EastEnders star Danniella Westbrook reflects on Sam recast

Daniel Kilkelly
·3-min read

From Digital Spy

Former EastEnders star Danniella Westbrook has opened up over how she felt about her character Sam Mitchell being recast.

Danniella played the role on and off between 1990 and 2000, but when show bosses brought the character back in 2002, they chose to cast Kim Medcalf in the part.

At the time, Danniella had recently gone into recovery following drug addiction. Kim went on to play Sam until 2005.

Speaking openly about the experience, Danniella told Soap From The Box podcast that she had her daughter a few months before the show decided to bring her character back, and had also gone into recovery that year.

Photo credit: Nicky Johnston - BBC
Photo credit: Nicky Johnston - BBC

Opening up on a conversation with the Head of Continuing Drama and casting director, she recalled: "I said: 'Listen, I just can't do it'. They said: 'Listen, given your track record, we can't really ask you back, so we are already recasting'.

"I said: 'Well, I wouldn't be able to do it'. They said: 'Well that's a blessing, because we were dreading making the phone call. We're not offering you it, because you've been so ill the last few times you've come back. We do want to look after your safety first. How do you feel about it?'

"I said: 'Do you know what? You've just taken the decision out of my hands and I feel I can put that to bed. Maybe one day, if anything ever comes around, I hope we can all sit down and have dinner and have a lovely time about it, and look at the lovely memories'."

Photo credit: Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle / Stringer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle / Stringer - Getty Images

The actress described the decision as a "blessing" that helped her put her recovery first.

In 2009, Danniella ended up meeting Kim for the first time at the TRIC Awards in London. Soon afterwards, she was offered the role back by Diederick Santer, who was EastEnders' executive producer at the time.

This is one of the only times in British soap history that a character has been recast back to the original cast member.

Danniella said: "I had never seen [Kim] before, so I went up to her on the red carpet and I said: 'Kim, I just wanted to say well done on the part. I know you took a lot of backlash and everything for stepping in, but you did a fantastic job. You're a very talented actress and thank you for keeping Sam alive, keeping her going'. She was a little bit taken aback and said: 'Thank you so much'.

Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

She said that she met Diederick three weeks later and shortly after she was invited to resume her character and return to the show.

Danniella added: "All respect to the powers that be at the BBC for letting me go away for 14 years and get well."

Paying tribute to Kim for stepping in, Danniella added: "EastEnders runs at such a fast pace, so if you don't bed in fast, you're gone. She's used to doing theatre, she's used to picking up and turning around things quickly, so she hit the ground running and did a great job.

"But Diederick wanted it to be me, and once I proved to be well enough for long enough, I came back. I was allowed to remould Sam and bring her back."

Danniella was last seen as Sam in 2016, when she returned briefly for Peggy Mitchell's funeral episodes.

Her full episode of Soap From The Box goes live on Sunday (April 4).

EastEnders declined to comment when contacted by Digital Spy.

For more on drug addiction and dependency, including information and support, please visit FRANK or Action on Addiction.

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