.
“The Bionic Woman was the most challenging role I’ve played to date probably. Just the sheer scale of it was huge,” she says.
She hasn’t let the experience put her off working in the States again, although she says: “You definitely need a reason to be there, and have the right script and the right character.”
Right now Michelle doesn’t need Hollywood because she’s got the best of British. Having made guests appearances in Doctor Who and Merlin, she now has two Brit flicks coming out: The Man Inside and Cockneys Vs Zombies, as well as a starring role in West End musical Cabaret, which opens at the Savoy Theatre on October 3.
In gritty boxing drama The Man Inside (released this week), the Enfield-born actress plays heroin addict Alexia, alongside Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas and Peter Mullan.
“I love this character because she’s so complex. It just felt like one of those projects you dream of getting because it’s very layered and is completely different from what I normally get sent,” she explains.
“You don’t always get that with female roles, that someone’s allowing you to be vulnerable, strong, feisty and funny, so that was a real highlight.”
She didn’t need to do too much research into drug addiction because she had already been exposed to it in the past.
“I’m of that generation where there was so much around at school. We watched lots of documentaries and YouTube clips of people talking about their addictions and you see how people go cold turkey. It’s quite harrowing but it’s useful hearing the different stories,” she says.
In horror-comedy Cockneys Vs Zombies, which is out on August 24, Ryan gets to fight the walking dead alongside co-stars Honor Blackman and Alan Ford.
“It’s just so much fun, using a samurai sword to take out a zombie. And you’ve got all the older actors as well, who all have so much to bring – Honor Blackman is one sassy lady,” she says.
Ryan, who started acting in theatre at the age of 10, is also preparing to take on the iconic role of Sally Bowles alongside former Pop Idol runner-up Will Young as Emcee.
“It’s a great, great role, a gift,” she says. “This is what I started doing when I was younger. I love dancing, being on stage and I’m really enjoying the singing process, which we’ve just started.
“This will always be Liza’s (Minelli) role and it’s just been loaned out to me. It’s not like I’m trying to fill her shoes because it’s a new production.”
Contrary to rumours, Michelle insists she has not received any advice from Minelli herself. “I did meet her very briefly after her concert. She was charming and lovely. That felt like a nice thing to do before rehearsals start.”
Most people will probably still recognise Michelle from her EastEnders role as Zoe Slater, whom she played for five years until she left the soap in 2005.
“It’s become nostalgic now. Cockneys Vs Zombies is set in the East End so the fact I still have people asking about EastEnders is great,” she admits.
However, Michelle has always insisted that she has no plans to return to Albert Square.
“It’s like I wouldn’t go back to school,” she explains. “I just believe that sometimes in life you’re like a shark – you have to keep moving through water otherwise you’ll die.
“For me, once I’ve worked on something and it’s finished, it’s like an ex-boyfriend: you don’t go back to them. I’ve done it with my heart and soul, so I wouldn’t go back because it’s not part of my make-up to do so.
The challenge now is seeking out new and different parts.
“I’m like a bloodhound: I’ll sniff and dig out the great roles. They’re not always easy to come by.
“I spent a lot of the last few years turning down lots of things.
“If I’m repeating what I’ve done or it’s not great directing or an interesting idea, it just seems like a waste of time.
“Projects where the women are just victims or accessories are the strangest parts. They don’t do anything for humankind. There should be a little more fire in everyone.”