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How Kate Stole My Role; Hollywood big gun Kate Winslet nipped in to take Natasha Little's part in Enigma, but the former This Life actress isn't bitter, says TIM RANDALL.

Byline: Tim Randall

MAN AND BOY

BBC1, Saturday 9.00pm

MOST actresses might be a bit miffed if Kate Winslet nabbed their leading role in a hit film, but not Natasha Little.

The This Life star had already signed a contract to play the lead in Brit flick Enigma, but then Kate became available and the actress was asked to step aside.

But Natasha had the last laugh as she was still paid her full fee - a reputed pounds 300,000 - for doing absolutely nothing.

"I wouldn't like to go through my whole career not making films but, yes, it's not a bad way to earn a living," says Natasha, with a grin. "As for the amount of money, don't believe everything you read in the Press."

While losing the film was a disappointment, Natasha's happy to joke about her snub and certainly isn't about to hire a hitman to go get that gazumping Winslet bitch.

She says: "There is always someone who is bigger and better and that's just the way things go. I think it happens a lot. What was different in this case was contracts had already been signed.

"It was one stage further down the line than usual. The film got a lot more attention and publicity because of her and I completely understand that. Having Kate Winslet in a film is a big asset.

"I was very lucky that I got offered a play I really wanted to do with Richard Eyre directing, so I got to do that instead.

"And of course when they were filming I was doing the play, so I felt quite happy about the way things turned out.

"But I thought: 'I hope when the film comes out and if I go and see it that I don't feel any sense of regret.' And I'm happy to say I didn't. I enjoyed the film, but I wasn't devastated."

One role Natasha did manage to hang on to was in the BBC1 adaptation of Tony Parsons' best selling novel Man And Boy, in which she stars opposite Ioan Gruffudd.

This isn't the first time she has appeared with the much fancied Welsh actor. They played man and wife in sexy BBC2 drama Love In The 21st Century and lovers in British movie Another Life, making her the envy of women nationwide.

"He's a bit of a heart-throb isn't he?" says Natasha, with a cat that got the cream, This Life-style smirk.

"What's great about working with Ioan is that it takes away the anxiety of whether you will get on with your co-star. He's great fun to be with and there's no kind of embarrassment about things like bed scenes."

In Man And Boy, Harry Silver (Gruffudd) has it all - a beautiful wife, great kid and a good job. But he throws it all away when he panics about hitting 30 and has a one-night stand. His wife Gina, played by Natasha, is shattered and leaves to work in Japan.

Suddenly, it is just Harry and his four-year-old son Pat and Harry is forced to reassess his priorities and see if his family has any kind of future. It's an incredibly touching story, but also a very funny one.

"I think the script captures the same thing that Tony Parsons does in the book, it switches really quickly from something quite funny to something that makes you quite emotional," says Natasha, who was brought up in Loughton, Essex.

"I really feel very strongly for Gina and I wouldn't want her to be seen as a bad mother because she went away.

"She's a very intelligent woman who chose to give up a successful career to look after her son and devote herself to her marriage.

"She's sacrificed a lot for Harry and for him to have an affair has totally betrayed that.

"Up until now, Harry has been more interested in his sports car than being a dad. He doesn't really know his son. It's excruciating for Gina to leave Pat and she is completely torn about what to do."

So has all this talk of parenting made Natasha broody?

"I looked after a friend's baby recently for a day and he was really well behaved, but by the end of the day I was exhausted.

You don't have a minute to yourself and I felt I even had to plan when I went to the toilet," says Natasha, who has been with her actor boyfriend Beau, for the past two years.

"It's something that would be great in the future, but I don't feel quite ready just yet."

Natasha, 32, shot to fame in the mid-'90s when she starred as conniving Rachel in BBC2 legal drama This Life. Her much deserved punch in the face from Milly in the final episode was even voted the 37th most memorable scene on British TV ever in a recent poll.

Since then she has starred in the lead role of Becky Sharpe in BBC costume drama Vanity Fair, Far From The Madding Crowd, Big Women and films including The Clandestine Marriage, Greenfingers and Kevin And Perry Go Large.

"I've always been into acting ever since school. It was just something I really liked doing. I never thought you could actually do it as a career. I was one of those terrible kids who made up plays and forced everyone to rehearse in their lunch breaks like the kids from Fame," says Natasha.

"This Life opened a lot of doors for me. It was so popular and I'll never get fed up of being associated with it. My mum really loathed Rachel though. She hated her."
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Title Annotation:Television
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 30, 2002
Words:942
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