Jake is surprised by his new-found sex symbol status
Each series of Strictly serves up a predictable motley crew.
There’ll be a sporty one, a funny one and a chef-fy one. A one for the kids, a hospital drama one and a stage-schooled glamour puss who categorically doesn’t have an unfair advantage one. There’ll be a pension-drawing one, a mumsy one and a hot to (fox)trot gym bunny one – oh, and the EastEnders one.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the hot slot was all sewn up by Simon Webbe and Mark Wright. But it turns out Albert Square’s hard-drinking, potentially murderous wheeler dealer is in the running too. So what is it about a bald, ginger, 42-year-old father-of-two that makes us go all peculiar?
Whether it was his saucy salsa in week two, or you’ve been hooked since Max Branning smouldered into the eyes of half of Walford’s female population, Jake Wood’s become an unlikely pin-up.
Keen to discover if whatever he’s got is even more potent in person we headed for the Strictly studios on show day’s eve and met in Craig Revel Horwood’s dressing room (big, white walls, grey carpet, plasma TV, tidy but for an empty champagne glass).
Jake and his snake-hips on Strictly
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. One minute you’re doing the school run, the next you’re being asked what your wife thinks about the ladies you’re getting intimate with to earn a living.
If the look (jeans, leather jacket, trainers) says laid-back and off-duty, the demeanour says not so much. In terms of that je ne sais quoi we spoke of, we’re pretty sure it’s there, but what ‘It’ is and how to coax it out of him, we’re still trying to figure out…
You must have noticed people are calling you the hot one of the series. How does that feel?
I couldn’t possibly comment. That’s very kind of you to say. People are drawn to the character of Max, they wouldn’t necessarily think it was me, but I do move my hips around a lot. That might have something to do with it.
Are you getting marriage proposals from fans?
No more than usual! No, people are really supportive and enjoying seeing another side of me on the show. The feedback on Twitter is positive.
What was the public perception of you before Strictly?
Probably just as Max Branning, I haven’t done much before in terms of publicity. I’m careful what I do.
Do you ever get the scripts and think, ‘Oh no, not another lover’?
Max is a great character, it’s great fun playing him because you never know what he’ll get up to next. There is still mileage in the character. If I felt like that, it would be time to walk away.
Will Max be revealed as Lucy Beale’s killer?
When you’re dancing, are the steamier performances harder to do as yourself, or do you become a character?
That’s the brilliant thing about the show, people can see I am Jake, but for that minute and a half you are doing a performance. Whenever I’ve seen performances I like they always tell a story. As I’m an actor, I said to Janette [his dance partner] early on we should play to those strengths and hopefully tell a story.
Does your wife Alison mind watching you getting up close with other women?
You’d have to speak to her.
Max has become an iconic character, there are tons of Tumblrs and web pages dedicated to him, have you seen the Max Branning bean picture?
I get that Tweeted to me at least once a day.
What do you get asked about more, the bean picture or if you killed Lucy Beale?
It’s probably 50/50.
Max Branning the bean has his own following
Did Scott Maslen (who played Jack Branning) give you any advice on Strictly?
Yeah, he said, ‘If you do this, don’t do any other exercise.’ I’ve stuck to that, as I’m dancing every day. If I wasn’t here, I’d be running and gyming, a bit of boxing and whatever else.
Is there anything you said you wouldn’t wear on Strictly?
No, if you join up to Strictly, you have to embrace the sequins and spray tans.
We’re used to seeing you with your top off in EastEnders, would you ever do a David Gandy-style advertising campaign?
Yeah, I’m open to offers. Call my agent [smiles].
You’re spreading yourself thinly at the moment. How are you finding it?
It’s tough. I’m not seeing as much of the kids as I’d like, normally I’d do the school run a few times a week. It’s fine as there’s a cut-off – we’re focused on having a lovely family Christmas and shutting the door. I have a two-week break from EastEnders too. But at the same time they want me to do well in the show, so it’s all good. My children were really into the last series and looked out for the Mark Benton dances.
Did you sign up because of their enthusiasm?
In some ways, yes. My EastEnders storylines are hard-hitting – Amber is nine, Buster is six and it wouldn’t be responsible to let them watch. They have a basic idea of what Daddy does as an actor, but this is something they could watch.
Jake is very much a family-man
Do they have any Saturday night rituals?
They’ve done a score board for me at home on the wall and have little tea parties when the show is on. It’s just a real family experience, they are really proud of me.
What kind of dad would your kids say you are?
I’m very committed, hands on.
What do you enjoy doing as a family?
Horse riding, football, we’re an active, busy family. We have a chicken, cats, dogs, stick insects, fish… It’s a busy household.
What would you do tomorrow if your schedule was cleared?
I’d take the kids swimming…
Strictly is on BBC1, Saturday and Sunday evenings
EastEnders is on BBC1, weekdays.