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Interview: Star Of India - Laila Rouass; Dawn Collinson meets the sultry new face on hit soap Hollyoaks.

Byline: Dawn Collinson

-LIST gossip has linked her with everyone from singer Shaggy to Hollywood heartthrobs Wesley Snipes and Heath Ledger. But rumours of Laila Rouass' celebrity love life are, she happily confirms, greatly exaggerated.

The former MTV presenter, Hollyoaks' latest beautiful recruit, laughs off questions of a romance with any of them and reveals that she's not only single - she's on the look out for a Scouse boyfriend! Laila made most of her star connections while working for MTV in Asia, based in Hong Kong and India. After being spotted by channel bosses in a nightclub, she landed a job presenting music and fashion shows and interviewing big names.

``Of course you do get chatted up and there was a kind of flirting going on but you've got to have that, it's part of the job, to get the best out of people,'' she explains. ``I was doing two-hour interviews and you've got to fill them up with something but there was never any romance.

``With Shaggy, he was touring quite a bit in Asia so we got to meet up a few times and got on really well. I interviewed him and he remembered me. He didn't know anyone else out there so he wanted someone to take him out. That's all it was, though. He's a wicked bloke but nothing happened between us. ``The Wesley Snipes thing came about when I was working in Dubai. They have this big shopping festival every year and they bring in a big Hollywood star as a guest. This one year it was Wesley, I was hosting a live show there and we just hung out. Again, nothing more happened, but don't get me wrong, he was just sex on legs! ``Shaggy's gorgeous but Wesley's more `wow', more breathtaking.'' As one of the best known faces on MTV Asia, Laila had a massive fan base which even the UK's best known presenters would envy.

She was constantly recognised in the street, everywhere from Russia to Kazakhstan, and watched by tens of millions in 72 countries. But, she reveals, her big break actually came about by sheer luck.

After dropping out of the famous Lee Strasbourg drama school in London, which she says didn't suit her, Laila - who is half Goan Portuguese, half Moroccan - got herself an agent and headed to Asia for a film role. It was there she was approached by MTV who were looking for presenters and VJs. ``The whole music TV thing was all quite new there then, it was at a time when a lot of ideas were coming from the West, so they wanted English speakers because it was going to go right across Asia,'' she explains. ``I'd done a bit of modelling before and acting, but I'd never intended to be a presenter. It all just fell into place.''

Laila stayed in Asia for more than five years, but decided to come home a year ago to restart her career here. ``I did love it but there are cultural differences which are really difficult to deal with and I had my friends and family here so I wanted to leave while I was still enjoying it. I wanted to keep it as a good memory.'' Back in Britain, Laila admits that going from being a famous face and name to relatively unknown was quite frightening, but a challenge she looked forward to. Roles in the film The Four Feathers, alongside Aussie star Heath Ledger, and in Channel 5 soap Family Affairs followed - then Laila got her casting for Hollyoaks. She was excited by the opportunity, she says, but got a jokey word of warning from her sister. ``I liked the show because it's unashamedly glamorous, it's fun and well written, so I thought it would be interesting to go for,'' she says. ``But when I told my sister she said `you'll never get it - you're not blonde enough!''' Undeterred, Laila went for the part of the sexy, feisty police detective inspector Dale Jackson and won it. She has now been filming in Liverpool since the beginning of December and clearly enjoys everything about her new job. At 27, she jokes that she's one of the older members of the cast and her dark sultry looks do make her stand out among the soap's blonde babes. But she loves Dale's no-nonsense attitude and her new work mates. ``Before I started I thought, they're all really young and gorgeous, they'll be really competitive but it's the complete opposite,'' she says. ``A lot of the cast are only 19 or 20 but they've got their heads screwed on and they take it very seriously, they're very professional.''

Off screen, Laila hasn't found herself a permanent man yet, but she smiles and says she'll be looking. ``I've not had much chance yet, I haven't even been out clubbing in Liverpool because I've been living in a hotel and I've got to settle in. But I've found a flat now that I'm moving into this week and friends keep telling me I've got to find a nice Scouser, so who knows?'' n Laila appears in Hollyoaks from Monday, February 3.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:90ASI
Date:Jan 15, 2003
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