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Interview: Naomi Russell - I was hoping for a bigger role, instead the producer said: Happy New Year.. you're fired; NAOMI ON THE DAY SHE WAS FIRED FROM CORRIE ST.

Byline: JAMES WEATHERUP

NAOMI Russell was fast asleep when the early-morning call from Coronation Street woke her abruptly. It was the new producer's PA summoning the actress, who plays factory girl Bobbi Lewis, to an urgent meeting in the office.

Alarm bells were ringing as Naomi,23, dressed and jumped into a cab for the five-minute ride to Granada studios in Manchester.

Producer Kieran Roberts had told the cast before their 10-day Christmas break that he would be speaking to some of them in the New Year about their future roles. Did this mean the Street's most glamorous knicker-stitcher in Weatherfield was about to get a bigger part...or was she facing the axe?

"I walked in without a clue about what Kieran was going to say," said Naomi, who has played Bobbi for two years

"I said 'Hi', shook his hand and sat down in front of him. I was thinking about asking to have more input into where my character was going to go but it didn't turn out that way at all.

"He wished me a Happy New Year, asked about my Christmas and then just came out with it. He said he'd had a chat with the story writers and they felt they wanted to wrap up the character.

"He carried on talking about what would happen over the next three months and my role,but I was so shocked and stunned

"I had difficulty taking it all in. It was if the ground was opening up and swallowing me. I was pleased when he said they were going to write me out on a big story line but I still felt devastated.

"I nodded and smiled as best I could because he was being sweet to me but inside I was screaming, 'Oh no'. I'd had such an amazing time over the last two years I really didn't want to leave. I was really gutted because Corrie was everything I had worked for and I had made such good friends with all the cast.

" I felt so deflated but I also knew it must have been hard for him. All I could say was 'OK' in a little soft voice. My mind went sort of blank and when he asked if I had any questions I couldn't really think of anything. I was just glad that I had found out first and didn't hear about it from someone else on the grapevine.

"I remember walking out of the office and it was kind of weird. I felt in a bit of a daze and one of the secretaries looked at me as if she was saying 'Are you all right?' I caught her eye to let her know I wasn't going to burst into tears or anything.

"I had grown up with the show since I was a schoolgirl and watched all the big stars like Julie Goodyear in awe. Then, amazingly, I had become part of that life as well and it felt brilliant. It was like a dream come true.

"I remember when I was first on screen going home from the studios and watching it with my mum and sisters. It was so exciting and my family were so proud of me. My little sisters were ecstatic because it was my dream and I was achieving it.

"I really wanted to do another year and then tell the producers I was going to do something else - rather than the other way around!

"I'd had a fantastic time but in the end I suppose I knew my part was too nice and it wasn't going anywhere. It was a natural conclusion."

Naomi, who has been credited with putting sexiness back into the series with her stunning looks and model figure, then had to face her fellow cast members not knowing if they knew her fate.

"As it turned out nobody knew and I carried on as best I could with the shoot that day. All I was thinking was that it was all going to be over soon and I was going to miss everyone terribly. I didn't really want to tell anybody because I had scenes to do and the last thing I wanted to discuss was not being there in three months' time. So from there I went straight into an upbeat scene working in the factory."

LATER in the rehearsal room she bumped into Stephen Beckett, who plays dirty doc Matt Ramsden, and Clare McGlinn, who plays his wife Charlie - and learned they were also being axed from the series.

Naomi and Clare, who will soon climb Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro together with Stephen to raise money for the Bobby Moore cancer research fund, immediately confided in each other.

"It all came tumbling out that she and Stephen were going as well. She was as disappointed as me and we gave each other a big consoling hug.

Naomi next told her former flatmate Suranne Jones, who plays Karen McDonald.

"I felt very sad and so did she because we had such great times living and coming to work together. I remember we used to crack open a bottle of wine and do impersonations of the cast - it was hilarious, or so we thought!

"I didn't want to tell my mum over the phone so I waited until I went to see her for dinner. She was very supportive and was worried about how I was feeling. I did most of the talking and explained what had happened and why. She just looked at me and told me how proud she was of me.

"She said there were many good things yet to come for me which made me feel much better. It was just the kind of thing I wanted to hear - that I was going to be all right. Privately, I know she was shattered for me because she knew this is what I had wanted to do more than anything.

"The whole business gave me a few sleepless nights. I was trying to carry on as normal but I guess it was just my sub-conscious telling me how upset about it I really was, even though they had treated me well."

Naomi is not bitter and does not criticise the Street's producers for axing her and other characters in the ratings war with EastEnders.

"The bosses are making changes - which is understandable. I think a bit of competition is healthy and if they want to make changes, the way to do that is to bring new people in."

Naomi, who has been sporting a stunning new look and hairstyle recently, insists she will not now be trying to land parts on other soaps like EastEnders or Emmerdale. "I don't really want to move around the soaps. I've worked for the best one and I'm not a big fan of the others. I've done the best and I want to leave on a high.

"I stepped straight into the big one and for two years they loved me, so I'm happy. It's really a case of 'done that, been there and now I'm ready to spread my wings'.

"Anyway, who knows? They might want me back in the future. If that was the case, I'd come back like a shot.

"I really don't know what will happen from here. I've come from nowhere to being recognised up there along with 'babes' like Tracy Shaw. The fans have all been brilliant and some people have even sent me flowers which is lovely. It is exciting and scary at the same time.

"I've got a lot to think about between now and when I leave."

Naomi said all the Street cast had been very supportive. "It's like a big family here and everyone has been great. People like Vicky Entwistle, who plays Janice Battersby, will always be a friend.

"She's just so funny, like a big sister really, and constantly has me in fits of giggles - Liz Dawn does, as well. She's offered me loads of advice and I really look up to her."

NAOMI'S first scenes in the soap were recorded on February 16, 2000. Producers had spotted her presenting on a local TV station and invited her to an audition.

Previously she had trained as a hairdresser and had been in demand as a model - but acting was always her main ambition.

She had taken a two-year course in performing arts at Preston College and joined Lancashire Dance Company. But times were hard. Her mum Susan was bringing up Naomi and her two sisters Sam, now 16, and Emma, 15, on her own - and Naomi took the decision to qualify as a hairdresser as something to fall back on.

Susan later entered Naomi into a modelling competition and the agency who took her on also promoted her through their acting division.

When she found fame in the Street Naomi desperately wanted to tell her father Durrant Mowatt, 53, who lives in Florida. Father and daughter were reunited two years ago when The Sunday Mirror tracked Durrant down after they had been separated for 20 years.

Naomi said: "Seeing him after all those years was simply incredible and we still keep in touch by letter and phone regularly.

"He really gave me a boost when I told him I was leaving Coronation Street. He said it was fine because I could be a big movie star in America - I think he wanted me to get the next flight out! He told me these things happen for a reason and I would be going on to even greater things. He's so funny sometimes. I'll never forget when I took him a video of me in the show and he watched it for the first time. He said hesitantly 'So, in England you sew knickers in a factory?'

"He actually thought it was real life and not a soap because he doesn't watch any television! It took forever to sink in that I was really an actress. It was so sweet because he couldn't grasp it."

THE stunning actress, who says she is too busy to have a boyfriend at the moment, will leave the Street with great memories.

"My funniest moment was watching Vikram (Chris Bisson) having to do about 10 takes of a scene where he is being chased in the freezing cold wearing just a strip of material hiding his modesty.

"As he ran bits kept popping out and we had to re-shoot. Everyone was screaming with laughter and I think Chris actually got to like everyone staring at his naked flesh. Instead of getting irked by it all, his attitude was, 'Never mind, shall we do it again then!'

"My worst moment was when I was late for recording after thinking I had the day off. The call came in - why wasn't I in make-up? I was absolutely mortified because if one person is late it can screw everything up.

"I was full of apologies when I arrived in double-quick time but still an hour late. It was the first and last time I ever made a mistake like that.

"One of my best moments was when I had to dump a bag of baked beans on Andrew Scarborough's (factory boss Harvey Reuben) head.

"I remember he was sitting in a car with an open top roof and because of the mess it was going to make the producer told me it had to be done in one take only.

"I passed with flying colours. The beans went absolutely everywhere and Andrew, who has now left the show, told me my aim was so good the cold beans had gone right down his back and shirt and into his pants!"

Naomi, who changed her stage name to Naomi Ryan recently because it was "short and sweet", says she has grown used to getting fan mail from as far away as Canada and Germany.

"Some male admirers have even sent in laminated photos of me asking me to sign them - well I'm always happy to oblige as long as they send a stamped addressed envelope!"

Looking to the future, Naomi says she would jump at the chance to appear in a major film.

"I'd love to do a movie with Guy Ritchie. He is just so cool. His work is brilliant and recognised the world over."

She is philosophical about having to leave the role she loves.

"It's the job and everyone has to get on with it. I'm optimistic about the future so I don't want anyone to get the violins out for me. Mind you I might get a bit more emotional nearer the time.

"When it finally comes for me to walk out of the door I probably will be in floods of tears and they will have to drag me away."

j.weatherup@sundaymirror.co.uk

FIVE WAYS I COULD EXIT WEATHERFIELD

NAOMI has been promised a big storyline when she leaves Coronation Street. So in the hope of giving the scriptwriters some inspiration here are five ways that factory girl Bobbi Lewis could leave Weatherfield with a real flourish...

WINS LOTTERY

BOBBI catches her cheating lover Vikram with new girl Hazel Wilding (Kazia Pelka) - but tells him she's won the Lottery.

FIRM OFFER

A STRANGER chats up Bobbi in The Rovers and offers to buy her a taxi firm which ends up putting Vikram out of business.

NEW LIFE IN OZ

BOBBI finds a love letter to Vikram in one of his jacket pockets. She tells him that it's over and heads off to start a new life in Australia.

FINAL REVENGE

IN a fit of jealousy, Bobbi stabs Vikram for cheating on her and doesn't care about going to jail because she's finally got her revenge.

POPPING OFF

BOBBI says she is just popping down to the corner shop to a buy a pint of milk and a loaf...and is never seen by anyone again.

CAPTION(S):

NEW LOOK: Naomi shows why she used to be a top model in this exclusive Sunday Mirror photoshoot; COOL: She's not bitter about leaving the Street; BOBBI DAZZLER: Sexy look; STREET LIFE: Bobbi on a night out with Steve McDonald
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 13, 2002
Words:2364
Previous Article:Voice of the Sunday Mirror: Big idea from Byers is just a busted flush.
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