Julia Sawalha, 50, was fired from the ‘Chicken Run’ sequel for sounding ‘too old’

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OH MY GOD. These Hollywood headlines have been eye-opening, even for someone as jaded as me. I had no idea that so many white actors were voicing animated characters who are people of color. And I had no idea that a voice actor could be fired for “sounding old.” A VOICE ACTOR. It’s bad enough when actresses are deemed “too old” to play a part on-screen. But to voice a character of a CHICKEN and then you’re fired from that job because of voice ageism? What the f–k. So it is with Julia Sawalha, best known to me as Saffy on Absolutely Fabulous. She was fired from the sequel to Chicken Run this week:

One of the lead voice stars of Aardman’s animated hit Chicken Hit — which was released in 2000 and remains the most successful stop-motion animation of all time — has accused producers of ageism for dropping her from the much-anticipated sequel (which The Hollywood Reporter first reported exclusively in 2018).

Julia Sawalha, who voiced Ginger in the original film, has published an open letter on social media — using the hashtag “#ageism — in which she says was “devastated and saddened” to be told via an email from her agent that she would not be cast in the follow up film, which Netflix recently announced it had picked up.

“The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds ‘too old’ and they want a younger actress to reprise the role,” said the 51-year-old, who was 30 at the time of the first movie. “Usually in these circumstances, an actress would be given the chance to do a voice test in order to determine the suitability of their pitch and tone, I however was not given this opportunity.”

Sawalha said that she even recorded her own voice test at home, which she claims a member of the production team agreed didn’t sound any older. “However, they stated ‘We will be going ahead to re-cast the voice of Ginger’,” she noted, pointing out that her dismissal came before it was announced that the second lead character of Rocky — who was voiced by Mel Gibson — was being recast as well, again with the reported reasoning being that his voice was too old.

“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,” she added. “If they will be using some of the original cast members… let’s be frank, I feel I have been unfairly dismissed.”

The Chicken Run sequel — due to go into production in 2021 with Sam Fell (Flushed Away) directing — is set to pick up on the human-free island where the chickens now live and feature Molly, the daughter of Ginger and Rocky. When a new threat emerges, Ginger is forced to get the chickens back into action.

“To say I am devastated and furious would be an understatement,” said Sawalha. “I feel totally powerless, something in all of this doesn’t quite ring true. I trust my instincts and they are waving red flags. I am saddened that I have lost the chance to work with Nick Park and Peter Lord from whom I learnt so much. The three of us, together, created Ginger.”

[From THR]

This is insane. And clearly, time has passed within the “story” of the Chicken Run sequel so it would even make sense for Ginger to “sound older,” if we even want to play into the studio’s bonkers argument. And beyond that, the studio does know that actors can manipulate their voices, right? They can make their voices higher or younger or older, they can adopt different accents, and besides, there are technical ways to manipulate an actor’s voice too. So basically, they fired Julia not because she SOUNDED old, but because she’s 50 years old and apparently animated chickens can only be voiced by Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone.

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Photos courtesy of WENN.

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18 Responses to “Julia Sawalha, 50, was fired from the ‘Chicken Run’ sequel for sounding ‘too old’”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    I stand with Saffie!

  2. lassie says:

    I love her. As a fellow 51 year old, I stand with Julia.
    Also LOVED her ad Lydia Bennet in the A&E Pride and Prejudice adaptation with Colin Firth. She was amazing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Best known to ME as 1995 Lydia Bennet!

    • Ash says:

      And I’ll claim her as Lynda from Press Gang!

      Although, if someone just showed me the top picture without any context, I don’t think I’d have ever picked that it was her in a million years…don’t get me wrong, she looks incredible, but just completely different.

    • ClaireB says:

      Yes, the best Lydia! Though I know her as Saffy too.

  4. Mumbles says:

    This was a story point on last season’s “Better Things” and I thought it was an exaggeration and then Real Life says, hold my beer.

  5. Lizzie says:

    The whole original cast is 20 years older yet she was the only one dismissed? Producers looking for a casting couch opportunity.

    • holly hobby says:

      They got rid of Mel Gibson too but I think that one had more to do with his problematic self than his age.

  6. Agirlandherdog says:

    I don’t know anything about this movie, but I think it’s more likely no one wanted to sign on Mel Gibson, so they manufactured this excuse and threw her under the bus with it.

  7. Katie_44 says:

    She and the girl who plays Bubbles (gosh I can’t remember her name) were my two favorite parts of Chicken Run! Without Saffy I won’t be watching. That’s awful that they wouldn’t sign her on!

    • antipodean says:

      @Katie_44, that would be the redoubtable Jane Horrocks, and she is an absolute legend. Did you ever see “Little Voice” with her and Michael Caine, and Brenda Blethyn I think? It was an absolute revelation! She played daffy Bubbles in AbFab to perfection.

  8. Chickaletta says:

    Okay but first, how is Saffy 50??? I mean, AbFab was just on yesterday, right? Jennifer Saunders is 50 sure but …..

    shit Im old.

  9. paddingtonjr says:

    Team Saffie!! So, she sounds “too old” to play her character, who is now 20 years older and a mother in the new movie?? And they don’t even let her audition? I get not want to work with Mel Gibson again, but don’t punish this talented actress and try to give her some B.S. about sounding too old! I stand with Saffie!

  10. Sean says:

    Craig T. Nelson voiced Mr. Incredible when he was 60 years old in the original “The Incredibles”. He was 74 when he reprised the role in the 2018 sequel. The second film takes place immediately following the first film so the character is not older, yet you can hear it in Nelson’s voice. He sounded noticeably older yet he was brought back.

    Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy in Scooby-Doo well into his 70s (and you could hear it, which made Shaggy sound odd given the character is a young adult).

    If Julia Sawalha was a white man, she wouldn’t have been fired. Heck, Mel Gibson is 65 but was considered fine for his reprisal until he had to go and bee his awful self.

  11. Ravensdaughter says:

    Julia was absolutely fabulous as Ginger! What is wrong with these casting people? (Sexism anyone?)

  12. Jaded says:

    That’s unconscionable. She’s a fabulous actor and not every woman has to sound like she’s been sucking helium. And in fact she’s always had a slightly husky voice. As Lydia in Pride and Prejudice she was perfect. As Saffy in Ab Fab she was amazing. As Dorkus Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford she was sublime. What a shame…

  13. Ms. says:

    How dare they fire Saffy! She is a gem! Ugh. I won’t see this if she isnt in it.

  14. Marigold says:

    She will always be Lydia Bennet to me, and this is complete BS. Her voice is lovely and unique. You can recognize it anywhere. Huge mistake on their part.