Blake’s 7: Interview: Jan Chappell

B7CA203_mindset_1417The third story of the new full cast Blake’s 7 audios from Big Finish and B7 Media focuses on Cally, with Jac Rayner’s script giving Jan Chappell plenty to get her teeth into. During the recording of the series last summer, the actress sat down with Paul Simpson to discuss her return to the role…


You’re back playing Cally after all these years; what do you like about playing her now?

Particularly with these current scripts, they’re certainly giving Cally quite a lot of action which is good. She seems to be coming across as more decisive, and she seems to have a different relationship with, for instance, Avon. She’s actually giving him a few commands – which is new! That never happened before. That’s been interesting.

Has that come out of discussions with [previous producer] David Richardson and [current producer] Cavan Scott?

Not at all. I was a bit concerned that it might be controversial – would Avon accept that or not? But we tempered the delivery of the lines so we don’t offend anybody.

Surely storytelling priorities would trump the complaints of the fans?

Yes, but I’m sure I would complain if I was a fan of a programme and characters started to behave in a way that I didn’t associate with their character, especially if they have had a serious longevity. Part of the hook with any kind of drama series is that you as an audience have a knowledge of those people and what they’re like, and their characters. It would jump out if it was really seriously inconsistent and it might not be apt, unless they were having a nervous breakdown or there was some other useful dramatic reason why.

Cally 1There’s a fine line between knowledge of a character and ownership of them…

Yes, exactly. I think fans like to feel that they own them – some more than others!

How do you feel about Cally now that you’re playing someone you first played so many years ago?

It is kind of peculiar, because you know that there’s no way that you’d be playing them in any other medium. It’s inconceivable…

What about animation?

That could be fun!

It’s still a vocal performance though.

Yes it is, and I enjoy it enormously. I love coming back and being with the gang again, and also working on it with other people. I’m delighted Tom Chadbon has now become part of the crew. That’s really interesting, and Hugh Fraser coming in as a previous President is very interesting. It’s fun also looking at how the scripts are emerging, how they’re working round various absences. It’s all very intriguing.

I want to congratulate the writers on their award for the San Diego ComicCon: well deserved.

The Big Finish stories have given the stories more scope than they ever had on television, yet they’re also doing more personal stories as well. Which do you prefer?

I love the contrast. I’m full of admiration for the scripts where they’ll have a couple of us doing a script, and even I feel as if there’s been five of us in the studio by the time we’ve finished recording a story, yet there was only me and Michael, or whoever. Equally, the scripts where we have a large cast, which is not so much about the internal journeys as the external adventures, I think are fun. I love the contrast enormously.

Have there been things about Cally that have surprised you?

(Long pause) I’d love to be surprised – but not yet.

Cally 2Because it is a vocal performance, what elements of her are you bringing out more?

There’s a technical thing – as you get older, your voice goes down. I took a note out of the great Sir Laurence Olivier’s book. When he was being trained to go on stage as Othello many years ago, he went to one of the voice teachers at RADA. I was at RADA at the time and we were told the advice he had been given to play this black man was to come on in the first scenes using just his bass register to emulate the wonderful African baritone voice. He couldn’t play a whole Shakespeare play on that one tone, but the audience would go, ‘Wow that is Othello, the African’, and they would see that in the rest of the performance, albeit he would have taken his voice up to his normal pitch. So I have to remember at the beginning of the episode to take my voice up and speak from my throat, and not from my diaphragm.

That works in the theatre, but perhaps might not on film so much…

I know he did the film of it, but I can’t remember being conscious of thinking he had changed. He wouldn’t want to do it all in that register because he wouldn’t have the flexibility of expression, any more than I would. You’d just have to pitch it and it would be monotonous at the end of the day.

What sort of things do you look for in a script? What sort of characters interest you?

I don’t act now except for these; but if I was looking at a script, it would be a well-written script with a form to it, with well-drawn characters and dialogue I believe in. That’s been true of any script that I’ve looked at – it captures your imagination, you feel confident that it’s going to be interesting, and you can have something to offer the character within it. There’s some part of you that can identify with that character. If there isn’t then you’ve been miscast, because you wouldn’t know how to go about it.

Click here to order Mindset from Big Finish

and here to read our review of the story.

Our other Blake’s 7 interviews include: Paul Darrow    and producer Cavan Scott



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