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Natasha Wood: Rolling With Laughter

The name Natasha Wood may not be a familiar one but her story is both inspiring and bizarre. SIMON WILSON spoke to the 38-year-old about her journey from selling knickers on Bulwell market to Clint Eastwood in Hollywood...

WHAT do you say when you meet a Hollywood legend?
There were no nerves when self-confessed "gobby girl" Natasha Wood found herself in Los Angeles in the company of Clint Eastwood.
"I had a huge laugh with him," she says.
"Towards the end of the conversation I said to him 'so what is it like to be a legend?' And he said 'well, you know, I don't really think about it.' And I said 'Naaahhh, me either. People say I'm an inspiration -- whatever!"
So how did she get there? How did a woman who grew up in Kinoulton and sold underwear on market stalls in Bulwell and Beeston, end up sharing air space with Dirty Harry?
And not only him but Kate Winslet, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts and Will Smith.
She tells all in her one-woman show Rolling With Laughter at Nottingham Playhouse tomorrow.
Not that meeting celebrities was her goal. That came last year when she performed the show in the West End.
And it's a journey that found her befriending prostitutes in Radford, living in an old people's home, working for the BBC as a TV producer in London and New York, then studying film in Los Angeles.
And here's the punchline: she did it all from a wheelchair.
Natasha was born with a rare genetic condition, spinal muscular atrophy. She doesn't even have the strength in her arms to raise a glass in order to toast her own success.
But Rolling With Laughter isn't about her disability.
"I'm very poor with all the right-on disability s***," says Natasha, 38, who now lives in The Park.
"My idea is that you shouldn't really notice I'm in a wheelchair. You see it but we don't have to talk about it.
"The show is about a little girl's dream to be an actor and who crazily achieves that dream on the West End stage.
"That's how the show opens. Then I go back to the start, to being a kid and selling knickers and bras on my mum's market stall in Bulwell and Beeston."
Not only was getting to the West End a long and difficult journey, it was costly as well. The show – her dream, remember – was self-financed. She remortaged to the tune of £20,000 in order to hire out Her Majesty's Theatre.
Natasha couldn't even enjoy the profits – it was a fund-raiser for spinal muscular atrophy charity, The Jennifer Trust. As is tomorrow's performance.
"This is all in the show," she says.
"There's a bank manager, a prostitute, a Bulwell market customer, my mum and dad, boyfriends, husband, a social worker, an old biddy, my dog... and every single one of them is real.
"People afterwards always say 'your mum didn't really go to Antigua and bring back a baby did she?'
"Yes she did."
"She's now 22 and lives in Basford."
Tammy was 11 months old when she was given to Natasha's mum on a beach in Antigua by a mother who couldn't cope.
She was legally adopted at the age of ten.
"It demonstrates my mother's incredible drive. That's where I get it from."
Mum is a former beauty queen whose bra size also gets a mention in Rolling With Laughter.
"She's got this double D cup and double D personality. A real Nottingham woman."
The humour comes from her dad, who she describes as "the Elvis lookalike".
"He told me at the age of four that he'd bought me in a store very cheap on account I was broken. 'Why didn't you fix me?' 'We tried that.' 'Why didn't you take me back and get your money back?' 'Your mother lost the receipt'.
"It was with that kind of humour that they raised me and my two brothers, one of whom had the same disability as me."
That was Julian, whose death in 2004 is one of the more poignant moments in the show.
"It is a rollercoaster. You do go up and down during the show.
"And I do relive my brother dying every time I do the play. I can picture every moment in the hospital. Of course it's very emotional for the whole family.
"But the idea of a good play is that you do become attached and love the characters as much as me and that when we lose them you feel it too."
The family will be there tomorrow to see the show.
"And they all bought tickets," she insists.
As have another 700-plus people – it's a few tickets off a sell-out.
Mum and dad will need to avert their eyes – or plug their ears – for one vocally graphic moment.
"There's a sex scene. In a car. In a field behind a church. And there's a Meg Ryan orgasm kind of moment."
The boyfriend would become her husband but the pair split around the time Natasha's brother died, two significant losses that prompted her to move to New York where. with the BBC, she produced the US version of What Not To Wear.
It's through her work with the BBC that she became a member of Bafta. So not only does she vote for in the awards Natasha also gets invited to VIP film screenings with the stars.
A planned year off to train as an actor in Los Angeles took over her life as she began to write Rolling With Laughter, leading to a six-week run at a theatre in Los Angeles. A spot on Fox News helped shift a few tickets.
She then took the show to the Edinburgh Festival and finally the West End– the dream realised.
Now she has a new one – Rolling With Laughter: The Movie.
In the audience at the London show was a woman from the UK Film Council who encouraged Natasha to apply for a grant to turn the play into a film.
"I've finished the first draft of the screenplay and I'm working through the second. The plan is to approach production companies in the summer."
She adds: "I don't even know if it will even be made in my time."
If it does, who would she like to see playing her on the big screen?
"(Laughs) A recent Oscar-winning actress," she says, cryptically. No prizes she's referring to Kate Winslet.
"My brother wants Brad Pitt to play him."
She adds with a laugh: "I'd like to hear his Nottingham accent."

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