ALEX Ferns was first catapulted into public consciousness as one of TV's most notorious soap villains. Few can forget his chilling performance as Trevor Morgan in a ground-breaking EastEnders' storyline that tackled domestic violence.

In recent months, Alex has been back on our screens playing another ruthless soapland baddie: Rick Harper in BBC Scotland series River City.

The character has wreaked terror on Shieldinch from ordering a murderous drive-by shooting to attempting to sex traffic his former fling.

This is a guy with no scruples. Rick would stab you in the back while shaking your hand. He would sell his own granny without blinking.

Talk about a bad yin? "He's a lunatic," says Alex. "You just don't know what he is going to do next. He is an absolute psycho."

For his latest trick, Rick has kidnapped three women – Lydia (Jacqueline Leonard), Annie (Dawn Steele) and Frankie (Louise McMenemy) – and is holding them hostage.

Events will reach a dramatic climax in Tuesday's episode with Alex set to exit the show in explosive fashion (no spoilers, sorry).

He admits to mixed emotions about his departure from River City: delighted to have been given such a meaty story arc, yet vexed about leaving the cast he joined last February.

The actor has forged a firm friendship with Jordan Young, who plays his cousin and partner-in-crime-turned-enemy Alex Murdoch.

This is a bromance born out of a shared love of football, ribbing each other on Twitter and Jordan routinely scaring the bejesus out of Alex.

"We were in dressing rooms next to each other and pranked each other all the time," he says. "Jordan is terrible for scaring people. He was always waiting for me round corners and jumping out, giving me a heart attack. He got me every time because he knows I'm a pussy cat in real life.

"I did everything to try to get him back, but I just couldn't. He's too clever. Once I hid around the corner when we were due to go up for the same scene. The third AD [assistant director] came to get him to go on set, but Jordan said: 'Why isn't Alex coming out of his room?'

"He knew I was hiding so when I jumped out Jordan just stood there and looked at me." Alex mimics Jordan nonchalantly folding his arms, eyebrow arched and looking unimpressed.

"One of my plans was to hide in the back of his car and when he was on the M8 come up from behind him, but then I thought: 'No. We probably wouldn't come back from that one.'"

Alex's time on River City may have drawn to a close, but he is unlikely to be idle.

The 49-year-old is penning a drama series called The Hollow Girl which will be set around Lennoxtown in East Dunbartonshire where he spent his early childhood.

"It is about Satanic voodoo and alcoholic cops who are addicted to porn," he says. "The body of a young girl turns up and they don't know who this child is.

"It is like True Detective, but centred around Lennoxtown and the Campsies with spirituality, voodoo and Satanism.

"There's this dark undercurrent throughout that whole area which I felt as a child because I grew up there."

The Hollow Girl contains some semi-biographical detail. "Back in the summer of 78 in Lennoxtown all these pentagrams suddenly appeared on walls and one of the churches was desecrated," recalls Alex. "Cats and dogs were found with their guts slit open. It was weird.

"It was only one summer. I was 10. I can remember it so clearly. I was terrified. It was quite exhilarating as well. Everyone was wondering: 'Who is doing this?' But then it just stopped."

He hopes for a six-part series with the first three episodes already written. When can we see it on TV? "It hasn't been commissioned, but I have had a lot of interest in it," he says. "I've been given a bit of seed money which has helped me carry on writing it."

The eldest of three children, Alex swapped Scotland for South Africa when he was 11. "We moved to a place called Secunda in the middle of nowhere," he recalls. "My dad was an electrician and they were building a big power plant there."

After leaving school, Alex did National Service with the South African army, serving in Angola between 1987 and 1989. He went on to study drama in Cape Town before moving to London in his late twenties to pursue acting.

These days Alex is based in North Finchley, London, where he lives with his wife Jennifer, 49, an actor-turned-teacher, and their sons Cameron, 15, and Mackenzie, 10.

With his sons getting older, Alex has thought about moving north to Scotland or returning to South Africa to deploy the culinary skills which saw him compete in Celebrity MasterChef four years ago.

"My dream is to be living back in Cape Town with a burger shack on the beach," he says. "Great burgers, but just three types: cheeseburger, normal burger and a bacon burger. Great fries and only Coca-Cola and ice-cold beer in the fridge. To just live my days like that until I pop my clogs."

While he has no plans to quit acting just yet, when his big River City finale rolls around this Tuesday, Alex won't be in front of the box.

"I never watch myself," he says. "It is like a butcher going to watch himself chopping meat on a Saturday. Why would I want to do that? Even watching somebody else act is like a butcher going to watch somebody else chop up meat. It just doesn't interest me."

River City is on BBC One, Tuesday, 8pm. Thanks to ABode Glasgow (