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Feature: The Sarah Jane Adventures

Invaders Beware1

Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith

There’s a new alien-fighting team and new villains in place, but the UK’s foremost investigative journalist remains front and centre. Star Elisabeth Sladen chats about the return of Sarah Jane

Speaking to TV Zone late last year, actress Elisabeth Sladen joked that that she might just walk out on The Sarah Jane Adventures if Maria Jackson’s awful mother Chrissie ever became one of the team. Now that danger’s gone, with Maria having moved to Washington with her father, taking the Jacksons out of Sarah Jane’s life. But as the Chandras move into Bannerman Road in their place, there are new parents to wonder about the influence Sarah’s having on their daughter, wannabe journalist Rani. “Yes, we’ve got a lovely new family,” Sladen comments, “and they’re very much needed, like Alan and Maria were very much needed. We need that side, and they bring a totally different dynamic into it.”

Part of that dynamic is that Haresh Chandra (Ace Bhatti) might be a doting dad at home, but at work he’s the new headmaster at Park Vale School – and a bit of a demon headmaster at that. “He is! You have that to take on board as well with Clyde and with Luke,” Sladen comments. Haresh might be delighted to have a brainbox like Sarah’s son Luke pushing his school up the league tables, but he’s got less time for a joker like Clyde Langer. “And he’s just over the road!” Sladen adds. “It’s nice; it’s very well thought through, actually.”

Rani’s mother, Gita, is played by Mina Anwar of The Thin Blue Line fame and interestingly, when Clyde’s mother turns up later in the season, she’s also played by an actress with a comic background, Jocelyn Jee Esien of the sketch show Little Miss Jocelyn. “Yes, that’s true,” Sladen laughs. “Jocelyn is a wonderful character, but she’s actually very ‘straight’ in this. Mina is always going to bring in some comedy, and I think that’s what she was brought in for, like Chrissie was. It gives it a grounding in reality – she’s very upbeat, that kind of character, and it’s different because this time they’re married and he’s a headmaster.” This tendency to cast comic actors in straight parts extends to the villains, with both Bradley Walsh and Russ Abbot taking major roles this season. “I think both actors would say that they don’t normally get a chance to do this sort of thing, Bradley in particular,” Sladen comments.

You might expect that they’d introduce a spot of comedy to take the edge off their villainous roles, ensuring they’re not too frightening for youngsters, but that’s certainly not the case with Walsh’s multifaceted role as the evil clown Oddbob in The Day of the Clown, which is truly terrifying at times. Sladen is full of praise for the energy and invention Walsh put into his performance. “I think if he’d have been there another week, another day, he would have gone…” she fades out with a drooping noise, if you can imagine that. “So much green screen, so many changes of costume. He used to love being in full clown outfit, ‘Hello, how are you!’ and if someone turned round to him and said, ‘Hello, Bradley’, he would be so upset. It was quite taxing though.”

Russ Abbot’s turn in the spotlight comes in the following story, as a celebrity clairvoyant in Secrets of the Stars. “I think he’s in five and six,” Sladen confirms. “We shot so much out of order again, at one point we were doing three episodes and you just go, ‘What, who am I, where am I?’” The weird weather of this overcast summer added to the pressure. “The last block the weather was extreme, absolutely boiling days – not even days, half an hour when everyone’s dripping, and then you’d be dripping with water because it’s absolutely pouring it down. We really had incredibly dramatic weather changes in Cardiff.”

by Anthony Brown

Read the full interview in
Cult Times #157

Photo © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times #157
October 2008
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