Zoë Lucker: More to life than football

Zoë Lucker stole the show as trashy, tawdry Tanya in Footballers' Wives. But she's giving ITV's hit series the boot. Fiona Sturges cheers her on

Thursday 17 March 2005 01:00 GMT

It's all in the eyes, of course. When Tanya Turner, the scheming she-devil from Footballers' Wives gets that look - staring icily into the middle distance while flicking her eyeballs maniacally from side to side - you know that some preposterous plot-twist is around the corner.

It's all in the eyes, of course. When Tanya Turner, the scheming she-devil from Footballers' Wives gets that look - staring icily into the middle distance while flicking her eyeballs maniacally from side to side - you know that some preposterous plot-twist is around the corner.

"Please don't ask me to do it now," grins 30 year-old Zoë Lucker, who plays Turner in the ITV series. "It's weird but I can't do it unless I'm there on the set. It was never a conscious thing, it just happened naturally one day. I couldn't believe it when people started writing about it in the papers. I had to be careful then that I didn't overuse it and turn it into a gimmick."

For the uninitiated the plot twists in question revolve around the characters and outlandish lifestyles of the fictional Footballers' Wives. Lucker's character, Tanya, used to be married to the club captain who was thrown off a building by his friend's wife after it was discovered that he had fathered her hermaphrodite baby (do keep up). Tanya then married the weak-hearted club president, Frank Laslett, whom she killed off with a combination of Viagra and frantic sex near the end of the last series.

Now pregnant by her dead husband, she's shacked up with the new captain, the bisexual Conrad, and is currently trying to pass off her baby as his.

Lucker's genius, along with the juddering eyeballs, lies in never letting her performance descend into camp. "No matter how far-fetched a scene is you have to commit to it," she tells me with real fervour. "By doing that you can get away with it. The problems arise when you get tongue in cheek about it. Then you're patronising your audience. It's escapism, but at the same time the audience have to believe in it."

Even she admits to having been shocked by some of her storylines however. "Shagging my husband to death? That was pretty extreme. When I read the script I thought they were joking. And there was the sex scene I did with Conrad on the plane. We had no idea when we were shooting that it would look so explicit. The first time it was on TV Ben (Price, the actor who plays Conrad Gates) phoned me up and said 'Did we really do that?' I was, like, "Well we must have.' I tried to stop my dad from watching it but he ended up walking into the room right in the middle. When I spoke to him on the phone later he was dead weird. I think he was still in shock."

Dressed in jeans, high-heeled boots and an olive-green poncho, Lucker is, unlike her screen persona, the picture of understated style. Stripped of the radioactive slap, she looks a lot younger in the flesh too. What she does share with her fictional self, however, is a palpable edginess. Throughout our allotted hour she fidgets constantly, pulling at the fringes of her poncho and wiping imaginary dust off her trousers. She also talks nine to the dozen - it's all I can do to get a word in.

At the end of this month Footballers' Wives begins its fourth series. Perhaps more shocking than any storyline is the news that, four episodes in, Tanya Turner is to make her grand exit. Despite my best efforts to persuade her, Lucker won't give away exactly how she goes. All she will say is that she had a tearful time during the last shoot. "It was awful. For me it really did feel like the end of an era."

Lucker had already been considering moving on when Shed Productions, the company that's behind Footballers' Wives, offered her the lead role in their new army drama Bombshell. Within three days of finishing Footballers' Wives, Lucker had dyed her hair a muddy brown and was being put through her paces on set in Bracknell. She plays Jenna Marston, an ambitious army captain who is having an affair with a married major.

Far from being a home-wrecker à la Tanya Turner, her character spends a lot of time wrestling with her conscience. So far, she has only seen a selection of rushes but Lucker is understandably nervous about how it will be received. Her future now rides on her being able to shake off the Footballers' Wives persona and prove herself as a serious actor.

"With Footballers' people either get it or they don't," she explains. "But with Bombshell it's different. People will really be judging my performance. To be honest, I found it a difficult transition at first. I was going from this totally over the top character to someone who was a lot more subtle in terms of their emotions. It was really quite hard."

The second of four children, Lucker grew up in Huddersfield. She describes her childhood as "a very happy time". Her parents were teachers (home economics and woodwork) though they later gave up their careers to start a stained glass business. At 18 she went to drama school in Manchester, after which she toured with John Godber's Hull Truck Theatre Company. In her early twenties she found work hard to come by, and she took bit parts in Holby City, Where The Heart Is and Coronation Street, as well as making corporate videos. To help make ends meet she also worked as a waitress and as a receptionist for an estate agent's.

By 2001, after being out of work for eight months, Lucker was considering retraining as a teacher. Then along came Footballers' Wives. Within a matter of months, she says, her life had been turned upside down.

She remains philosophical about the paparazzi who loiter outside the Stoke Newington flat that she shares with fellow Footballers' star Sarah Barrand. "At the start it was exciting," she admits. "I went to all the events, but as it's gone on I've had to be more careful. I'll go to my local pub, where people are used to seeing me, rather than go into town." She became accustomed to the ways of the red-tops early on when the papers got wind of her divorce after 18 months from her estate agent husband. "That was a real baptism of fire for me. It was awful, particularly as it was someone I knew who gave them the story. But you learn how to handle it as you go along. Unless you're having a really bad day, you get used to it."

Since starting Footballers' Wives, Lucker has been deluged with offers to play similar characters. "A lot of them were for very sexually provocative roles," she recalls. "Or they were just bitches like Tanya.

"Don't get me wrong. Tanya is a great, great part and it's changed everything for me. In some ways I think I'd be lucky to get another part like it. But I do want the challenge of being able to do something different. That's why Bombshell was a real gift. I know it's a risk but if things go according to plan, it'll show people that I can do a lot more than just eye-popping rage."

'Footballers' Wives' begins on 31 March on ITV. 'Bombshell' will be broadcast in the summer

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