Coronation Street star Rachel Leskovac has left the show in heartbreaking scenes.
The actress's character Natasha Blakeman was shot by Harvey Gaskell (Will Mellor) in a case of mistaken identity last week, leaving her life hanging in the balance.
In Monday's double bill, Natasha shared some precious moments with her son Sam (Jude Riordan) after undergoing emergency surgery at the hospital. However, when Natasha was taken back down for another operation, she sadly lost her life as her internal bleeding was too severe.
Here, Rachel reflects on her departure from the role of Natasha.
How emotional was it to film your final scenes with Jude?
"I'd done a bit of filming with Ben Price [who plays Nick] before Jude came onto set and I was already feeling quite emotional. But because it was my last scene filming with him, from the moment I saw Jude, I just started crying and I didn't stop till they said cut.
"It was really emotional, to the point I couldn't look at him in between takes because I just found it too difficult. It was pretty much non-stop crying.
"I'm a very emotional person – or some might say a right softie! The bond I have with Jude is very strong and I hope that's come across on screen."
Was it hard to say goodbye to Jude after forming such a close bond with him?
"It was a really emotional day for both of us, because it was our last day of filming together. We'd got each other little gifts so we ended up cheering each other up in the car park after we'd finished.
"He's got a really special place in my heart. From the first time I FaceTimed him before I met him on set, I just knew that we would get on really well and it's been an absolute joy to film with him.
"I'm going to really miss working with him, but we've said hopefully at some point in the future we'll get to work together again."
When Natasha went into surgery, do you think she knew that she wasn't coming back? Was she secretly saying her goodbyes?
"Yes, that's the way I felt it was with the writing, but obviously Natasha doesn't want to be so direct with Sam being so young.
"There is an element of her wanting to protect Sam, but certainly it felt like she knew it was unlikely that she'd be seeing him again, so that was another reason why that scene was particularly tough to play."
Did Natasha have faith in Nick as a father that he can take things from here?
"She doesn't really say much to Nick, but there's a moment where she looks at him and she just says his name. Hopefully in that moment what will come across is that feeling of knowing.
"The way she looks at him and his response is basically letting her know that he's going to be alright. I think she does trust that he will be a good dad to Sam, despite what they've been through.
"I don't think she's ever doubted his love for him, but perhaps sometimes his priorities. But sometimes it takes something really big to happen for people to step up and she doesn't doubt that he will."
How has it been to return to the show?
"It's been an absolute pleasure to be back. I feel really honoured to be a part of Coronation Street, and although this time it's been in the new building, that felt like the only new element about it because there are so many of the old crew still there.
"I was absolutely welcomed with open arms. People often talk about a sense of family on soaps and it does sound pretty corny but it is true. You're in this bubble together, it's very intense, but despite it being 10 years ago, it very quickly felt like I'd never left.
"It definitely has that sense of family and I was really lucky to be working with Ben and Jane [Danson, who plays Leanne], who are both really generous actors and were really excited to bring in this whole new dynamic to their storyline and explore the possibilities."
Was it strange to return at a time of COVID restrictions on set?
"It's been bittersweet. I'm hugely grateful to have worked during this period of time unlike a lot of my peers, but on the other hand it does feel like there was so much more we could have explored with the character had times being different and COVID not so restrictive.
"I think that's what I'll miss the most, having that opportunity to watch her branch out and form relationships with different characters on the street.
"On the positive side of going in during a pandemic, because the crews were stripped back it felt quite intimate, which is always nice. There was more opportunity to do two handers and I like the intimacy of that."
What will you miss most about playing Natasha?
"Just exploring the character. She came back as a mum and Sam is such a massive part of her life, but I would have enjoyed exploring other relationships on the street."
What was your favourite storyline?
"I can't pinpoint one specific storyline but what I've enjoyed the most this time is getting to work with Jude, which has been a real pleasure, also getting to have some scenes with Sue Nicholls [who plays Audrey] and Helen Worth [who plays Gail], who I just look up to so much. The fact that I've got to work closely with those two has brought me a lot of pleasure."
What are you planning to do next?
"Part of the joy of being an actor is the prospect of new work, new beginnings, having the opportunity to challenge yourself creatively over and over again. Whether that's on stage or screen we shall see, but I'm very much looking forward to spending Christmas with my family."
Coronation Street airs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7.30pm on ITV.
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