Our latest Hot Topic is a very “hot” subject indeed. When we want answers, we go straight to the top. Producer Jason Daniel talks about the issue of recasting the part of Justine Jones in an exclusive one-on-one with us.
Was re-casting the role of Justine Jones a big risk?
No. I’m confident that the audience will quickly accept Lucy Wigmore as Justine. The initial reaction against it is natural and to be expected. People don’t like change. But I trust that Shortland Street viewers are smart enough to make the adjustment, and that they will ultimately see that Lucy is extremely good in the part. The move has only attracted so much attention because it’s never been done in New Zealand before. And that’s only because NZ has very few long-running series. Elsewhere, almost every TV series that has sustained characters and families over long periods has been forced to re-cast at some point or other. Take Coronation Street, for example. Over the years seven different actors have played Ken Barlow’s son, Peter. And four have now played his daughter, Tracy. The most recent, Kate Ford, is currently their biggest star. So long as the character is strong and well-defined, viewers soon adjust. I wonder how many people now remember an actor named Darius Perkins? He played Scott Robinson on Neighbours for a year before the role was re-cast with Jason Donovan. That re-casting created the chemistry between Jason and Kylie Minogue as Scott and Charlene. It was the very thing that made Neighbours an international success. Without it Neighbours mostly likely wouldn’t be around today.
And it’s not like Kiwi audiences can’t accept the same actor in different roles. They’ve already seen it countless times because Shortland Street has recycled actors in different roles frequently enough for the audience to be completely aware of it. In fact, two of our current cast have played different characters in the past. Katherine McRae, who is now Brenda, first appeared as Marj’s daughter. And Madeleine Lynch, who plays Ingrid, was once Steve Mill’s girlfriend, Sarah Donnelly. If the audience can accept that actors can be different characters over the years, they are also sophisticated enough to accept that a character can be played by different actors.
Did you consider writing out the character?
Yes. And it would have been easier. But it would have been unsatisfying for the audience, since it would have meant cutting off stories that had already been set up. Also, we’d only just introduced the McKay family, and we have big plans for them. To lose the mother straight away would have ruined all of that – possibly even have undermined all the other characters. So it was better to re-cast for all sorts of reasons.
The discussion pages of fan sites would indicate that the re-casting has been quite controversial. Are you concerned about the negative reaction?
I’m not sure that the “controversy” is entirely genuine. Much of the negative reaction was rather mischievously generated by websites that fuelled malicious comments by publishing totally unsubstantiated rumours.* Then they chose not to post statements that spoiled the rumours. In fact, since everyone has recovered from the initial shock, most of the reaction has been positive.
(*Note from Shortland Street’s Offical Website Editor: You can rest assured that as the official website, we will endeavour to bring you the truth straight from the source about any Shortland Street news and changes.)
Other notable examples of recasting:
At the height of it’s success Dallas replaced Barbara Bel Geddes with Donna Reed as Miss Ellie, then later returned Bel Geddes to the role.
In the course of its run Dynasty replaced the actors playing Steven Carrington, Fallon Carrington, Adam Carrington and Amanda Carrington – practically the entire Carrington family.
Over the years Neighbours has recast Lucy Robinson, Julie Robinson, Beverly Marshall and, most recently, Jack Scully, a character originally played by Paul Pantano, but recast with Kiwi actor Jay Bunyan.
According to the official Home and Away website, around 22 characters have been recast since the series began.
Other notable re-castings: Father Mulcahy in MASH, Sam in Eastenders and Becky in Roseanne. (She was re-cast mid-season, with John Goodman shaking his head and saying of his “daughter”: “She says she’s the same, but she’s not!”)
And, of course, six different actors have so far played James Bond, and there have been more than ten Doctor Whos.