In a UK soap first, Emmerdale airs a series of special episodes about life in lockdown for the village residents, which this week includes Nicola King and husband Jimmy. Actress Nicola Wheeler explains why her character feels like she’s at a crossroads.

Nicola King in Emmerdale lockdown episodes
Nicola King in Emmerdale lockdown episodes

Nicola King and husband Jimmy are riling each other up in lockdown. Nicola is seemingly busy with her local council business but something is obviously bothering her. She’s sad as she feels her life is dull and boring, with everyone else in the village living a better life than her. Will Nicola open up and what will it mean for their relationship? She’s lost the fire in her belly but can she get it back again? Actress Nicola Wheeler explains…

How did you feel when you were asked to be part of these special Lockdown episodes?
It was a privilege to be asked. The initial idea was we were going to try and film them beforehand so we were actually asked before lockdown, but we couldn’t do them due to the lockdown.

Was it hard to learn the script?
It’s such a well written episode and the voices of Nicola and Jimmy are really clear so I found it quite easy. Initially, you do think of how much there is to learn, but in actual fact you approach the scenes as separate entities. Most scenes are a different day, so it wasn’t like filming a whole day in Emmerdale life which maybe would have been a bit more complicated. You’d be looking at it as a whole, but each day is like an individual scene so you can still almost separate them in your head that way.

Tell us about the rehearsal process?
We went into the studio and I saw Nick for the first time since lockdown. We’d had a health and safety online meeting beforehand to make sure we were informed of all the health checks before stepping into the studio. We even had two metre sticks on set to ensure that we were always at a safe distance. It’s little things that the audience won’t notice, but if Nick had to pass me something there would have to be a tape stop and it would be wiped down and only then would I be able to pick it up. So the rehearsal was very much to help with the logistics.

Tell us about the actual filming process and how it differed from normal?
We didn’t actually film on our set as it’s so small so we are at Laurel’s house. The idea being Rodney is shielding at our house so we’ve moved out and Laurel and the kids are with Jai. That was unusual, treating someone else’s set like it was your own. Plus, as we’re having to have the minimum number of people on set to ensure we keep at a safe distance, we are doing our own make-up etc.

As it’s lockdown, I went with the theory that Nicola would be wearing virtually no make-up. Dealing with three kids and Jimmy would be enough to drive anyone crazy, so she wouldn’t be thinking about putting her make-up on. As we’re filming everything in a day it’s about keeping it simple with no massive hair changes etc and it’s the same with costume. They’re picked out the day before and you take it into a wiped down dressing room. It’s a strange phenomenon as it’s like going back to work, but not how we knew it. All departments have been very supportive though and we talked beforehand to make sure everything was ready and we had what we needed.

Did you miss anything from your normal filming day?
I did miss the banter. The chats in the make-up room in the morning and the banter on set. Emmerdale has a really good cast/crew relationship and when it’s down to the bare minimum you realise just how much everyone does.

Are you interested in how this episode is received?
We’ve done two-handers before, but what’s different about these is they are really stripped back. I can’t speak for anyone else but what I liked about our episode was the comedy. There are emotional scenes also but because we can’t touch each other it’s difficult to portray that emotion. You have to do it with words as you can’t physically comfort each other. We’ve been lucky as it’s typical Nicola and Jimmy and there’s a lot of banter in there.

Did it feel more exposed/intense than a normal episode?
What’s unusual about this is you’re seeing a story all the way through. There’s nothing breaking it up. We have a beginning, a middle and an end to this story. That’s nice and different.

How have you been spending lockdown?
I have been homeschooling and I’ve learnt that I’m a terrible teacher. I really felt the pressure as if it was my homework that we were doing. We’re also very lucky as we do have a big garden and our neighbours have a huge amount of land that we’re able to walk around. We’ve enjoyed looking at nature and we’ve got hedgehogs now and we’ve had time to nurture things and get things in and ready. The garden is looking great but the house is not so much! We’ve not been very good at tidying the house as the weather has been so good. I can appreciate the people who don’t have the outside space have probably had a totally different lockdown experience.

Have you learnt a new hobby or skill?
I wish I could say I have. Me and my friends have been doing what we call ‘dress up Friday’. I always do very silly videos which are good fun. Getting in touch with old drama school friends has been lovely. I can also make bunting and I’ve been doing a lot of craft work. Also, I didn’t wash my hair for seven weeks during lockdown. I thought I’d try it and see if it would self clean, but one thing I’ve learnt is it will never do that. It looked greasy, then it looked healthy for one day and then it went back to greasy and I kept thinking I was going to break the barrier where it would start looking nice, but it never happened.

If we were back in the caveman times I would be that smelly person who’d be kicked out of the cave because my hair wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do. My husband said I looked like a wildling from Game of Thrones. It never self-cleaned itself so I had to give in and wash it. It’s now clean for Emmerdale filming.

There’s sadness in Nicola. What’s going on?
I think Nicola is doing a little bit of life assessment. When every day is the same you start looking at your life and there’s a scene in the episode where she says “when lookdown ends and everything goes back to normal, I’m going to be still doing the same thing”. I think what’s become apparent for her is that nothing’s changed much apart from not being able to go out. She’s reevaluating her life and what she’s doing. She starts to get a bit sad as she realises she has nothing much to look forward to once lockdown ends.

Jimmy believes she’s unhappy because of him. Could their relationship be in trouble?
It could be. It seems like she’s bored with their relationship but there could be a lot more to it than that.

Can you imagine being on lockdown with Nicola?
Goodness no! Or Jimmy! I think with the unlimited exercise we’re now allowed to do, I’d be trying to get out of the house!

She sets up a group chat with other villagers. Why is this important to her?
It’s a glimpse of normality. When the only people you’ve got 24/7 are your kids and husband to speak to, the one thing that has kept everyone going has been chatting to everybody. Sometimes you need your friends to talk to. You can understand why she might want to talk to others and see if they’re feeling the same. Knowing that everybody’s in the same boat and knowing that it’s okay not to be okay. Knowing that there’s still life going on and it’s not just your little bubble.

See Nicola King and husband Jimmy in lockdown on Wednesday 17 June*

*subject to change