Michelle Ryan as Zoe Slater (2005)
|Portrayed by||Michelle Ryan|
|First appearance||18 September 2000|
|Last appearance||24 June 2005|
|Created by||Tony Jordan|
|Introduced by||John Yorke|
|EastEnders: Slaters In Detention (2003)|
|Occupation||Market trader (clothing)
Zoe Slater is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Michelle Ryan. She made her first appearance on 18 September 2000. After much speculation, Ryan decided to leave the role of Zoe, and departed on 24 June 2005.
Zoe arrives in Walford along with her family, presumed father Charlie (Derek Martin), sisters Kat (Jessie Wallace), Lynne (Elaine Lordan) and Little Mo (Kacey Ainsworth), and grandmother Mo (Laila Morse). Although it is presumed that Charlie is Zoe's father, it is later found out that Kat was raped by her uncle Harry Slater (Michael Elphick), making Kat her mother, and Charlie her uncle and grandfather. The revelation was nominated for 'Best Storyline' at the British Soap Awards as well as winning 'Best Single Episode' in 2002.
Another highly proclaimed storyline was Zoe's friendship with Kelly Taylor (Brooke Kinsella). The two were compared to two former popular characters, who also shared a close screen friendship, Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer) and Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon). In 2003, Zoe and Kelly made headlines in the UK, in a New Year's Eve episode that was filmed on-location in Scotland. In the storyline, Zoe, Kelly and others, travel from London to Scotland, but their minibus crashes, leaving them stranded and injured on the freezing cold Scottish moors. While stranded, Kelly cares for an injured Zoe, they become over-emotional, and kiss. The episode featuring their kiss attracted 9.5 million viewers, and the precise moment that they kissed was watched by 44% of the available viewing audience.
One of Zoe's last major storylines was when she became romantically involved with Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman). Zoe claims she is pregnant, as she fears she is losing Dennis, but when Zoe starts worrying that Dennis will find out she is lying, Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) sleeps with Zoe, to get her pregnant, though Dennis sees them in bed together. Her final storyline was with Chrissie Watts (Tracy-Ann Oberman) and Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf) who plot to kill Den after hurting all three of them, in different ways. Zoe is thought to have killed Den, after the three confront him in the Queen Vic, but it is later found it that Chrissie killed him. Zoe leaves Walford for Ibiza after making amends with Kat.
Zoe arrives in Walford with her family, presumed father Charlie (Derek Martin), sisters Kat (Jessie Wallace), Lynne (Elaine Lordan) and Little Mo (Kacey Ainsworth), and grandmother Mo (Laila Morse), in September 2000. Over a year later, Zoe and Kat argue about Zoe's decision to move away from Walford to live with her uncle Harry Slater (Michael Elphick). Kat tells Zoe she cannot go but Zoe walks out. Kat follows and blurts out that she is Zoe's real mother. She then explains that she fell pregnant at 13 after Harry raped her. Zoe is shell-shocked, and Kat slashes her wrists in despair. Zoe runs away, unable to take in all the recent revelations.
While away, Zoe contacts Little Mo, the only other member of the family who did not know about Zoe's parentage, who persuades Zoe to come home, but after another argument with Kat, Zoe leaves again. She ends up living on the streets where she is discovered sick and penniless by Roxy Drake (Tracy Brabin), a pimp determined to recruit Zoe. Roxy provides Zoe with meals and cigarettes, finds her a flat and forces her to prostitute herself. Roxy and fellow prostitute Kelly Taylor (Brooke Kinsella) dress and make-up Zoe, but she gets drunk and vomits on her client. Kat arrives the next day to take Zoe home, but Roxy tries to prevent her taking Zoe, so Kat headbutts her.
Zoe gets engaged to Anthony Trueman (Nicholas Bailey), but leaves yet again, returning several months later, this time with Kelly in tow, and her engagement to Anthony is broken off. She briefly dates Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman), but he is secretly in love with his adopted sister Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), and they eventually reveal their relationship. Sharon and Dennis's father Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) suggests that to keep Dennis, Zoe should claim she is pregnant, since Sharon is infertile. The plan works but Zoe worries Dennis will realise she is not pregnant, and he refuses to sleep with her. Den offers to sleep with her so she can get pregnant and pretend the baby is Dennis's. Dennis catches them in bed together and leaves, but not before telling Den's wife Chrissie Watts (Tracy-Ann Oberman).
Chrissie persuades Zoe to abort the baby and tells her they should team up for revenge on Den. They get together with Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf) to do this, meeting up in The Queen Victoria. Chrissie sends for Sharon claiming Den is on his deathbed. She finds out that it isn't true and leaves again. Chrissie planned this to get rid of Sharon so Den would pay attention to her and love her instead. Right after Sharon leaves, Den realizes Chrissie did this and attacks her smashing her head against the jukebox. Zoe stops him by attacking him with a metal doorstop, supposedly killing him. She runs off and Sam goes after her to calm her down. However, he is not dead, and he grabs Chrissie. She hits him again with the doorstop, killing him. Zoe is led to believe that she killed Den, though Sam sees Chrissie kill Den and eventually tells Zoe, who punches Chrissie. Zoe leaves for Ibiza after having an emotional goodbye from Kat while Chrissie is charged with Den's murder, and Sam goes on the run after.
Creation and characterisation
The character of Zoe and the rest of the Slater family were created during workshops with Tony Jordan and John Yorke. London actors were invited to improvise in groups, and the characters were created during these improvistations. Michelle Ryan was cast as Zoe, and made her first on-screen appearance on 18 September 2000. The family consisted of, grandmother Mo Harris (Laila Morse), father Charlie (Derek Martin), his five children, Lynne (Elaine Lordan), Kat (Jessie Wallace), Little Mo (Kacey Ainsworth), Zoe (Ryan), Belinda (Leanne Lakey), who was to be introduced to EastEnders at a later date, as well as Lynne's boyfriend Garry Hobbs (Ricky Groves). It later transpired that Kat was the mother of Zoe, after being raped by her uncle Harry Slater (Michael Elphick).
According to the BBC's head of drama series, Mal Young, the family was brought in as the serial did not "have enough solid families in the soap, there were a lot of fractured families and people who were alone." Ryan was cast in the role of Zoe after the character was developed at an improvisation session for thirty actors and actresses earlier in the year. He choose Lordan, Wallace, Ainsworth, Ryan and Lakey as the five sisters as they got on so well at the sessions. The actors performed a Nolan Sister's routine at the session, which was "later included on EastEnders as part of one of the Queen Vic's karaoke nights". The character is described as bolshy, defiant and a vivacious teenager who makes an impression on the men of Walford.
In 2001, an upcoming storyline, involving Zoe and Kat, when Zoe asks if she can live with Harry. The News of the World reported that Kat would tell Zoe that she was actually her mother and that Harry had raped her when she was 13. An EastEnders source said, "Zoe thinks her mother is dead—but the truth is very different." In 2002, a story where Zoe runs away with Anthony to get married in secret was announced. That year, Ryan was rested from the soap on doctor's orders, by agreement from Louise Berridge, the executive producer, Ryan and her parents. Plans for character developments between Zoe and Anthony were delayed and plans for their on-screen marriage were pushed back, with the wedding storyline being re-written. In September that year, Ryan said she would return and was looking forward to it, and Berridge said she was "delighted" and hoped viewers would look forward to Zoe being reunited with the rest of her family.
The friendship between Zoe and Kelly Taylor (Brooke Kinsella) was a recurring storyline for both characters. In the British press, Kelly and Zoe were compared to two former popular characters, who also shared a close screen friendship, Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer) and Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon). Kinsella has commented, "It is nice to be compared because they were great [characters] but, hopefully, [Michelle Ryan] and I will bring our own characters to light and show what we can do. We have so much in common and we balance each other out – when she's crazy I'll calm her down and vice-versa. It's worked well, which is why Kelly has been kept on, which is great for me but also for Michelle because she's got somebody to have fun with. Kelly's been one of the slowest developing characters and that's been good for me. I wasn't thrown into it and having Michelle has been great for me."
In December 2003, EastEnders made headlines in the UK press after they screened a kiss between Kelly and Zoe. The storyline was featured in a New Year's Eve episode that was filmed on-location in Scotland. In the storyline, a group of teenagers travel from London to Scotland for New Year's Eve, but their minibus crashes, leaving them stranded and injured on the freezing cold Scottish moors. While stranded, Kelly cares for an injured Zoe, they become over-emotional, and kiss. Kinsella explained the reasons behind the kiss: "They're stuck in the hills, thinking they're going to die—it's a way of saying goodbye and also of showing how much they love each other as friends. Which is quite sweet really." She claimed that the kiss was made easier due to the fact that she was kissing her off-screen best friend: "That made it so much easier. We thought we were just going to be laughing and giggling the whole way through, but we were very professional. It was so cold that we just wanted to get it over with. We were shaking from cold—not from nerves—and it was raining, so we just thought, 'Let's do it and get it done with'. [...] We laugh about it now. When it came down to it, the truth was that it was just like any other screen kiss. The episode featuring their kiss attracted 9.5 million viewers, and the precise moment that they kissed was watched by 44% of the available viewing audience.
Dennis Rickman and Den Watts
In September 2004, a Christmas storyline created by Berridge that was to show Zoe fall pregnant with Dennis Rickman's (Nigel Harman) baby was axed by Berridge's successor, Kathleen Hutchison. Instead, Zoe was to be seduced by Dennis's father, Den (Leslie Grantham). An EastEnders insider revealed: "Dirty Den lives up to his name by seducing Zoe. He makes his move when she comments how handsome he looks for his age. But they are caught in the act by Dennis who is shocked and disgusted to see his dad snogging his girlfriend." Hutchison decided that Den would be killed off in a storyline involving three people plotting to kill him. The storyline saw Zoe, Chrissie and Sam plot his death, and a source said, "The three girls team up after deciding they have to get rid of Den but viewers will be left wondering who the actual killer is. They plot and scheme to give themselves alibis and exact their revenge for what Den has done to them."
It was thought that Ryan was going to quit the soap after several reports of her leaving EastEnders. One of her friends who spoke in September 2004 revealed,"Without sounding arrogant, Michelle believes she has the looks and talent to succeed at the highest level. She has been in EastEnders for four years but sees her future very much in films and modelling. She realises the show has put her on the map but doesn't want to be typecast."Because of her soap commitments she's had to turn down dozens of great modelling offers and feels her soap role is now holding her back. Michelle's happy to honour her contract but then will make the jump."
On 29 January 2005 it was announced after a lot of speculation that Ryan, along with Kim Medcalf (Sam), would be leaving. A source for the show said, "Michelle [Ryan] has made no secret of her plans to leave the soap in recent months. Despite her character being at the centre of some of the show's biggest storylines, the actress is now considering a modelling career." The source added, "Michelle is hot property and has been inundated with offers of other acting work. She's also had several offers of lucrative modelling projects." Speaking about her decision to quit she told The Sun,Everyone knew it was time for me to go and I knew it was time for me to move on."Then Jessie [Wallace], who plays my screen mum Kat, said, 'You're young, so get out there. Now's the time to go for it. You're only young once and you can't stay here forever.' "I've grown up in EastEnders. I've been here for five years, so I will miss everybody. But you get that feeling and when you know it's time to spread your wings and fly, you need to do that. Everyone says I'm doing the right thing." Her exit storyline was revealed saying,"She leaves because she can't stand everyone knowing what she did in order to persuade Dennis not to leave her," an insider told the newspaper. "It is truly gripping stuff and there won't be a dry eye in the house on the night."
Since her departure she told the Bristol Evening Post that she has no plans to return saying,"I just got quite bored in the end, to be honest. Doing the same thing day in, day out. It's just so boring. I like to jump from different things." "I always saw EastEnders as an apprenticeship," she told the Daily Record. "I always wanted to go on and do different things. I have some really good friends from that show but the door is closed." She said: "I've always taken chances. I think that's how you progress – by stepping out and doing different things. I really do like my freedom and jumping from job to job. I just want to work with people I admire and respect, wherever that be – big budget, low budget, leading role, supporting role."
The press reported on 18 April 2010 that Ryan was approached by the producers of "EastEnders" to return for a month around the Christmas period that year, coinciding with the return of Zoe's on-screen mother Kat Slater and her husband Alfie Moon. A BBC spokeswoman denied this, saying, "Speculation is rife about returning characters but this is not true. However, as with all characters, we would never say never." Talking about these rumours she replied,"No, [it's] not for me." It was again reported in August 2011, that Ryan was returning, for a Christmas special. They reported that she was "excited" over possible storylines with Wallace and Richie. A BBC spokesperson dismissed the rumours, telling Digital Spy that there are no plans for Zoe to return.
In popular culture
In 2002, Zoe and Kat's storyline was nominated for 'Best Storyline' at the British Soap Awards, but lost out to the bullying plot in Brookside. The episode where the truth about Kat being Zoe's mother won 'Best Single Episode'. For her portrayal of Zoe, Ryan was nominated in the category of "Best Actress" at the 2005 British Soap Awards. For EastEnders' 25th anniversary in 2010, Zoe finding out about her mother was voted the greatest EastEnders moment by What's on TV. Also the EastEnders website named the moment where Kat told Zoe that she was her mother one of the most 'dramatic endings'.
The kiss between Zoe and Kelly received criticism. Lesbian news site AfterEllen.com branded it a "gratuitous ratings-stunt" and said "The writers bottled out and the two young women dismissed it as a one-off, assuring each other that neither of them was 'like that,' leaving lesbian and bisexual viewers feeling cheated. This was a wasted opportunity, a chance to explore an emotionally complex situation between best friends that became just another exploitive TV moment instead." In an interview about homosexual television characters in The Guardian, scriptwriter Daran Little criticised lesbians in British soaps: "Most lesbian characters are so lipstick. They start off straight and, lo and behold, they just can't resist it. You can see the straight fantasy at work behind the character". Journalist Paul Flynn stated that Zoe was an example of this, describing her as a "tabloid-friendly 18-year-old—who [...] brushed with lesbianism for all of five minutes." Kinsella defended the kiss in an interview, commenting, "It's not a gratuitous ratings getting move, it's not some kind of big lesbian kiss. It's the way two best friends who have a lot of love for each other show their emotions."
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