Brian Conley has said he cried the first time he walked onto Albert Square because he “appreciated how many other people would die to be here”.
The actor and West End star, 59, has joined the cast of EastEnders.
He will play Terry Cant, the father of Sonia Fowler, in the BBC One soap.
He said: “There’s so many of my friends who are not in this position, and I cannot tell you how lucky I am.
“And that’s why when I was on that square the first time, I cried.
“Because I appreciated how many other people would die to be here and would die to just be part of the business that I personally, and so many of my friends, have grown up in.
“In two years’ time I will have been in this game for 50 years.
“I started professionally when I was 12.
“I went to stage school and I had my equity card at 12, and I paid my way at school doing adverts, doing this doing that.
“And so I’ve grown up and I have had serious withdrawal symptoms during this lockdown.”
Conley also revealed he has had to deliver lines while looking at a tennis ball rather than one of his fellow cast members because of coronavirus restrictions on set.
He said it is difficult “because you can’t play off” other actors and he has been rehearsing at home using tennis balls to get used to it.
“I put a tennis ball on a stick, just so that I’m used to doing it, and I even call it Sonia,” he said.
EastEnders airs weekdays on BBC One.