Lauren McQueen really stamped her authority in 2018 with British Soap Awards for Best Storyline and Best Single Episode for her work in Hollyoaks. But it was three years ago – in The Violators – that Top 10 Films first set eyes on her. And even then we knew she was going to go on to big things.
In our review of The Violators, Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens praised director Helen Walsh for casting Lauren McQueen in a demanding role that would have tested even the most experienced actors. McQueen, it must be said, had never acted in film before.
McQueen is an actress who boasts “natural skill and a seemingly effortless screen presence”, said Stephens, adding that her performance is “bold, brave…wonderfully multi-dimensional”, displaying, with natural effortless, a character whose courage is well beyond her years.
If ever a film threw a new actor in at the deep-end then The Violators was it. A visceral portrait of a post-industrial landscape corroded by urban putrescence and a complete, suffocating loss of hope, Helen Walsh’s directorial debut is unsettling staged against a backdrop of male grooming, domestic violence and rape. We experience this through the eyes of McQueen’s teenage protagonist whose “imperturbable exterior masks years of pain; a steely defence mechanism protecting a vulnerable soft centre”.
Having appeared on TV in such shows as CBBC’s 4 O’Clock Club, The Violators marked McQueen’s debut in film at the age of 19.Her raw talent helped bring out nuances in the character; you couldn’t tell this was a first-timer. McQueen is a natural. She’s also someone who can deliver that powerhouse turn without grandstanding; a subtle dynamic that’s emotionally gut-punching without overdone artificiality.
Unsurprisingly, she followed up The Violators with another striking performance in Carolyn Saunders’ The Wasting, a psychological drama that further tested McQueen’s range. While not achieving the wider success it hoped for, The Wasting was met with acclaim after debuting at the 2017 Borrego Springs Film Festival.
Fittingly, The Extra Mile, in its review, not only singled out the director’s technique for praise but McQueen specifically, noting her “stellar performance”.
But the challenges of forging a career in film can be tough. After The Violators, McQueen headed to Hollywood in 2016 for some casting calls but it would be on UK TV where her career, at least for now, would flourish.
On long-running soap opera Hollyoaks she plays the studious but feisty Lily. It’s a character that required the talents of someone able to competently display the highs and lows of everyday living with a natural energy. And when the really tough storylines appear, be able to convey some very hard-hitting themes with emotions that feel genuine and unrehearsed. For the producers of Hollyoaks, they would have known fairly quickly what a gem they had discovered in McQueen.
And she had to be at her best for one of the soap opera’s most notable stories recently. Her character Lily turns to self-harming after a car crash leaves her badly scarred. It was a storyline that drew her huge attention in 2018 as well as a number of awards and nominations.
The Channel 4 soap has a target 16 to 24-year-old audience and often seeks to tackle issues that are particularly relevant to this age group. In the past, for example, it looked at sexual assault and what “consent” means when a man raped an intoxicated girl. This year, McQueen’s character is part of a wider set of stories focused on mental health.
McQueen told The Huffington Post: “Lily has always been the strong, fearless, independent girl who’s never cared about ‘imperfection’. But after the crash the viewers will see a side to her that is vulnerable and insecure.
“Lily has also been affected by the devastation of losing her mum, and Scott trying to take his own life. She feels that self-harming will help but viewers will instantly see how much she regrets what she’s done.
“I’m so grateful to have been given such a challenging storyline and having the opportunity to work with Samaritans and Mind. I hope I can bring awareness to people like Lily and to let them know that they aren’t alone.”
McQueen developed her approach for displaying Lily during this tough period in her life after consulting those with frontline experience. Samaritans’ media advisor Lorna Fraser was one of those who worked with her, saying she “hope[s] that Lily’s story will encourage more people to reach out for help and find different coping mechanisms. Even the worst feelings will subside and learning to live without self-harming is possible.”
It was, as it turned out, a theme that touched very close to home. She revealed her own battle with anxiety in an interview with The Mirror: “Sometimes you just want to give up. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to not feel ashamed about how you feel or what you’re going through,” she said, admitting that she often felt not “good enough”.
While the award-winning actress is currently focused on Hollyoaks, we’ve seen what she can do on the big screen and hope that the next opportunity won’t be far away. She’s a hugely talented actress and we suspect big things for me.