The very bright, beautiful and un-starry 33-year-old ( she’s apologetic as her baby daughter makes a little fuss in the background of our interview ) stars in Shoot on Sight, Jag Mhundra’s new film, a fictional tale inspired by the police order to ‘shoot on sight’ any suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the July 7th 2005 London bombings.
Tariq Ali ( Naseeruddin Shah ) is a Muslim Scotland Yard officer, married to English Susan ( Greta Scacchi ) and brought in to investigate the police shooting of a suspected Muslim terrorist on the London Underground. Rouass plays Sikh police officer Ruby Kaur, Ali’s right hand woman and family friend.
It is the first film that deals with the issue of suicide bombing in the UK, and was scheduled for release on July 11th, but the producer, Aron Govil, felt that date was too close to the third anniversary of the attacks.
“This is a very brave, film” explains Laila, who also starred in Mhundra’s controversial movie Bavandar, about revenge rapes in Rhajasthan, and is in forthcoming movie Apron Strings, currently showing at the Melbourne Film Festival.
“The great thing about it is that it’s taken from a moderate point of view. The main character is torn between being British and being Muslim. There are so many documentaries about 7/7 and, mostly, they talk to young, angry Muslim men, they rarely speak to a normal Muslim guy.”
Rouass is a Muslim herself – born to Moroccan/ Indian parents - and is exactly the moderate face of Islam that the media, sadly, tends not to focus upon.
“ It’s really funny when the Muslim issue comes up, “ she says “ Because it’s not something that I even think about, it’s a part of me, but it doesn’t define my life.”
The film has already had its world premiere in Dubai, another brave, and, some would say, unusual choice.
“ We were quite nervous about it,” says Laila, “ But it was well received and it’s been good to see how people read it, and how they do get it.”
And she loved working with Naseeruddin ( along with the rest of the stellar cast including Sadie Frost, Brian Cox and Om Puri )
“ The relationship between my character and Naseer’s is very pure. There are no conditions, no expectations. They instinctively know each other and there’s a cultural understanding.”
And whilst this movie proves there’s plenty more to the actress than her image-obsessed Footballers’ Wives character, she’s still a glamour-puss – she used to be a model but describes herself as ‘the shittiest model ever’ - and loved being part of the popular TV show.
“ We had so much fun making it,” she says, “ There were fab houses, great cars, no limits. What you saw on TV was really what it was like. And we got to keep some of the clothes!”
The show has made Leila instantly recognisable, and turned her into a sex symbol ( she was voted 69th sexiest woman in the world by FHM in 2005.)
“ People kind of expect me to be like Amber, but I walk round like a bag lady. They’re like ‘ I thought you’d be six foot tall.’
So, is she ready to get back on the celeb merry-go-round?”
“I did all the parties at the time, but now I’ve taken a step back and keep away from all that now.”
She’s too busy shooting Primeval, in which she plays Egyptologist Sarah Page.
“I love making it, and working with Jason ( Flemyng, of Lock, Stock… Snatch and Layer Cake who’s also recently joined the cast. ) It’s quite liberating to be screaming and shouting. Sometimes I go too far and the director is like : ‘Leila, you’re meant to be a heroine, not a damsel in distress.”
But it’s clear that this is one lady who doesn’t need saving.
Shoot on Sight is released in the UK on 22nd August.