Times of Oman
Nov 28, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 01:49 PM GMT
Living on grizzled underbelly of tinseltown
November 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Shekoni moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties. But she found that Hollywood could be a heartbreaking nut to crack

It's an old Hollywood cliche: the up-and-coming British soap star who emigrates to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune only to end up waiting tables, pulling pints, and schlepping from one unsuccessful audition to another until their work visa runs out and they fly home, economy class, with their tail firmly between their legs.

Judi Shekoni certainly knows this drill. For the past six years, the former EastEnders actress has been its living embodiment — scraping together a living on the grizzled underbelly of Tinseltown, while her twenties drifted by and career doors seemed to open a crack, only to be slammed in her face.

She kept plugging away, though. And on 12 November, Shekoni will get her just rewards.

That's when she will stride a red carpet outside the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, to a chorus of high-pitched screams and a wall of flashlights, for the world premiere of Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the fifth and final instalment in the stupendously successful Twilight franchise.

To call it a big break would represent an understatement on a par with calling Robert Pattinson, the movie's leading man, an eligible bachelor.

And at her local cafe in West Hollywood the other day, Shekoni could barely contain her excitement about her impending fame. "As an actor, it's like winning some sort of a golden ticket," she declared. "I feel like I got the last chocolate bar."

Shekoni, who is 30, plays Zafrina, the leader of a feral tribe of vampires from the Amazon basin, which joins the film's young protagonists, Bella and Edward, in an internecine battle against a coalition of rivals. During the course of the movie, she develops a close relationship with the couple's fictional daughter, Renesmee. High drama ensues.

She landed the role in a quaintly-parochial fashion: "I saw it advertised in the industry press, and sent emails to my agent and manager saying, 'Will you submit me for it?' But by that stage, they were kind-of ignoring me, so didn't even reply.

So the next day, I decided to fire them both." She telephoned a manager she'd worked with previously. "He made some calls and managed to get me in the room. And after one audition, I booked the part."

It was a much-needed turnaround for Shekoni, who hails originally from Gorton in Manchester, and got her start in the entertainment business as a teenage fashion model on daytime TV show This Morning, which filmed in Liverpool in the late 1990s.

After a string of minor TV jobs, she landed a recurring role in East Enders as Precious, the troubled girlfriend of a gangster called Angel, who was played by the musician turned actor, Goldie.

They wrote her character out of the show in 2002, so she kept herself afloat by starring in barrel-scraping reality TV shows, including Celebrity Love Island in which, she recalls: "I didn't make out with anyone and I didn't take my top off, so I was obviously the first contestant the public voted off."

Shekoni moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Catherine Zeta-Jones, or Martine McCutcheon. But she found that Hollywood can be a heartbreaking nut to crack. She made TV pilots that never aired, took roles in indy movies that went straight to DVD, and booked movie roles that ended up on the cutting room floor.

In 2008, she suffered the cruellest setback of all, after the makers of American Idol flew her to Fiji for three months to front a new reality show called When Women Ruled the World. "Twelve episodes were filmed," she says. "It was going to go on Fox straight after Idol. And then someone decided to cancel the show." Not a single episode was ever broadcast.

Not long afterwards, Shekoni decided to quit entertainment. To pay her rent, while in Los Angeles, she had founded a couple of businesses — a firm selling hair extensions online, and a consultancy helping actors relocate to Hollywood. Since they were working out better than her movie career, she enrolled at We

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news