Wil Marlow hears about Tamzin Outhwaite's most demanding television role to date...
Tamzin Outhwaite didn't think twice about taking on her latest role. The former EastEnder loved the script of ITV's new two-part drama Walk Away And I Stumble as soon as she read it.
But those around her wondered if it was the right time to do it, as the story of her character Claire has strong parallels with that of Tamzin's cousin, James Baldwin, who died last year at the age of 26 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
"I got the script not long after James died and my agent said, 'Do you not think it's a bit too soon to be acting out scenes that are all too familiar to you?'," says Tamzin.
"I said I thought it might be cathartic, and that it would be a good thing if I can turn it round and make it a positive thing, which is what we did.
"I spoke to my mum as well when I was considering taking the job, but I knew I wanted to do it, regardless of any personal stuff. Every script you get I'm sure you can find something personal that you can link to. But I did warn my mum it could be tricky to watch."
The illness Tamzin's character has is very different to that of her cousin. In Walk Away And I Stumble, Claire embarks on an affair with a married man, played by Mark Strong, breaking up his happy home life. But just as she's about to start a new life with him she is diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Claire is given a matter of months to live, while in real life Tamzin's cousin James was diagnosed long before his death and many treatments were tried. Despite the differences, Tamzin is pleased that ITV have allowed her to dedicate the two-part drama to the memory of James.
"ITV have been really good," she says.
"I'm really thankful they have allowed us to do that at the end. My family don't know about it yet, so it will be a nice surprise for them."
Perhaps surprisingly, Tamzin, 35, is all smiles when she talks about James, and there is no hint of tears. She talks passionately about him and his fight with the illness that eventually overcame him, and is obviously immensely proud of him.
"James was very inspirational, a funny, extremely humorous man who was the life and soul of any party he was at," she says.
"And he was a real fighter, a proper warrior. He just didn't give up. We were very close."
In James' last months Tamzin's tight-knit family spent a lot of time around his hospital bed, making sure they enjoyed as much of his company as they could.
"I bet some of the time James was thinking, Christ just leave me alone," laughs Tamzin.
"I was brought up in a house that was full of lots and lots of love and even when things were low there was a lot of mickey-taking and we were never really allowed to get down or depressed.
"As a family we've all been lucky to be around a lot of positivity and a lot of love. Not everybody has that when they're growing up, but I think my outlook and my family's outlook has always been very positive."
As such they wanted to turn James' untimely death into something positive and, rather than just accept his death and move on with their lives, they have set up a charity to keep his memory alive. Called The James Baldwin Trust, the charity is designed to help families who are faced with terminal illness.
"In the last six or seven weeks James was at Bart's hospital a lot of the time and a lot of people were coming to visit him," recalls Tamzin. "You'd look around and there were a lot of people who couldn't necessarily afford to come down and visit him in London and stay in a B&B or a hotel.
"And it struck us that if you're from a family that's quite big and are going through something that tragic, but you couldn't afford to be around your 26-year-old son because you live in Leicester or wherever, how would you cope with not being there for them during that time?
"James felt very strongly when he was alive that nurses were not being paid enough money, and there was a lot of disgruntled people because they wanted to do more for him. He expressed that when we were visiting the hospital and when he was sat at home at his mum's.
"So apart from research we want the money from the charity to go towards helping families afford to be with their loved ones at these times. Whether that means distributing money so they are able to stay in a hotels, or hopefully in the long run having some kind of care centre, we shall see."
Memories of James made filming Walk Away And I Stumble sometimes very difficult for Tamzin.
She says scenes where Claire was ill were the most emotional to film, and that she was happy to have the friendship she had struck up with her co-star Julie Graham, who plays the deserted wife.
"Julie was on hand for big warm hugs and reminding me again how important female friends are in your life," says Tamzin.
"I think the antidote to doing a weepy like this is to, when you come off set, find the opposite of what you've been doing in the day.
"Most of our evenings and lunchtimes were spent in hysterics.
"We had to laugh really. We had to find some light in all of this."