Jake Wood played two EastEnders characters – but you’ve probably forgotten the first

After 15 years of causing trouble on Albert Square, Max Branning will soon be saying goodbye to EastEnders.

Jim Branning's wayward son has featured in many of the show's biggest storylines covering everything from love triangles to murder and financial scandals.

But actor Jake Wood is set to leave the soap, with writers reportedly working on a huge story that will see him leave the show – but not written out forever.

While most fans know Jake, who also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, as Max, the actor also had another role on the series way before the Brannings's 2006 debut.

He played a completely different role on the soap when he was a teenager – but he looked very, very different.

Max has become a fan favourite over the last 15 years, despite his many, many flaws

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The young Jake made it onto EastEnders after small parts in Only Fools and Horses, The Bill and Red Dwarf.

In a very brief but vitally important role, Jake took part in EastEnders' first ever flashback episodes during a hard-hitting storyline in 1990.

Teenager Diane Butcher ran away from home on the day of her birthday after getting fed up with life.

Remember this guy?
(Image: BBC)

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Diane, played by Sophie Lawrence, was furious with how dad Frank Butcher treated her like a child so did a runner.

After many months living on the streets of London, with frantic dad Frank (Mike Reid) unaware of her whereabouts, Diane finally returned back to Albert Square.

It wasn't until two unique flashback episodes that viewers discovered exactly what happened, which is where Jake's character became involved.

He looked very, very different – but he's still got his famous red hair
(Image: Twitter)

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During the flashbacks, Diane became friends with a homeless girl called Disa (Jan Graveson), who introduced her to other kids that were living on the streets.

One of those, a young lad called Jackson, happened to be none other than Jake when he was just a teenager himself.

It would take another 16 years for the actor to return to the EastEnders set in the permanent role of Max Branning.

Jake spoke about his original role during an episode of the BBC's EastEnders: Secrets From the Square, which ran during the coronavirus pandemic.

Max and Stacey's affair is still one of his most famous storylines
(Image: BBC)

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He said: "I was a jobbing actor, I think it was when Diane Butcher ran away, she met this other girl called Disa who was living on the street.

"[My character] was Disa's boyfriend. That was 30 years ago, so I was probably 17, 18."

Having started acting at a very young age, Jake worked on many cult TV shows before reaching the heights of EastEnders.

"I started working professionally when I was about ten and I was just a jobbing actor for years and years. I'd do bits in EastEnders, The Bill, Casualty," adds Jake.

"I think I died three times on Casualty in the space of about four years."

Max faced more than his fair share of heartbreak, with two of his children dying on the show
(Image: BBC / Dan Goldsmith)

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Jake seemed proud of his past EastEnders role when a fan tweeted about it earlier this year, replying with a smiley face emoji.

While his first character Jackson didn't hang around for long, Max became a fan favourite who always brought drama to the square.

Despite his major flaws, including his inability to remain faithful, charming Max has become one of the soap's most popular characters.

Max has been part of some iconic storylines over the years, including the dramatic breakdown of his marriage to wife Tanya, being wrongly imprisoned for Lucy Beale's murder and helping villain James Willmott-Brown take down the Square.

The former car dealer has also suffered the painful loss of two children, Abi and Bradley, who both fell to their deaths off the Queen Vic roof.

He's been the cause of a lot of drama over the years
(Image: BBC/ Gary Moyes)

But Jake's most explosive storyline in the role of Max came during the Christmas of 2007 – when his affair with Stacey Slater was exposed in the worst possible way.

The illicit tryst between Max and his daughter-in-law had its dramatic crescendo when the Branning and Slater families watched them being caught on tape before her wedding to Bradley.

However, Jake has revealed that the whole affair storyline turned out very differently from what was originally planned.

"I remember that the Max/Stacey affair, originally it was only going to be shorter," he tells Stacey Dooley on Secrets From The Square.

And upset a lot of people
(Image: BBC / Kieron McCarron)

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"I think it was only going to be six months and they changed it.

"They extended it because they realised they wanted it to be the Christmas storyline."

He added: "I think it really paid off."

The affair was revealed when everyone watched Lauren Branning's home-made DVD, which included footage of Max and Stacey speaking about their romance and snogging.

Max's wife Tanya was left horrified, while distraught Bradley started smashing up the living room.

The iconic episode is set to air next week as EastEnders shows its classic episodes in lieu of new ones due to the lockdown.

Away from the square, actor Jake appeared on Strictly Come Dancing
(Image: PA)

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"All the family is there! Awful, isn’t it," adds Jake.

"Even now, it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable watching it.

"I remember we shot it quite a few times, and the lovely thing about that was the director just let it play out.

"He wasn’t telling anyone what shots he was getting. So, everyone was really in that moment."

While he plays a love rat on screen, Jake could not be further from his character away from Albert Square.

More recently he's impressed fans with his incredible lockdown body
(Image: Instagram)

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The popular actor, who was married to wife Alison in 2001, lives with his other half and their two children, Buster and Amber.

Jake waltzed his way far from Walford to the Strictly ballroom in 2014 and made it all the way to the semi-finals with professional dance partner Janette Manrara.

When he's not acting, Jake is getting in shape and regularly posts on Instagram flexing his impressive muscles.

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While not at work during the coronavirus lockdown, Jake admitted he was getting through isolation by exercising.

Jake captioned one post: "Happy Tuesday everyone. I think it's safe to say that exercise is getting me through this.

"Stay positive and I look forward to seeing you all on the other side."

His famous friends flooded the comments section with compliments for his muscular physique.

Jake also spends his time co-hosting boxing podcast, Pound for Pound, with former pro Spencer Oliver.

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