Blackpool-born actor Erin Shanagher is currently filming season five of ITV crime drama The Bay, in a role that has grown with each new season. She tells Darren Gorman how landing a big starring role is the exception to the rule for working actors, and about her fierce pride in her hometown.

“To be a successful actor, you essentially have to keep winning the lottery,” says Erin Shanagher. “People think you get one job and that’ll be it. You’ll then go on and get more and more and more. To be a working successful actor is about continuing to get work, to get the jobs that enable you to survive throughout the dry spells. It’s a real marathon.”

From an extensive list of guest roles to becoming a series regular on ITV’s crime drama The Bay, Shanagher is a true Blackpool success story. She made appearances on the county’s favourite soaps – walking Wakefield’s cobbled streets and visiting Home Farm – and had an affecting guest spot on Peaky Blinders among others before finding a settled home. Taking on the role of Detective Sergeant Karen Hobson has seen her grace our living rooms on a more frequent basis. And with each of the four series’ so far, her role just keeps growing.

“You don’t know when that big role is coming and what kept me motivated for it is that I’m very stubborn,” says the Blackpool-born actor during her lunch break on set. The Bay is set in Morecambe and, while the location scenes are shot there, the police station scenes are shot in Manchester.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were so many times where I thought I just can’t do it anymore. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just the opportunities aren’t presenting themselves. That’s where the frustration comes from.”

She explains how her role on The Bay began as a smaller role, a desk sergeant, but when she returned for season two both she and her character had received a promotion.

“When I came back for season two I already knew who this person was, who the character was, and I got to build on her. Then in season three my character got even bigger.”

Season four of The Bay premiered in March. Shanagher (left) with cast mates in Morecambe. Photo: ITV

That season saw her as the professional partner of DS Jenn Townsend – the series lead played by Marsha Thomason – and her character became more rounded. The pair play family liaison officers and Shanagher was required to learn British Sign Language to communicate with a deaf character, played by Nadeem Islam. It’s a skill that she says she’s incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to learn.

“I really wanted Nadeem to feel included and like he could have a laugh,” she says, adding that she has kept up with her newfound ability. “He taught me all the swear words, all the important stuff.”

I feel very protective of the north, very protective of Blackpool, very protective of where I came from.

At a young age Shanagher trained in taekwondo, gaining a black belt, another skill she says would be a dream to incorporate into a role.

“I would absolutely love that, it would be glorious, joyous. A little bit of action.”

Despite now living in Manchester, Shanagher is deeply connected to the town still and remains fiercely proud of her roots.

“I feel very protective of the north, very protective of Blackpool, very protective of where I came from,” she says. Although she’s tight lipped about the specifics of the plot of season five of The Bay, she does tell us it addresses violence against women, when a 23-year-old university student is found dead. Reclaim Blackpool, the movement for women’s safety in the town, is one she says she fully supports, having plotted her own stories on the map and proudly wearing her Reclaim Blackpool t-shirt often. She was also supportive of the anti fracking protests, with her parents living near the now dormancy Cuadrilla site on Preston New Road.

Shanagher is also patron of Blackpool School of Arts, where her acting journey began aged 16. As part of the governments Levelling Up agenda, the school is set to be incorporated into the new ‘multiversity’ earmarked for the town centre, and the future of the Park Road campus unknown. Having taught acting at Salford University before her role in The Bay allowed her to act full time, says she hopes the multiversity is as conducive to creativity as the current arts building.

“I know what it is to go from a very creative building, which I did at university, and then be taught in a new, quite sterile building and I didn’t like it. It felt quite clinical. It didn’t feel like a creative space.”

Shanagher is hopeful that The Bay will be commissioned for a sixth season as her character’s storyline ends on a cliffhanger – indicating even more for DS Karen Hobbs in the future. While the powers that be decide, and with the filming for series five soon wrapping, however, she is frank about the fact she currently has no more roles lined up.

Shanagher in Peaky Blinders as Mrs Ross. Photo: BBC

“No jobs. Nothing in the pipeline. Back into the void,” she says. “That’s the truth of it. It’s like, okay, let’s see if some auditions come in. Let’s see if I get more work. It’s back to the grind.”

But she will take some downtime and put another hat on over the festive period. In Christmas 2020 she and her friend began making and distributing Secret Santa Hampers for vulnerable children and it’s now a firmly held tradition in its own right.

“It’s run by me and my good friend with volunteers, so I’ve got this to do and I’m quite happy to have the rest of the year off doing hampers. Then in January, hopefully something will come in. Don’t get me wrong if the phone rings and it’s something wonderful the I’ll do it.”

Season five of The Bay returns to ITV in early 2024. Seasons one to four can be streamed on ITVX. If you want to be someone’s Secret Santa, you can find out more at secretsantahamper.co.uk.

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