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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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The Sarah Jane Adventures: interview with Elisabeth Sladen

Elisabeth Sladen

Elisabeth Sladen steps back into the boots of Sarah Jane Smith...


Why should newcomers watch The Sarah Jane Adventures?

"Well, it's an adventure and I think all children love an adventure. It allows your imagination to go to places maybe other programmes can't take it but in a very supported way because you know everything's going to be alright in the end. Sometimes we deal with quite weighty matters – bullying, or being left alone or dying – all sorts of things that can happen to children growing up, but it's in a very supported environment so children can actually go there, experience the adventure, and come back quite safely."

What thrills and spills can viewers expect from this fourth series?

"New monsters, new protagonists and old ones returning which I think is nice. They're quite tangible our monsters. They're in the scene with you – it's a reality. You can poke them, they breathe on you, you can touch them. But at the same time there's a great deal of humour there. I am allowed to become something other than just Sarah Jane in boots and jackets this time and I don't think anyone will guess what it's going to be and it was such fun! I wish I could say more but I can't!"

You mention jackets and boots, do you like Sarah Jane's costumes?

"I do actually – I love them! Stewart Meachem is our costume designer and I thought I could shop but I don't have anything on him! I have to have pit-stops when I go shopping with him! We do a big shop at the beginning and I love the jackets he gets for me. I think we've found Sarah Jane an iconic look with the jacket and the boots."

Have you been surprised by the response to The Sarah Jane Adventures?

"When you're filming you're in a bubble and you do your work and quite often you forget that people are going to see it later. It's quite a shock sometimes! I had no idea the response was going to be this huge. It is an incredible thing that Russell has done to bring this character back to such enjoyment for the viewers. It's such a great standard to set and we are all so pleased to be part of that."

What sort of feedback do you get?

"I get very varied feedback but I've never had an unpleasant letter! I have firemen writing saying they'll come and clean my house and make me a meal, parents writing on behalf of their children who are not even at school, 92-year-old Elsie who says it's the only programme she'll watch on TV! And also, of course, people who remember Doctor Who with affection from the past. It is really bizarre because I never tried to hang on to the programme but it kind of hung on to me and I'm forever grateful for that because I never ever expected to be known for a particular role. I'm a jobbing actress and how lovely to work in something that I love doing."

Sarah Jane is consistently voted Doctor Who's best loved companion. What do you think is the secret of her appeal?

"I'd bottle it if I knew! I'd have to go back to Barry Letts – my first producer on Doctor Who. I owe him not just a great debt for work but for the way he handled the programme and my character. I was also fortunate with my Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, because I think we worked so well together. There are things I aspire to in Sarah Jane. She has a huge frailty but she won't give up. She almost has a child's sense of what's fair and what's not fair. It's something you have to lose as an adult but she just doesn't let go of that and maybe that is something that makes people feel safer. I don't know what her appeal is really but I love her – I really do."

Do you have a favourite Doctor?

"It's such a revelation each time because they are chosen for a specific reason – they are good actors and they have something extra, something different that they can bring to it. It's a joy to watch him being regenerated and I have no problem with that. It's like I see them and think 'Oh, that's what the Doctor looks like now'. I'm closest I suppose to Jon and Tom because I worked with them longer and they were both very supportive. I had a lovely card from Tom when I was reinvented in the attic."

What was it like working with the new Doctor, Matt Smith?

"He's such an inclusive actor. It's my favourite way of working. He'd just come back from Los Angeles and he was absolutely jetlagged and they gave him this big scene to start with. He walked into this unfamiliar set-up and no matter who you are I think you feel that. He just had a week and he was really, really good. I think people will love it actually."

How do you find working with 'the kids'?

"They are the best, they really are. I cannot tell you what they do! They are just so lovely. I love working with them. They are so funny and irreverent with each other but they're much nicer to me!

Do you have to do lots of stunts?

"Just going into the attic is a stunt! You come in the door and you go down two steps that are so strangely positioned, I'm still trying to get down them without looking! Then I have to circumnavigate the pillar and step over the track of the camera. And God help you if you're in the way of the doors when the steam comes out. If you're in the wrong position when the steam comes out your hair just goes wild!"

So you've talked about the villains and the monsters. Which is the toughest adversary you've had to face?

"Well they all have something different. They all have something that you've got to be aware of. This year we have the Nightmare Man, who is devious, devious beyond anything I could think up. And then we have Androvax coming back but in a very different guise. And then we have the new monsters, The Shansheeth who are I think pictorially the most stunning we have ever had. They are operated with the puppeteer's hand up the neck so quite often you're in a scene and it cuts and this bird head flops on your shoulder because the hands got to rest and it goes for the nearest shoulder! It's like that moment on Parkinson with Emu!"

What is the most rewarding thing about doing The Sarah Jane Adventures?

"Just being Sarah Jane actually. Just being in the moment in that attic with Clyde, Rani and Luke – with an occasional phone call from K-9! Just being aware of that whole amazing programme, that all the wonderful technical people put their input into and that everyone enjoys so much. And we are very, very grateful to the audience because they actually care what happens to the characters. Because if you care enough about someone then you don't want to let them go!"

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