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Affair cop guv; LIVERPOOL 1 MONDAY, ITV. 9.00pm.

WHEN Samantha Janus shed her frothy image and joined the cast of police drama Liverpool 1, she had no idea how much it would change her life.

The actress, who made her name in comedy Game On, found herself on trial in the media after beginning an affair with her leading man Mark Womack.

The couple's on-screen sexual chemistry in Liverpool 1 spilled over into real life, leaving both their marriages in tatters. Meanwhile, the first series of the show about Merseyside vice cops captured the imagination of viewers with its hard- hitting storylines.

As Samantha and Mark face the press for the first time since their relationship was reported earlier this year, the strain is showing. At the launch in a shady London nightclub of the second series about Merseyside vice cops, they answer questions while sitting at opposite ends of the room.

Both refused to discuss the relationship, but 27-year-old Samantha speaks of living in a goldfish bowl after news of her affair with Mark, 38, got out. "You develop a thick skin, but I don't think it gets any easier inside," she says. "You just find ways of working round it.

"It's one of the hardest things in this profession that you're not just left to get on with your work. But it's part of the industry and I have to say, hands up, it's the industry I've chosen. Even so, when you've constantly got people writing about yourlife and what they think of you, that's hard to take."

The actress has earned new respect professionally after playing vice squad detective Isobel Di Pauli alongside Mark, who stars as hard- bitten policeman Mark Callaghan.

In the new series, the chemistry between the characters explodes.

They have their first on-screen kiss after a furious row, having been locked in a sexual game of cat and mouse since they met.

In real life, Samantha and Mark split from their partners to be together. Liverpool- born Hillsborough star Mark has been married to Therese Womack for almost 10 years and they have a four- year-old son, Michael.

Samantha's husband is Mauro Mantovani, a 32-year-old British Airways steward and former male stripper. Weeks before joining the cast of Liverpool 1 last year, she was reported to have had a fling with Simon Slater, her co- star in touring stage show Earth and Sky.

Samantha has been hot media property since starring as a fantasy flatmate in comedy series Game On. Recently, she attempted to dump her image as a fluffy blonde by walking out of sitcom Babes In The Wood, starring Denise Van Outen.

While she is used to being in the media glare, Mark only found himself in the spotlight after Liverpool 1. The RADA- trained actor already had a respectable track record in theatre and starring roles in The Vanishing Man and A Wing And A Prayer, but he shone in the role of Cally, which was written for him by Simon Burke.

He admits he is bitter about the intense media interest in his life over the last few months.

He says: "I found all that stuff distasteful. It was an invasion of privacy. All the attention is harmful to everyone involved."

Samantha says she had learned to deal with living in the public eye, even though she didn't enjoy it.

"Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger," she said, flicking her trademark long, blonde hair. "That's what my mother always said.

"You just immerse yourself in the work. That way, you get a real sense of what's important and what's not."

While Liverpool 1 prompted the start of a new relationship for Samantha, it has reunited ex-Brookside brothers in arms Simon O'Brien and Paul Usher (Damon and Barry Grant).

Remember those days? You know, when Brookside was actually good?

"It was a great giggle working with Paul again, it was just funny. I mean we haven't worked together for getting on 12 years," says Simon. "We don't quite look at acting as everyone else does. Most actors look at the scripts all precious, complaining because they've only got three scenes. Whereas we're like: `Yeah, fantastic, we've only got three scenes - that means we get the rest of the day off!'

"On Brookside, we used to wind the stage managers up all the time. It was always our game at Mersey Television to be as hard to find as possible without actually hiding. So I turn up for Liverpool 1, we're ready for a shot and everyone's rushing around going: `Has anyone see Paul Usher?' And I thought: `Oh yes, some things never change'."

And bad boy Barry Grant - actor Paul Usher - admits there is a brotherly relationship between the two stars.

"Simon and I spent a hell of a lot of time together during Brookside, so he was like my younger brother in real life, too," says Paul. "We don't hang in each others pockets, but we are really good mates so it's great to be working together again."

In the new series, Simon is excellent as wide boy copper DS Christian Tomaszewski, who is disliked by regulars DC de Pauli, DC Mark Callaghan and dodgy businessman John Sullivan (played by Usher).

"My character totally loves himself and walks around with a real swagger," says Simon, 34.

There seems to be a huge Brookside resurgence on TV at the moment. Gillian Kearney who played doomed Damon's girlfriend Debbie also pops up in the series. She is currently starring with Sue Johnston in Sex, Chips & Rock `n' Roll on BBC1. And of course, Sue Johnston and Ricky Tomlinson (alias Sheila and Bobby Grant ) are on top form playing husband and wife again in The Royle Family.

Clearly Simon O'Brien has huge respect for his former screen parents. "I learnt everything I know from them," says Simon, who has been living with his girlfriend Elizabeth for the last six years.

"Any acting skills I managed to pick up were directly derived from Sue Johnston and any kinds of comedy elements and dealing with the public were directly gleaned from Ricky.

"It's been a very important part of my life with Sue and Ricky and I'd love to work with them again."

In Brookside cheeky Damon Grant met an untimely end thanks to a nasty stabbing whilst on the run with girlfriend Debbie. Although Simon admits his bank manager would have liked him to stay in the soap a while longer, he has never regretted leaving.

He has worked almost non-stop ever since, presenting series such as the BBC's footy fanzine Standing Room Only and the Rough Guide travel shows. Whatever he is doing on screen, he always seems to be enjoying himself.

"I never set out to be an actor. It was never my ambition," says Simon.

"The only reason I auditioned for Brookside was because when I was 17 we got this option one Tuesday afternoon at school. Either go and do this audition for this new soap or go and do double maths. Suddenly I was very keen to be an actor.

"Next thing I knew they'd phoned to say I'd got the part - which was the most hilarious thing ever! I still think it is. I mean I could be working for a living, couldn't I?"

And after spending the past two years working on an American sitcom in Los Angeles, Simon is glad to be home. It was an experience of a lifetime but he did miss his home comforts.

"It was fascinating to be there, but having said that I was quite relieved to get home - the people there were a pain in the arse," says Simon. "I was desperate for a decent conversation and strangely enough desperate to get drunk as well. They just don't drink in LA.

"One morning, the director of the show took me to one side and asked if I had a drink problem and did I think I needed to go into a clinic - just because I'd come in with a hangover two days on the run!

"They were after putting me in the Betty Ford Clinic or something. He said: `Will you admit you have a drink problem?'

I said: "Yes, I do have a drink problem mate - your beer tastes like piss and I can't find anyone to get drunk with.' "
COPYRIGHT 1999 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Morgan, Kathleen
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 18, 1999
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