It takes courage to go up against TV’s titan Downton Abbey, but Lacey Turner is up for the challenge, as Our Girl returns to screens, ready to battle it out in the Sunday evening ratings war.
Following its success as a one-off drama last year, she’s simply excited to be reprising her lead role as Molly Dawes.
“I can’t believe how successful the last one was. To go from something so small, which was really important to us, and to be given a five-part series is just amazing,” says 26-year-old Turner.
“I love Molly. She’s feisty, disobedient and passionate, which I think is what draws me to her. She wants to belong and do better and help. I think maybe, in her life, she hasn’t really been given the opportunity.”
In the first airing, Molly, born and raised in East London and facing few prospects, decided to join the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Now, the series begins with her being deployed to Afghanistan as a serving medic.
“There are moments when she’s really struggling and doesn’t know quite what to do, which I think would be the case for a real soldier, ” says Turner, known to millions as EastEnders’ Stacey Slater/Branning.
Molly’s relationship with her family remains as strained as ever. “Molly and her dad’s relationship is not the greatest, and as a family, they find it hard to communicate with one another. I think she feels a sense of achievement in breaking away from them, and doing what she wants to do.
As one of the last missions before the British Army withdraws from the country, Molly is thrilled to be joining the platoon, even if they don’t welcome her with open arms.
Turner, who briefly attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School and won her first of four British Soap Awards at the age of 17, says “The people who do this for real are so amazingly brave. I jump when a gun goes off, so you can’t even imagine what it’s like to have bullets flying past your ears” she says.
“The kit alone is so uncomfortable to move in. I felt like a tortoise or a donkey.”
It didn’t help that the series was shot in South Africa, where temperatures often hit 40 degrees. “It was tough, because it was hot, and you’ve got your boots, trousers, jacket, vest and helmet on. I think it’s fair to say I’d rather work in the cold and rain.”
She admits she found the three-month shoot physically and mentally exhausting. On the odd occasion, she’d join the male-dominated cast (“it was like having ten brothers”) for dinner. “But I’m like a granny and go to bed early,” she adds.
Our Girl begins on BBC One on Sunday, September 21.