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Soaps Interview

Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy, 'Neighbours')

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Jackie Woodburne aka 'Susan Kennedy'

© Rex Features / David Fisher

Neighbours' much-loved couple Susan and Karl Kennedy have experienced quieter times on Ramsay Street lately, but fans recently heard that there could be trouble ahead for the pair. When show bosses announced that Benjie McNair had reprised his role on the soap earlier this month, they confirmed that his character Malcolm Kennedy returns to Erinsborough amid fresh marital problems for his parents, which begin when Susan develops an emotional connection to another man. Fan favourite Jackie Woodburne, who plays Susan, recently gave Digital Spy the first teasers on what to expect once the surprising plotline hits screens later this year.

You must be pleased about the return of Benjie as Malcolm!
"I couldn't be more thrilled. Benjie was on the show for around five years and part of the original Kennedys, so he is as familiar to the audience as the Karl, Susan and Libby characters. It won't take long before he is deeply entrenched in the street again."

How long have you known that the producers had this up their sleeve?
"Not a great deal in advance. There are always rumblings about characters returning, but we didn't want to get our hopes up!"

Do you keep in touch with Benjie in between his stints on the show?
"We see each other occasionally at the odd do, but Benjie has been very busy with three young children so it's lovely to catch up now."

Is it easy to quickly switch back on the 'mother-son' bond for your performances with Benjie?
"Absolutely, no problem at all. I was instinctively tidying up his hair the other day during a scene without any hesitation!"

We've heard that Susan and Karl's marriage will soon be running into problems again. What are your thoughts on the decision to throw some turbulence back into their relationship?
"I think it's great. Any relationship that has been going for 30 years is going have turbulent patches, and I think they are too young to settle into comfortable dotage. If you survive those difficult times, the relationship is bigger and better."

Neighbours: Susan and Karl
Do you ever worry that you're revisiting old ground when the Kennedys run into problems?
"Had the problem taken the form of a 25-year-old girl, then yes, that would have concerned me because we have gone down that path before. However, the conflict which is arising is very appropriate for the stage of their relationship and time of their lives they are at - I think the issues are very relevant."

According to what we've heard, the problems for the Kennedys are caused by Susan developing an emotional connection to another man. Can you tell us anything about this?
"She absolutely does develop a very strong attachment to another man, and I think the basis of it is Susan's desire to be needed. The children have grown up, the kids are moving away, I think she is probably trying to redefine who she is as a person without children dependent on her. She is very vulnerable to someone who has very special needs and wants to step in to help."

Do you think Malcolm will be able to help his parents to work through things?
"He can help them because he is coming in with fresh eyes. He hasn't been around his parents for a long time, so on top of that he has points of reference, historical moments of his parents' relationship, and knows their weaknesses, who might be at fault, who might be overreacting - so he'll be a great help."

Do you still hold out hope that Jesse Spencer could return as Billy Kennedy one day?
"Yes, I do and I know for a fact that if it was at all possible and Jesse was in town and something could be arranged, he personally would be up for it, although I can't speak for his management."

Here in the UK, we'll see Harold Bishop returning to screens early next month. Did you enjoy having Ian Smith back on set?
"Of course, it was wonderful. I see quite a bit of Ian outside of work but it was lovely having that Harold touchstone back."

When asked whether you're staying put at Neighbours in a recent interview, you were quoted as saying that a couple of years ago you would have said yes but now you weren't so sure. Has anything changed for you in those two years?
"I don't know if so much has changed. In the context of that answer, we were discussing if the show were to wind up and how much life does it have left in it. I have no plans to leave, I'm very happy - but if the show were to end, let's face it, life does go on."

Is playing Susan still a challenge for you?
"The only way I have been able to do this job for so long and so happily is because it remains a challenge. Just today, Alan [Fletcher] and I were thrashing out some scenes for this storyline with the other man that we were both struggling with, so we were working with the director and trying to find a way through potential problems. When the day comes that I get a script, learn it and say it, that will probably be the time I walk away, but while it is still a challenge and remains a challenge, it's great!"

> Neighbours return for Malcolm Kennedy

Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm on Channel 5 in the UK and weekdays at 6.30pm on Eleven in Australia. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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