While recasts are a key part of Soapland, it’s less common to see characters swapping heads overnight in frenetic circumstances. Here, we take a look back at some of the most memorable emergency recastings.
Libby Kennedy (Neighbours)
Kym Valentine, who played Kym Valentine on Neighbours, was diagnosed with pneumonia and had a collapsed lung while flying from New York to Melbourne in 2008.
Kym was unable to return to work, but Neighbours executives chose to replace her for a few weeks in order to minimize script disturbance. Michala Banas, who played Libby on McLeod’s Daughters, stepped in until Kym recovered.
Neighbours, never one to take itself too seriously, picked the ideal moment to return to Kym. When Libby was involved in a rafting accident, she submerged as Michala and resurfaced as Kym.
With an online sketch about “the two Libbys,” the show poked light of the situation.
Hayley Lawson (Home and Away)
Hayley Lawson was one of the main characters on Home and Away from 1998 to 2005, however her final two months on screen were a little unusual for many viewers.
Hayley was played by Rebecca Cartwright for seven years, however in mid-2005, Bec shocked the Australian soap industry by announcing her departure for personal reasons. Hayley’s character was “an crucial element” of the soap’s storylines, thus the show’s producers decided to recast her rather than write her off right away.
Ella Scott Lynch stepped into Hayley’s shoes for a two-month stay to help bring the story to a close and give the character a proper send-off.
Holly Cunningham (Hollyoaks)
Holly has been performed by five different actors since her debut in 1997, making her one of the most recast characters in Soapland. After only a year on the program, Wallis Day – nicknamed Holly #4 – made the unexpected choice to leave.
Because the producers of Hollyoaks didn’t want to see Cindy’s kid go, Amanda Clapham was cast in the role.
Bryan Kirkwood, executive producer of Hollyoaks, told us at the time: “We are saddened by Wallis’ departure, but we accept her decision. We remade Holly because I thought she was too terrific a character to lose.”
Cindy’s first scene with the new Holly saw her ask her daughter if she’d been busy “playing her videos,” which was a cheeky take on the change.
This was an homage to Tracy Barlow from Corrie, who remained upstairs for a long period playing cassettes in the mid-1980s when original actress Christabel Finch’s family moved without alerting the producers.
Ellis Chapman (Emmerdale)
After an altercation with Hollyoaks cast member Jamie Lomas at the TV Choice Awards, Emmerdale actor Asan N’jie was fired from the show in September 2019. Ellis didn’t get an exit scene because the decision was made with immediate effect.
Ellis accepted a new job in Dubai in October 2019 and left off-camera, with his brother Billy announcing his decision on-screen. Billy firmly stated that Ellis would be gone for only a few weeks, but fans were unaware that Emmerdale executives were already preparing to bring Ellis back.
Emmerdale confirmed that Aaron Anthony will be taking over the part of Ellis less than a month later, and he was seen returning from Dubai in time for Christmas.
Cheryl Stark (Neighbours)
Caroline Gillmer, who played Cheryl Stark on Neighbours, became unwell in 1995, during a time when her character was extensively embroiled in continuing plots. Rather than rewrites, the show’s producers enlisted former Prisoner: Cell Block H actor Colette Mann to fill in for Cheryl for eight weeks.
Colette reflected on the behind-the-scenes mayhem in a 2013 interview with Digital Spy, saying: “On Friday, I was informed that I would begin work on Monday.
“The various characters in the sequences were brought in during filming, and someone stood on the sidelines explaining who they were, what our relationship was, and handing me my lines. For the first two weeks, it was like that. But I believe I improved with time.”
Colette was eventually returned for her kindness by Neighbours, who created her own character, Sheila Canning, in 2012. She is still a part of the show’s regular cast.
Declan Napier (Neighbours)
Neighbours executives unveiled yet another shocking switcheroo in early 2010. Declan Napier had been played by James Sorensen for three years, but he had decided to leave the show to pursue a career in the army.
Declan was popular with viewers, and the show’s producers had a number of significant stories planned for him, so they opted not to cut their losses and hired Erin Mullally to take his place.
James Sorensen promised a low-key recast to Holy Soap at the time: “It won’t be anything extravagant. One day I’m Declan, and the next I’m Erin. It’s quite straightforward.
“That’s how it works; I can’t keep going, so Erin enters and takes over the baton. When there is a straightforward change-over, I believe it is easier for the viewers to accept.”
Until 2011, Erin remained in the character of Declan.
Clare Devine (Hollyoaks)
Gemma Bissix is a Hollyoaks legend for her portrayal of the delectably nasty Clare Devine, but she wasn’t the first actress to take on the role.
Samantha Rowley portrayed Clare in late 2005 and early 2006. When Bryan Kirkwood took over as Hollyoaks producer in 2006, he had an immediate impact by electing to recast the character.
When Bryan took over the top role, Gemma was the first cast member Bryan hired. Bryan had determined that he wanted a fresh actress on board to take Clare in a new path because she was such an important element of his plans.
Gemma recounted on the Hollyoaks podcast Dog In The Pond: “[Samantha] came from a model show of some sort, and Hollyoaks was chastised for hiring individuals who were models rather than actors at the time. That’s when Hollyoaks was demoted, and it was all about appearances.
“Bryan took it upon himself when he got in — he was like Pippa from Home and Away. She went upstairs with Max one night, and I came down the next morning. I believe they enjoyed the attention it received – it had an impact.”
Glenda Mitchell (EastEnders)
Here’s a rare example of a soap recast that was never shown on TV. EastEnders officials revealed Glenda Mitchell’s casting in October 2009, with Jill Gascoine hired to play her.
Jill, on the other hand, stepped down from the job a few days later, claiming that she “lacked the appropriate experience to film such a major continuing drama.”
Jill recounted the situation at the time: “I was very excited to play Glenda, but after spending the previous 15 years in America – mostly performing in single dramas and writing fiction – I thought I lacked the necessary expertise to film such a large-scale ongoing drama when I arrived.
“I have tremendous respect for EastEnders and the cast so I didn’t want to let the show or my fellow cast members down.”
Glenda was played by Glynis Barber, and she was the only version of the character to appear on film.
“Glenda’s very important in the whole Mitchell saga and because I had to come in at such short notice, within 24 hours of meeting them, I was on set shooting 38 pages of dialogue,” Glynis told Digital Spy at the time.
“I rushed in, they gave me Glenda’s back-story and I didn’t even have time to read all the scripts before I started filming. I didn’t even know all the storyline, so in the first week, I filmed the character on a need-to-know basis.”
Jill, who was most remembered for her appearances in The Gentle Touch and The Onedin Line, died in April 2020 at the age of 83, and tributes flooded in.
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