Sawalha has accused the makers of the upcoming film of ageism, after she was told her voice sounded “too old” to reprise the role.
The actor – best known for playing Saffy in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous – had been hoping to voice Ginger in the new film, which Aardman Animations is creating for Netflix 20 years on from the release of the original.
However, in an open letter, Sawalha said she’d been informed “out of the blue” via an email to her agent that the character was to be recast.
Sharing her letter on Twitter with the hashtag #ageism, she wrote: “The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds ‘too old’ and they want a younger actress to reprise the role.”
Sawalha then revealed she’d sent producers a voice test to prove she still has the same range she did 20 years ago, but was told they would be recasting her role anyway.
“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,” she added. “I am passionate about my work and I don’t go down without a fight, so I did my own voice test at home and sent it to the producers, which you can view here.”
Sawalha said she’d subsequently received “a very kind and thoughtfully written response from one of the creatives” explaining that despite “creatives” agreeing that her voice did not sound older, they will still be “going ahead to re-cast the voice of Ginger.”
Sawalha went on to state she feels“ devastated and furious” to be ousted from the film, which will also be recasting Rocky, who was originally voiced by Mel Gibson. Gibson has been the focus of accusations of anti-Semitism and homophobia, most recently from Winoa Ryder, but according to both Sawalha and a report from Variety, the “Chicken Run” recasting decision was due to a studio desire to utilize younger actors.
“The reason given was that his voice is now too old,” Sawalha said. “I feel I have been fobbed off with the same excuse. 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. If they will be using some of the original cast members…let’s be frank, I feel I have been unfairly dismissed.”
She closed her message by writing: “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.
Today I responded by wishing the production the best of luck and the greatest success with the sequel. There is nothing more I can do, other than to thank all of you who loved and still love Chicken Run, as I do.
“I’m off for the chop now, Ginger x (sic).”
HuffPost has contacted Netflix and Aardman Animations for comment and is awaiting responses.
The sequel to Chicken Run, which remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time, was announced in June. It is expected to go into production in 2021 and will be released by Netflix.
The logline for the sequel says: “Having pulled off a death-defying escape from Tweedy’s farm, Ginger has finally found her dream, a peaceful island sanctuary for the whole flock, far from the dangers of the human world.
“When she and Rocky hatch a little girl called Molly, Ginger’s happy ending seems complete. But back on the mainland the whole of chicken-kind faces a new and terrible threat.
“For Ginger and her team, even if it means putting their own hard-won freedom at risk – this time, they’re breaking in!”
Jeremy Blum contributed reporting.
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