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Fans Still Cheer for 'Footballers Wives'


During her four seasons on "Footballers Wives," Zoe Lucker helped turn this sexed-up soapy satire into an addictive guilty pleasure on both sides of the Atlantic.

As tough yet vulnerable Tanya Turner, the British actress pulled off a series of jaw-dropping plot twists that included killing one husband -- a heart patient -- by spiking his drinks with Viagra and then, um, loving him to death.

That was before Tanya tried to snag her next husband by pulling off a switcheroo in which she slathered her own dead baby with fake tanning lotion to pass it off as the child of her rival, an East Indian singer.

Tanya was, in short, a hot mess.

And with "Footballers Wives" currently winding down its final season Wednesdays on BBC America, the producers were keen on coaxing Lucker back to reprise her bad girl. Lucker wasn't interested, though, until the producers said two magic words: Joan Collins.

"I didn't have to think very much about that one!" says Lucker, 33. "I have always been a huge fan of Joan Collins. I wasn't allowed to watch 'Dynasty' as a child, but if Mum and Dad were out and the baby sitter was it, I used to sneak down and watch.

"I loved how camp it all was. Joan and the other women on the show were just so fantastic, so subconsciously, I've always had those characters in my head. When Tanya came up and I got the role, I knew who she was already."

Tanya reappeared very briefly at the end of last week's episode, but the July 4 episode thrusts her character front and center with a kinky new love triangle in which Tanya must compete with ruthless magazine editor Eva De Wolffe (Collins). The object of their attentions is hunky young Brazilian soccer star Paulo Bardosa (Jay Rodan), who is Eva's protege and lover.

The cavalcade of cattiness that follows between these two strong-willed women sparks enough high-camp tension to make Lucker happy she said yes to the assignment, she says.

"I made a decision to leave in the middle of season four," she explains. "I loved playing Tanya, and I miss playing her now, but I didn't want to overdo it. It felt like a good time to leave, and I wanted to 'leave them wanting more.' So I left and did a different series ("Holby City"). I was actually in New Zealand, touring in a play, when I got a phone call from Brian Park, the executive producer for 'Footballers.' "

The role of Tanya came along at a time when Lucker really needed it. After eight months of no acting gigs at all, she was on the verge of chucking acting to pursue a postgraduate degree with an eye toward becoming a teacher, like both her parents.

"I was leaflet dropping and working as a receptionist or waitress to make ends meet," she says. "That is just so soul-destroying. Going in for commercials can be so degrading, and you would come out feeling as if you have completely sold out, so you don't feel any better about what you are doing or about yourself.

"After eight months of that, I was just miserable, and I remember sitting down with my father one day, and I was in tears. I said, 'All I want is someone to give me a chance. I know I can do this job, but I don't know how much longer I can feel like this every day.'"

Even then, she had to fight to audition for the role of Tanya. Her agent thought she was too young, at 26, to play Tanya, described in the character list as 34. Lucker knew instinctively, however, that this character, described by the series creators as the "queen bee" among the footballers' wives, was a part she needed to play.

Set in the British soccer world, "Footballers Wives" raised quite a few eyebrows when it hit the British airwaves in early 2002, leaving both viewers and critics a little unsure of what kind of show it was.

"When the show initially came out, I don't think the tabloids really got what we were doing," Lucker says. "I don't know how the show was sold or marketed at first, but I know that early on, people really didn't quite know how to place it.

"Before our show, people knew women like Louise Redknapp and Victoria Beckham, of course, but after 'Footballers Wives' came out, before we knew it, the entire nation seemed to home in on the private lives of these footballers' wives more than ever before. We really got in there right at the correct moment. But at first, a lot of people thought we were trying to depict actual footballers' lives and wives. Later, they saw that what we were doing was satire."

One thing Lucker knew intuitively right off the bat was that she would need to soften Tanya's hard-edged survivor skills so viewers would care about her.

"Obviously, 'Footballers Wives' was our own little world, and a completely different planet from everything else, and there wasn't really a way to research a character like Tanya," she says, laughing. "I picked up very early on that this woman was a survivor, and I wanted to build on those qualities and bring in a sense of fragility. Without that, everyone would just think she's a bitch and she couldn't get away with the things that she did.

"If the audience recognized that the things that she does are a result of the way she's been treated, then they are with her. If there's something of me in Tanya, it's that more sensitive side of her. There has to be something about her for people to relate to."

These days, Lucker is recognized wherever she goes in England, even after she adopted a darker hair color for "Holby City."

"I assumed people would not recognize me, but they just go, 'Oh, there's Zoe -- she's dyed her hair!' " she says. "I've always been lucky in that the reception I get from the general public is very positive, so it's never a big deal when I get recognized. Every now and then, though, I'll be sitting with my mates in a pub, and I'll go, 'Why is everybody staring at me?'

"And they go, 'Zoe!' And I go, 'Oh. Right.'"

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