Julia Sawalha 'devastated and furious' at Chicken Run sequel 'ageism'

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Julia Sawalha has re-recorded some of her original lines to compare

Actress Julia Sawalha has said she is "devastated and furious" at not being in the Chicken Run sequel, claiming she was told her voice sounds "too old".

Sawalha, who played Ginger the chicken in the 2000 animated original, said she felt she had been "unfairly dismissed".

The actress said she had "officially been plucked, stuffed & roasted" after being told the role was being recast, but wished the film "the best of luck".

The BBC has asked Aardman Animations and distributor Netflix for comment.

Image source, Fox
Image caption,
The actress voiced the intrepid Ginger in the original Chicken Run

In an open letter, the Absolutely Fabulous and Cranford star said she had been "informed out of the blue" that the producers of Chicken Run 2 were recasting Ginger.

"The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds 'too old' and they wanted a younger actress," she wrote.

Sawalha responded by filming herself speaking some of her old dialogue and sending the video to the sequel's producers.

She said she had received a "very kind" response from an unnamed "creative" - who said the recasting would still go ahead.

Voice 'nigh on the same'

Sawalha, best known for playing Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, said she felt "fobbed off" and "totally powerless".

She wrote: "I went to great lengths to prove to the production that my voice is nigh on the same as it was in the original film.

"I am saddened that I have lost the chance to work with Nick Park and Peter Lord from whom I learnt so much."

Park and Lord directed the original Chicken Run, with the sequel to be directed by Sam Fell. Lord is one of the its executive producers, while Park is on board as a "creative consultant".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mel Gibson (centre) with Peter Lord and Nick Park in June 2000

Sawalha's statement follows reports that Mel Gibson will not be reprising his Rocky the Rooster role in Chicken Run 2.

While not mentioning Gibson by name, Sawalha suggested he had been "axed" because his voice was "now too old" and that the same "excuse" was being used to justify her exclusion.

"Something in all of this doesn't quite ring true," her letter continued. "I trust my instincts and they are waving red flags."

The actress, who turned 51 last year, signed off by saying she was "off for the chop".

Chicken Run, Aardman's first full-length feature, told the story of chickens plotting to escape from a farm after learning they were being reared for slaughter.

The sequel, which will go into full production next year, will see Ginger and Rocky, now parents, face a "terrible threat" to "the whole of chicken-kind".

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