BEWITCHED BY KIM: The Actress Who Plays the New 'Sam'

By Tim Wilson

When I was a kid my much missed Uncle Bob from Tennessee once said to me, "It takes a big man to own up to a big ol' crush." I will always be grateful for all his well-meaning yet vaguely incoherent words of advice and encouragement regarding matters of the heart.

So O.K., I'm owning up to having a crush on someone right now. It developed one day in mid-January when I met Kim Medcalf (aka Samantha Mitchell Butcher No. 2) in the Green Room at the BBC Elstree Television Centre, where the EastEnders actors sit and relax between shooting scenes.

Miss Medcalf arrived decked out in typical Sam gear-tight jeans and a halter top-Charlie's Angels Gone Walford, if you will. I was immediately entranced. Actually I've developed many a crush on nearly all of the EE actresses I've met over the years, ranging from simple admiration to unbridled (and hopefully concealed) lust. Sorry, I won't elaborate on which one inspired which stirrings!

Kim struck a particular chord with me. I had already surmised that she reminded me of someone, who was it... someone I had a big crush on in my distant youth. I finally figured out who it was-Samantha on the ABC-TV series Bewitched as played by the truly lovely Elizabeth Montgomery! I certainly wasn't the only guy who adored Samantha/Elizabeth, believe me (Editor's note: me too).

Those of us, young and old, who desperately yearned to be in Darren's shoes must have numbered in the millions. That's who the truly lovely blonde enchantress now sitting before me reminded me of, and I was enough of a fool to use that to help break the ice once her interview with me got under way.

KM: BEWITCHED? Yes, I've heard of that series but I've never seen it. I think it was a big hit over here in its day, as it was in the States but they don't show reruns of it, do they? Maybe on digital or satellite?

WG: Oh, that's right, you guys don't have the same TV broadcasting channels as we do, where sitcoms can be shown endlessly on local channels and TV Land, especially late at night.

KM: At least we can buy or rent videos and DVDs of TV shows now. I'll see if there are any of Bewitched out! Funny that her name in it is Samantha, as well.

WG: I'd love to see you play that Samantha. I gather that Nicole Kidman will be playing her in a big-screen version with Jim Carrey as Darren.

KM: That sounds great! But man, she always gets the best parts! (laughs) I wish she'd leave some for the rest of us.

WG: But let's talk about YOUR Samantha role on EastEnders. First of all, I have to tell you that I saw your debut on the show about two months before the nation did.

KM (confused): Oh yeah? Really?

WG: I was spending a weekend at the story consultant/script writer Tony Jordan's house and he sat me down with an advance copy of the EE episodes set in Spain.

KM (laughs): Wow, lucky you!

WG: I was mostly interested in seeing them because I was very curious about what the new Sam would look like and how she'd be reintroduced to the viewers.

KM: And?

WG: And I turned to Tony, who'd been in the kitchen making the Sunday roast for him, his family and myself, and said that the EE team did a great job in selecting a new Sam and her reintroduction was one of the better aspects of the episodes! He already knew I wasn't very fond of plotlines involving capers of any kind.

KM: Oh, right, it had Peggy and Frank running around Spain chased by bad guys out to get back their money. Well I'm glad you liked ME! (laughs)

WG: You and Barbara Windsor-I think that's the most comical stuff she's ever had to play as Peggy. She was wonderful in those first scenes when she found out Frank was alive after all.

KM: Yep, you're right on that one, she was very funny-she got to dip into her comic resources from those days when she was such a big star in those Carry On films.

WG: I was pretty impressed that they chose an actress who somewhat physically resembled Danniella (Westbrook, the original actress to play Sam) and not someone so different looking as to jar the viewers.

KM: Yes, I see what you mean. It also helped that Danniella wasn't out on the Friday show and I was in on the Monday show, d'you know what I mean? She'd been off-screen for about two years by then, I think.

WG: That helped, too! Sam and Mark Fowler are really two of the biggest recasts the show has had to do thus far. I don't really count Scarlett Johnson as Vicki because the original Vicki was a little girl when she was last seen leaving Walford with her mother Michelle.

KM (proudly): Oh, I love Scarlett, she a lovely young girl. I'm her on-set mentor, you know.

WG: Oh? I just heard about that from Lucy Speed (Natalie).

KM: It's a fairly new system where someone from the cast is assigned to more or less help them get used to the schedule and such. I think it makes a lot of sense.

WG: Me, too. All the soaps should do that. You were certainly a newcomer to TV when you got this job, right?

KM: I hadn't done ANYTHING on TV before-anything! Just theatre. I didn't even know what a "boom" [microphone] was. It used to just mean an exploding sound for me until I found out it's like a big Q-tip with hair which the sound crew use to record the show from an audio standpoint! (laughs) I dunno, in a way it was quite good that I didn't know anything at all about filming-I might have been more scared and nervous! Everyone was so kind to me as I learned on the job.

WG: Like Barbara?

KM: Definitely Barbara. She's a pro from the old school, which is the best sort, and she was very, very good to me. It really helped that my first scenes on the show were done on location in Spain and not on the sound stages over here. If my first bit had been to stride into the Queen Vic and shout "Hello, mum!" I would have been rather petrified!

WG: In an interview I just conducted with Lucy Speed I included questions from fellow EastEnders viewers back in the U.S. and I thought I'd repeat the practice here. Irene Feldman from New Jersey sent me this question: How did you prepare to play a role once played by someone else? Did you watch tapes, for instance?

KM: Well, Irene from New Jersey, thanks for your question. Uhhh... I actually watched the show a bit when Danniella had been on so I had a distinct memory of her to work with. What I basically did was to read a prepared, detailed biography of the character which was provided by the production office. I did sit down to watch a five-minute clip of Danniella but I quickly realised I didn't want to carry on watching because I was afraid of falling into doing an imitation of her, d'ye know what I mean?

WG: Absolutely.

KM: I'll tell you something weird-when I first started getting the scripts I used to hear the lines first in my head with HER voice saying them! But that changed over time, thank God, as I hopefully made the character my own and I gave her MY voice.

WG: And you have. Here's a question which might strike you as a bit unfair but I'll ask it anyway. In what way is your Sam different from Danniella's?

KM (laughs): Yes, it's a LOT unfair but I'll answer it as best I can! O.K., let's see... I think much of it is down to the fact that I'm playing Sam at a different time in her life. Danniella played Sam from when she was around 16 years old! She played Sam, I think, as a little girl, sheltered by her over-protective brothers and mother and who never really grew up. I think I play her as a young woman trying to find her place both in a career and in relationships with the opposite sex!

WG: At least you didn't have to walk around the streets of London dressed as a wedge of cheese when poor Sam had that awful promotions job back in the early 1990s!

KM (laughs): Oh, I heard of that! Never saw it, though. Poor Sam, indeed-the silly cow probably thought it would lead to a modelling contract or something.

WG: Dana from NYC has this question: Any new older men to come in Sam's life?

KM: Well, Dana from NYC, I think perhaps there very well might be. Let's all hope he's attractive, eh?

WG: She did have her share of older men, didn't she? That's one thing she had in common with Bianca besides Ricky. David Wicks, Beppe DiMarco, Trevor Morgan, that modelling agent guy. I'd love it if Michael French came back to the show as David and he could be Sam's boyfriend but would also get it on with Kat Slater in the portacabin when Sam wasn't around.

KM: Oh, how rude! (laughs) Michael French was BRILLIANT as David. I'm afraid that's not likely to happen, unfortunately. He's moved on and is doing other things and is quite successful. He's a big TV star over here.

WG: Esta from Florida had this to ask: who picks Sam's wardrobe? I realize East End barmaids do have a certain style but some of her behind the bar ensembles are a bit over the top.

KM: Gee, THANKS, Esta from NYC! (laughs) Yeah, yeah, Sam has worn some questionable items from time to time but this year she's going to be looking more up-market and business-like since it looks like she'll get sucked into the Ian Beale empire this year.

WG: Dear God, what a revolting image.

KM (laughs): It'll be FUN, though. I can't wait.

WG: I'm kidding. Actually I think it would be quite good. To be honest I think the writers haven't been sure of how to write for Sam for a while. This Ian/Sam partnership might bring her into focus a bit more.

KM: I agree. I'm quite excited about the storyline they have coming up for her.

WG: Esta's got another gem: Does Sam ever think about getting a proper job and NOT telling Phil about it until she starts? That way he can't go ahead and ruin it for her.

KM (laughs): Good one, Esta! Well obviously she won't find herself working for Ian with Phil's help! (laughs) Not unless he REALLY wanted to punish her for something. I think in this case one of the reasons she takes the job is to punish HIM.

WG: Totally off the subject of Sam. Is it true you're a singer as well as an actress?

KM: Yes, that's right. Before EastEnders I'd appeared in a production of the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus-I played Venus! It was done at the King's Head in North London.

WG: I've been to the King's Head-it's a highly regarded theatre with a pub up front and in the back there's a stage the size of a postage stamp.

KM: You've obviously been there! Well done. It was a wonderful experience, doing that show. I'm happy to say that the critics were very complimentary to the production as well as to myself. It was directed by an American named Timothy Childs. He's directed a lot of productions of Annie, including the revival that was on Broadway a few years ago.

WG: I absolutely believe you could have a future doing light comedy roles like the ghost Elvira in Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit.

KM: That role is a few years off for me I think, but thank you very much. I hope to be doing things like that in the future. One Touch of Venus had light comedy and singing combined. I do love to sing and I hope I can show that off on telly some day. And I'd looooove to do a film musical like Grease I really loved that movie when I was a little kid.

WG: Here's something I noticed that you haven't been showing off on telly as Samantha lately. That pout.

KM (laughs): Oh, what on earth are you referring to? When I began on the show I thought that was the sort of face a saucy barmaid like Sam would pull along with her punters' pints! My boyfriend finally told me I looked like a duck when I did that and would I please stop? (laughs)

WG: Is he still your boyfriend?

KM: Yes, he is. We just came back from New York City where we saw the New Year in together. We had the best time. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel with a concierge and everything! (laughs) And we saw that incredible Broadway musical The Producers.

WG: Hey, you could play Ulla, the sexy Swedish secretary. Perhaps in the West End?

KM: The lady who I saw play Ulla was amazing-I gather she's been doing it since the very beginning. I would LOVE to be in that show some day. I adored New York-I love the people a lot. And the shopping was fantastic, obviously.

WG: Did you get recognised in the stores when you were out shopping?

KM: Yes, by Brits but not by New Yorkers or other Americans-how disappointing! (laughs)

WG: Is it true you actually studied law for about three years before you decided to make the transition to performing?

KM (nods): Yes, I did study law for three years.

WG: What kind of law?

KM: Medical law, mostly. After three years I began to seriously question why I was pursuing a career in law when my gut was still urging me to be a performer. So I guess I was a bit of a late bloomer compared to other young actresses starting out. I was in my mid-twenties by the time I entered drama school-I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama, which is quite a good one to attend. I learned a lot there.

WG: We're nearing the end of this interview unfortunately since it's almost time for you to head back to the set. Who do you socialize with from the EE cast when you're not here at Elstree?

KM: Oh, let's see, there are a few of them I really enjoy spending time with off the set. Michelle Ryan (Zoe) is so lovely and a great person. Gary Beadle (Paul)-he's a right laugh. Charlie (Brooks, who plays Janine) is a sweetie and a good mate. And there's Nick Bailey (Anthony)-love him! If I didn't have a boyfriend I was so crazy about...

WG: He's a terrific guy. I just interviewed him-that should be in the next Gazette.

KM: I'm sure he was never at a loss for words, was he? (laughs)

WG: No, he wasn't, thank God.

KM: I hope this has been all right. I hope you've got what you needed.

WG: It's been great, thank you very much Kim. Now go out there and make the barmaids of Britain proud!

KM: Uhhhh, excuse me, right now Sam is a club manager, thanks very much!

WG: Oops, sorry.

Before she ran off I asked her if she ever watched the American TV series 24, which I'm a huge admirer of and which is a big hit in the U.K. She said she loved it so I gave her two tapes containing the first seven episodes of the 2002-2003 season as thanks for giving such a terrific subject interview. She was thrilled to get them and said she couldn't wait to watch them with her boyfriend in their flat in Notting Hill. Her boyfriend-the Darren to her Samantha. Lucky fella.

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