Emmerdale spoilers follow.
Emmerdale star Michelle Hardwick reprised her role as Vanessa Woodfield in Friday's episode (February 9).
A surprise cliffhanger saw Vanessa turn up at a remote cottage to visit her best friend Rhona Goskirk, who has fled from the village with baby Ivy.
Vanessa left the village for a new job in Canada in November 2022, with the temporary exit storyline written in to explain Michelle's real-life maternity leave. Michelle is now back filming as a show regular.
Here, Michelle chats about Vanessa's reappearance and the big drama to come involving Rhona.
How does it feel to be filming Emmerdale again?
"It is absolutely fabulous. I suppose I'm just going into work for a bit of a rest now! (Laughs.) I can maybe finish a cup of tea or nip to the toilet on my own without hearing: 'Mummy, mummy!'
"I'm loving it – I actually feel like I've never been away, even though it's been 14 months. I was worried about not being able to learn lines, but they have gone back in, thank goodness."
Can you remind us where Vanessa has been?
"Vanessa has been to Canada and she took her son Johnny with her. She was looking after all of these different animals and it was a sabbatical for just over a year. She was away in Canada having an absolute ball and now she's back."
What brought Vanessa back?
"Out of the blue, Vanessa received a phone call from Rhona, who said that she needed help and really needed her. Vanessa didn't ask any questions because she felt that there wasn't any time. She packed a quick bag for her, a quick bag for Johnny, jumped on a flight and came to see Rhona."
What does Vanessa think about Rhona running off with Ivy?
"Vanessa turned up at the cottage where Rhona is staying and saw Ivy there. Vanessa already knew about Ivy because obviously she's spoken to Rhona while she's been away, but she had no idea that Rhona had actually run off with the baby and essentially kidnapped the child.
"It's a massive shock to Vanessa. First of all, she's thinking: 'What the heck are you doing?' There's blind panic running through her. She's also thinking: 'I'm here now, I'm an accomplice to this! Am I going to get done as well? What's going to happen to Johnny?'
"There's all of that racing through Vanessa's head, but she also wants to help her friend. She tries to reason with Rhona and says that they have to go back. She says that Rhona won't be in any trouble, but Rhona doesn't want to hear any of that. Vanessa is desperately trying to do the right thing."
Does part of Vanessa understand where Rhona is coming from?
"Absolutely – without a shadow of a doubt and it breaks Vanessa's heart as well. Vanessa is a mother and she can totally understand it, but she's also saying, 'You've got April at home, you've got Leo, they need you as much as Ivy does. So you've got to think of the bigger picture'.
"But Vanessa absolutely understands that this would just be tearing Rhona apart and the fear of losing this little baby is tenfold."
The situation escalates next week. Will Rhona blame Vanessa when the police turn up?
"Yes, she absolutely will. Vanessa does choose to tell people where Rhona is and it's an awful, heartbreaking decision.
"There's barely any signal in this very remote cottage that Rhona has found, but Vanessa finally manages to get in touch with the village. It's Mary that she manages to get in touch with. Mary then tells Marlon, and Marlon turns up at the cottage.
"Marlon also tells Gus, but he doesn't realise that Gus has told the police. They all turn up en masse and it's awful because Vanessa knows she's betrayed her friend, but deep down she knows she's done the right thing.
"Rhona can't go on the run with this baby for the rest of her life, because that's no life for her or that child. The longer it would have gone on, the worse it would have been. But ultimately Rhona will blame all of this on Vanessa – as always!"
Will this incident cause Vanessa to come back into the village properly?
"Yes, Vanessa is going to go back into the village with Johnny. Then she's got all the trouble with Tracy to deal with, because Tracy and Nate are having really bad relationship issues.
"Vanessa thinks, 'I've been away now for over a year, I am coming home soon anyway'. I think she just cuts it shorter than she would have done as she thinks Rhona needs her, Tracy needs her, so that's where she now needs to be.
"Vanessa goes back to Canada to tie up everything there, gets all of her stuff and they come back for good."
What does Vanessa make of Tracy's marriage breakdown?
"Vanessa doesn't know about Tracy's fling with Caleb first of all – she's just aware that Tracy and Nate have split up. Tracy is saying that she doesn't love Nate anymore and the marriage just wasn't right. Vanessa is like, 'It's only been seven months!'
"Vanessa tells Tracy that she'll stand by her and they'll get through it. She suggests that, if Tracy and Nate stay friends, maybe they'll get the spark back.
"Deep down, Vanessa thinks they'll get back on track, until it all comes out about the affair. Vanessa is so against affairs after what's happened to her in the past, but ultimately this is her sister. She does stick by her sister – of course she does, because she loves the bones of her."
What else is in store for Vanessa?
"When Vanessa left, we left it on a very positive note between her and Suzy. Even though they weren't together, they had a little kiss and it was all very lovely.
"But Vanessa is completely unaware of a potential relationship between Mary and Suzy. Mary, who Vanessa sees as a mother figure! But Vanessa is totally oblivious to this. She's going to maybe try and get her relationship back on track with Suzy, but whether Suzy wants to or not, we'll have to wait and see."
Did you keep up with the show while you were away?
"I managed to dip in and out. Obviously, it's 'bath and bed time' for the kids when the show is on, but I have.
"I cried my eyes out at Tony Audenshaw's performance as Bob after Heath died. I just thought Tony, Susan Cookson (Wendy), Lesley Dunlop (Brenda), Gabrielle Dowling (Cathy) and all the other kids played a blinder. It was absolutely wonderful.
"I really enjoyed it – I know it sounds weird to say 'enjoyed', but they were really powerful episodes that really pulled at your heartstrings. I saw Tony the other day and told him that he'd had me crying my eyes out!"
What was it like being reunited with your co-stars?
"Oh, lovely! Don't get me wrong, I've seen all of my close friends – they've come to visit and have seen the kids. I've kept in touch with a few of them. But just seeing people out and about, and in the corridor and green room, it was so lovely. It was the crew as well and the make-up room – it was such a nice welcome back.
"People said 'You've been so missed' and that's really nice. I felt very welcomed and I'm really enjoying being back, juggling motherhood with work like loads of people do. I'm loving it and really pleased to be back."
Emmerdale airs on weeknights at 7.30pm on ITV1, and streams on ITVX.
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