Neighbours: Jackie Woodburne interview – “I love it when Susan has someone to hate!”

The Erinsborough veteran explains why she’s enjoying the Finn saga so much in an exclusive interview

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Neighbours’ Susan Kennedy has been the moral guardian of Ramsay Street for more than two decades, but her position is under threat from nasty newcomer Finn Kelly.

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The toxic teacher is on a quest to destroy Susan and take over as principal of Erinsborough High, while also exacting revenge on ex-lover, and fellow teacher, Elly Conway and grooming vulnerable teenager Xanthe Canning to aid his machinations to cause chaos in the close-knit community. 

With Susan forced to step down as head of the school thanks to fiendish Finn secretly drugging her, times are tough for Mrs Kennedy – but in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com during a recent visit to the UK, actress Jackie Woodburne reveals she couldn’t be happier…

“I love it when Susan has someone to hate!” laughs the star, who has played the role since 1994. “It’s great when she’s flawed and gets it wrong and you see how stubborn she is. Before the rivalry with Izzy Hoyland, who her husband Karl had a relationship with, Susan didn’t hate anybody. Giving Susan a rival again shows other sides of her character.”

Finn certainly had everybody fooled when he breezed into town to take up a teaching position, but it was soon clear this was a man with an agenda.

“Susan is normally a good judge of character, but when Finn arrived he flattered her and wanted her to be his mentor,” continues Woodburne. “Elly warned her as they had history but Susan fell for Finn’s charm. And it turns out Susan was wrong – which is something that doesn’t happen very often. We need to put that on a T-shirt… ‘Susan was wrong’! Sometimes we refer to her as ‘Ninja Susan’ as she often predicts things before they happen, but not this time!”

Having been drugged by her nemesis, Susan ended up in hospital this week and Woodburne teases more tension is to come as Finn starts to execute his masterplan.

“We see Susan gradually reduced to a state of helplessness as her health deteriorates. She and Elly are convinced Finn has been messing with her MS medication to put her out of the picture, but they need proof. Her physical and mental health continues to decline and she’s been forced to step down as principal, but she’s reluctant as it means Finn will only get more entrenched.

“Elly is also in danger as she desperately tries to gather evidence and Finn tries to undermine her, while Xanthe is being groomed by him which is going to get a lot more serious. Finn is like a slow creeping cancer – everyone is trying to uncover him but Susan is so diminished at this point she’s got to rely on Elly to be her wing man.”

It appears Finn will do anything to get what he wants, so what does Woodburne believe his motivation to be?

“It’s quite layered. We know he has an embolism – is that dictating his actions or is he just bad? He’s admitted to sabotaging Elly’s career and he cheated on his wife with her, then claimed he was a changed man. He wants to be principal and is prepared to go to great lengths – if he is a sociopath than there’s no sense of remorse, or right and wrong, he genuinely believes he’s the best man for the job.

“As to whether Susan will be the one to bring Finn down, I’ve a feeling he could be a part of his own undoing. He becomes almost maniacal as acting principal and if everyone just stepped back he’d be exposed for who he really is and it would be clear his intentions are not honourable.

“But there’s a way to go with the storyline, and particularly for Xanthe things will get much worse. She’s the perfect character for him to target and manipulate – so trusting to the point it’s heartbreaking. She’s looking for someone to love and Finn will take that to dangerous levels…”

Susan may be at her lowest right now, but in Ramsay Street there’s usually a happy ending so fans are hoping she’ll be back on top before long – and it’s this inherent positivity that Woodburne attributes to being a reason for Neighbours’ continued success after 32 years.

“The world is a scary place, and the show offers something life affirming, gentle and positive. For half an hour a day it lets people drop their shoulders and get lost in something where characters care about each other – more than ever I think that speaks to an audience.

“And for me, I’ve been here 23 years in August, I just loving coming to work every day and getting to act. Every week is a new set of scripts and a fresh challenge – one week I’m dressed as a naughty nurse in a ridiculous comedy storyline, and the next you’re at someone’s deathbed doing emotional scenes. I can’t imagine any other job that would provide such variety.”

The last word from Woodburne obviously has to be about her on-screen partner, Alan Fletcher who plays the other half of the much-loved partnership, Dr Karl…

“Fletch and I love working together, we clicked from the day we met years ago on show called Cop Shop, around 1985. We’re on the same wavelength and we’re lucky to have that. The writers have made Susan and Karl fully rounded characters, and you get the sense they genuinely like each other and love hanging out as friends.

“Until he gets the guitar out, and then Susan will think: ‘just kill me now…’”

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Neighbours continues weekdays on Channel 5 at 1.45pm and 5.30pm.