Ripper Street star Benjamin O’Mahony is joining Hollyoaks for the soap’s county lines drugs storyline.
The Channel 4 show is taking a year-long look at the issue and how children can be exploited by criminal gangs.
An hour-long episode will air next week, showing teenagers Juliet Nightingale (Niamh Blackshaw) and Sid Sumner (Billy Price) leaving their home town to deliver drugs, only to discover how dangerous the criminal world can be.
O’Mahony, who played DS Frank Thatcher in Ripper Street, will join Hollyoaks in the spring as county lines drug boss Victor, Jordan Price’s more powerful and manipulative boss.
Jordan, played by Connor Calland, has been in the village since December and has already groomed Juliet and Sid to work for him.
However, it will quickly become clear Victor is the real menace. O’Mahony said the character is “arguably a sociopath” who is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
He said: “I would argue that Victor sees himself as an efficient businessman working within a violent industry, but there is also another side to him that is addicted to the power and loves to see the fear in people’s eyes.”
O’Mahony admits he was not familiar with the term county lines before Hollyoaks producers got in touch with his agent, but the part “sounded too juicy to pass up”.
On the challenge of playing Victor, O’Mahony said: “Victor is a complex character with a dark past and those are the parts that are always the most satisfying to play. In my day-to-day life I’m not (luckily) like Victor so it’s about finding ways to empathise with a man who does some rather awful things to some very vulnerable people.”
County lines is the term used when drugs gangs from big cities infiltrate smaller towns, often exploiting youngsters and vulnerable people.
Hollyoaks producers worked closely with charity The Children’s Society, with producers saying they wanted to “get beyond the headlines, beyond the crime statistics and police reports, and to look at the impact on real families and real children”.
The hour-long Hollyoaks episode airs on Tuesday, April 14 on Channel 4.