Jake Wood turns attention to charity
When you watch the cheating Max Branning sucking manfully on a cigarette while bemoaning his fate in EastEnders, don't be fooled.
The cigarette is of the herbal variety and only a prop because Jake Wood, the actor who plays the star of the soap's most gripping storyline, gave up the dreaded weed more than 10 years ago.
A glimpse of Wood's torso in one of last week's shows revealed that this is an actor who clearly works out and it should come as no surprise that running is a key factor in his fitness regime.
Wood, 35, will be one of a host of celebrities who will line up on Oct 5 for the 28th BUPA Great North Run, which is the world's biggest half-marathon.
It will be his third run on the 13.1-mile course from Newcastle to South Shields and he will be helping to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, the charity that provides specialist support for people with terminal illnesses.
His record in the race is good and last year he crossed the line in a minute under two hours.
Speaking at the end of his two-week Christmas break in filming, Wood said: "The atmosphere generated during the race is amazing and it's a very well organised event.
"I wanted to take part in the race and when Marie Curie approached EastEnders, I was happy to support the charity and learn more about what it does.
"I love meeting all the people along the course and everyone seems very pleased to see me."
That may come as something of a surprise for regular viewers of EastEnders, the BBC soap set in Walford, where Max Branning has been a modern day Dirty Den.
The man is a scoundrel of the highest order, having slept with his teenage future daughter-in-law, Stacey, and betrayed his son, Bradley, not to mention his lovely wife, Tanya.
Branning is the sort of baddie that makes soap opera thrive and yet Wood does not see his character quite that way.
"I try to make each scene realistic in terms of Max's motives and needs," said Wood.
"I would call him a flawed character rather than bad. I hope to show Max as fully rounded and leave it up to the audience to judge him.
"It has been a fantastic storyline. I joined the cast in 2006 and I wanted to be busy. It's been wonderful to work with such a strong group of actors and characters.
"People seem to be hooked and there was a real buzz about the Christmas episodes. I always get a good reaction from people when I'm out and about."
Away from Albert Square, Wood is also known as the voice of the gecko, the tiny creature that has become something of an advertising icon in television commercials for Geico, the third biggest car insurance company in the United States. It is further proof, if any were needed, that Wood is nothing like Max.
"Apart from the red hair and the fact that we sound the same, I hope there's not a lot that's similar," he added.
Certainly, there is nothing about Max that suggests that he could endure the sort of schedule that Wood maintains.
Despite a filming schedule that can take him away from home for 14 hours a day, sometimes for six days a week, Wood's fitness regime includes running, weight-training and boxing.
He said: "I took up running when I gave up smoking, 10 years ago. I probably run three or four times a week and when I'm preparing for a half-marathon, I would do more running and cut down on the weights.
"My longest training run would be around 10 miles. I don't drink or smoke and I'd like to think I have a good general level of fitness."
He tried the marathon, once, in 1998. Wood said: "I ran the London Marathon with my wife and we were on course for a time of four hours. Then I had to help her and we ended up doing about six hours.
"I remember the marathon only too well. You have to train for six days a week. I prefer the half-marathon. It's more manageable."
So what of Max? Is there any hope for the home-wrecker?
Wood, who has already recorded the episodes that we will see throughout this month and next, said: "Max loves his kids, despite his flaws and he will fight tooth and nail to see them."
Max, the bounder, is unlikely to do a runner because he is contracted to the show for another 18 months.
For Wood, the actor, the running goes on.