Tina O’Brien tells Georgia Humphreys about upcoming Coronation Street storylines, the impact of coronavirus, and filming stunts.

After a few months off work thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the cast of Coronation Street have returned to the cobbles.

And star Tina O’Brien admits she was “really nervous” about filming the ITV soap with social distancing measures in the place.

The 36-year-old – who started playing fan favourite Sarah Barlow (nee Platt) in 1999 – had concerns about how difficult it would be filming certain scenes two metres apart from her co-stars. Take, for example, having to depict a charged moment between Sarah and her ex, Gary Windass, played by Mikey North.

“We are very tactile, we have to get up close to people; it’s just part of the job,” elaborates the Mancunian. “The idea of doing it from a distance was a little bit bizarre for me. But it was fine, and Mikey is so great to work with that it was just normal.

“And actually, we had a really good time, because we got to film everything in order, so it allowed us to really get into a great flow of it.”

O’Brien – who took a break from the soap between 2007 and 2015 – and Windass also recently starred in what was described as the world’s first socially distanced stunt.

The storyline, which was reworked to adhere to the new safety precautions, began with Sarah demanding answers from Gary about his involvement in the disappearance of loan shark Rick Neelan, after his engraved watch was found in the woods.

After Gary admitted the truth – that he killed Rick – Sarah was horrified and ran away to call the police, with Gary chasing after her. When he saw a car hurtling down the street, he realised Sarah was in danger and dived in front of the vehicle, while pushing his former flame to safety.

Because the actors can’t have contact, O’Brien was replaced by a mannequin – which bubbly O’Brien quips was “a lot taller and slimmer” than her – in certain shots.

But it was still a thrilling day on set for the mum-of-two.

“Our director was incredible,” continues the star. “I even ended up with a little scrape down my arm where I threw myself on to the mat. I really thought I was in some kind of action film, I got carried away!”

O’Brien has been involved in many of the most dramatic storylines in Weatherfield over the years. Back in 2000, there was Sarah’s teenage pregnancy back, then a couple of years back the soap explored the grooming of her daughter, Bethany Platt, who was played by Lucy Fallon.

And who can forget serial killer Richard Hillman (played by Brian Capron)? He was married to Sarah’s mum Gail (Helen Worth) and, in one iconic scene attempted to drive the entire Platt family into the canal.

Currently, Sarah is dealing with the fact she has uncovered Gary’s web of lies, and whether she should reveal his secrets to the world.

“She feels very confused,” notes chatty O’Brien, sitting in her garden whilst chatting over Zoom. “She was very clear on how she felt about everything; the one and only thing she said was, ‘Right, I’m going to speak to the police about this’.

“But because Gary saved her life and because of the things he said to her – about his feelings towards her – I think she’s very confused about what to do for the best.”

There’s a line in the script which sees Sarah describe Gary as under her skin.

“I think she’d be the first to say she would never go back to him; they had quite a toxic relationship towards the end,” explains O’Brien. “But I think, because of the PTSD that he had and the fact she really did truly love him, she feels like she doesn’t want to betray him.”

Meanwhile, Sarah also has her husband Adam (Sam Robertson) to deal with, and his suspicions about Gary are growing.

“She’s incredibly torn because she loves her husband and she very recently married him, but she also knows that he is gunning for Gary and he would do anything to see him go to prison. She’s in this position where she’s like, ‘I don’t know what to do’.”

We will have to wait and see if Sarah’s loyalty to her ex does end up wrecking her marriage.

O’Brien surmises that if Gary was out of the picture, Sarah and Adam would work. “But interestingly he’s a Barlow, and I don’t know if he got the Barlow genetics; would he stray?!” she follows, with a giggle.

One thing is certain – Sarah will continue to have plenty of amusing scenes with the rest of the Platts.

Being reunited with her on-screen family – including Jack P Shepherd who plays her brother David – has been the best bit since returning to work after lockdown, O’Brien gushes.

“To be able to do normal scenes when there’s a bit of banter again, it’s been comforting for us. So, I hope it will be comforting for the audience to see that dynamic again.”

Watch Coronation Street weeknights on ITV.