FORMER EastEnders star Rita Simons explains why it was important to her that her role in The Krays: Dead Man Walking was as far removed from Roxy Mitchell as possible

RITA SIMONS believes in the law of attraction. Her first film project since she left EastEnders after ten years in 2017 is proof enough. The 41-year-old is back in her first screen role since she played Roxy, one half of the no-nonsense Mitchell sisters, on television - and it's a role she knew she wanted before it was offered to her.

"When I left EastEnders, I said I wanted to do a gangster movie. A friend of mine was doing a gangster movie and I was doing Legally Blonde, the tour. I had a break at Christmas, and I just said to myself, 'I'm going to do a gangster film in my break'," she explains matter-of-factly. "This is how my career always goes. I say I'm going to do this and then it happens, law of attraction I'm sure."

The role she's talking about sees her playing the gritty female lead in a hard-hitting new feature film, The Krays: Dead Man Walking, which sees notorious London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray organise for Frank "The Mad Axeman" Mitchell to escape from a high-security prison.

Simons plays Lisa Prescott, the nightclub hostess enlisted to help keep Mitchell "under control" after his prison break, while he lays low at a safe house in London.

Since leaving EastEnders when Roxy and her sister Ronnie (played by Samantha Womack) were killed off on New Year's Day in 2017, Simons has been treading the boards playing Paulette Bonafonte in the musical stage version of Legally Blonde.

She says the film was an immediate yes when it crossed her path. "My friend Jonathan Sothcott, the producer, texted me and said, 'We're doing a film, we need a female lead, you're perfect for it'." After hearing it was a "Krays type film", she says: "I mean I saw the script, but I didn't even need to see the script, I was in. I was like, 'This is my film' and it was as simple as that."

The cast boasts a star-studded line-up including the late Leslie Grantham, known for playing EastEnders' "Dirty" Den Watts, as Detective Nipper Read in what was his last role before his death in June this year.

Simons did her fair share of research on Prescott, who in real life was reported to have been kidnapped by the Krays for four days, but says she found a lot of conflicting information. What she was clear on was that she wanted the character to be a departure from her EastEnders character.

She explains: "I really tried hard not to have her be like Roxy, because for my first drama role since EastEnders it was important for me not to be... it's very easy to slip back into the same character you've played for ten years."

The film sees Boardwalk Empire's Marc Pickering playing Reggie Kray and Guerrilla star Nathanjohn Carter as Ronnie. British star Josh Myers plays madman Frank Mitchell and Guy Henry (Holby City, V For Vendetta) stars as Lord Boothby. West End star Darren Day and Linda Lusardi also star in the film.

Simons' scenes with Myers are fraught with tension as madman Frank switches from placid to psychopath in seconds.

Simons shot the film in four days in East London's Bethnal Green and says it was intense. "It was late January, early February, it was about minus five, there was no heating in the place we were in. When I put my normal clothes on at the end of the day to go back home, they were frozen in my bag, but I loved every second of it because I love authenticity.

"I came home from work every night and said to my husband, 'I am buzzing, I love my job'. But then equally, I'd go back on tour and I loved my job on tour - I love Paulette, I love that show."

To make Lisa as believable as possible, Simons said she had to master a "particular twang of Cockney from those days that you don't hear these days, other than in the older generation, who talk like that from the Sixties, so I wanted to make sure that was authentic. For me, it was freeing to be as gritty and real as I wanted to be."

  • The Krays: Dead Man Walking is available on DVD and download.