In the popular BBC soap EastEnders, Kelsey Calladine-Smith joined the cast in 2021 as Jada Lennox, working closely with actors including Letitia Dean and Steve McFadden, before leaving the show in August and returning for the 2022 Christmas Special. For her first regular screen character, Kelsey played Indigo Moon in the CBBC adaptation of The Worst Witch for Series 3 and 4, and she appeared as a dancer in the film version of stage musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Kelsey made her professional and West End debut as Young Nala in The Lion King, and during her time in the show, she was selected for the 15th Anniversary performance. Chatting to us recently, Kelsey told us about her time in EastEnders as Jada Lennox, playing Indigo Moon in CBBC’s The Worst Witch and making her professional and West End debut as Young Nala in The Lion King.
At the end of 2021, you joined the cast of EastEnders as new regular character Jada Lennox, how did you feel finding out you’d booked the role and what do you remember from your first day on set?
I was over the moon when I heard that I had got the part and also felt a sense of relief because I had invested so much time in Jada’s character to the point where she felt like a part of me. My mum’s reaction was priceless when we both found out, she had the biggest smile ever! So yes, I felt immensely proud and will not forget it in a hurry. My first day on set felt surreal, to be honest, and it felt really great to receive positive comments from the director. EastEnders was my first acting job after The Worst Witch and I remember thinking on my first day how much I had grown as an actress.
Can you tell us about Jada and what she was like to play?
Jada is a single mother at the age of 16, with no established home or family support, grappling with the daunting task of caring for her child. So portraying Jada was unquestionably challenging and often demanded a deep emotional commitment because my life experiences are completely different from Jada’s. To play the part, I had to internalise Jada’s trauma, which at times felt emotionally exhausting. I deeply appreciated the trust placed in me to convey this narrative, given the widespread stigma surrounding teen pregnancies. I desired to tell an authentic story and raise awareness for confused and lost teenagers, assuring them that they are not alone and that hope persists even in challenging circumstances. It was indeed a privilege to shoulder such a weighty storyline at the age of 16, and I sincerely hope that I did justice to this role.
How was it working alongside the rest of the cast and how did you find the experience filming for a long-running TV soap?
It was a great privilege to work with soap legends like Letitia Dean (Sharon) and Steve McFadden (Phil). They gave me a warm welcome and were very willing to answer my questions. It was a real pleasure to work alongside them and learn from them. I had been told about the brisk production of soaps, which I actually quite liked because it meant I was constantly engaged with my character and adapted to feedback faster than I ever had to before.
What was it like returning to the show for the 2022 Christmas episode and is there anything you miss most about playing Jada?
Receiving the news of EastEnders inviting me back for the Christmas episode was genuinely unexpected, to say the least. Initially, I had believed my character would depart without the truth ever coming to light, which left me somewhat unsettled. Therefore, I was relieved to discover that I would have the opportunity to return, unveil the truth, and clarify the motivations behind Jada’s actions in framing Linda. During my time on EastEnders, I developed a real sense of empathy for Jada as I delved into the layers of her character. I began to perceive the wounded and frustrated young woman beneath her misguided decisions. What I miss most is getting inside my character’s head and conveying her thoughts to the audience.
Did you have a favourite storyline to film and how was it seeing the viewers’ response to your character?
My favourite storyline remains Jada’s arrival in Walford. It was a surprising moment for viewers since no one expected a new character on EastEnders and with Dennis Jr’s baby being left on Sharon’s doorstep. Establishing my character was a challenging yet crucial task when joining such an iconic soap opera. I didn’t read public comments or reactions to my character, so I’m unsure about the overall opinion. However, in face-to-face interactions, fans responded positively and seemed to enjoy my portrayal of Jada. Some people have also expressed sadness that Jada left the show.
You played Indigo Moon in Series 3 and 4 of The Worst Witch for CBBC, how was it having her as your first regular role on screen and how was it on set?
My experience on The Worst Witch takes me back to when I was 13 and 14. Indigo Moon was a really exciting character to play as my first role on TV. This experience was not just about acting in front of a camera, it also introduced me to the world of special effects. I found myself dangling in front of a green screen on a broomstick, propelled across the room by a wind machine, all while striving to deliver a convincing performance. The Worst Witch being set in Cackle’s Academy, a girls’ school, ensured that life on set was great fun. There was never a dull moment with lots of games and laughter. I shared many scenes with Bella Ramsey, who played Mildred, since our characters were best friends. Bella’s kindness and down-to-earth nature made our on-set relationship so comfortable, especially as I was a newcomer to working in front of the camera, I could rely on her for guidance and support.
How much did you know about The Worst Witch franchise before auditioning and what was Indigo Moon like to play?
I was already familiar with The Worst Witch before auditioning because a friend of mine was part of the show, and I used to watch her with my sister. Indigo Moon is a quirky character known for her mischievous escapades, which made the role very fun to play. One day, I might find myself doused in pink dust due to a spell gone wrong, while on another day, I’d be covered in soot after a comical tumble down a chimney. I had a fantastic storyline, and each day brought something new and exciting.
What did you enjoy most about filming for The Worst Witch and how was it having the series shown worldwide?
I liked the fact that there was never a dull moment when filming; we frequently shifted from one location to another. Among the various locations, my favourite was the castle, which had an adjoining hotel and beautiful grounds. We made so many jokes on set and looking back at videos I recorded still make me laugh. The global reach of The Worst Witch on Netflix is truly astounding, and I am immensely grateful for the support from viewers around the world. Quite a lot of my followers are from around the world even though English, for many of them, is not their first language. It is really heartwarming to know that children around the world look up to me as a young female actress, including the small island of Tobago in the Caribbean, where my mum is originally from.
Can you tell us about your time working as a dancer in the screen adaptation of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and what was it like to be part of?
Being part of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was a unique experience for me because, instead of acting, I was dancing in front of the camera. I met some incredibly talented dancers on set and made new friends from around the country. We spent a lot of time laughing and joking around, except for the times when we were out of breath having run the choreography 50 times in the hot summer sun!
On stage, you made your professional and West End debut as Young Nala in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, what are some of your favourite memories from performing in the musical?
Looking back, The Lion King played a crucial role in boosting my confidence as a young mixed race performer as I was surrounded by an ethnically diverse cast and felt very much at home. Being part of such an exciting and renowned production was something very special. Performing to packed theatres every night and being selected to perform for the 15th Anniversary show was a real honour. I cherished every minute with the cast, chaperones and fellow Nalas and Simbas. The memories I made during The Lion King are unforgettable and will always hold a special place in my heart.
How did you get into acting and dance and was performing something you always wanted to do?
My journey into the world of performing arts began at our local dance school, where I discovered my passion for dancing, starting from the age of three. When I was around seven years old, my dance teacher encouraged me to audition for The Lion King, and my love for acting has steadily grown over the years from that experience. I feel that I was always destined to be a performer, however, my parents always encouraged me to do well at school whilst also pursuing opportunities in performing arts.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
There are so many films and shows to choose from but here are some that I really enjoy: Stranger Things, anything related to basketball such as Coach Carter (I love movies based on real-life stories). I am also a big fan of documentaries like The Last Dance, Ronaldo, and Pelé. I also love the Marvel movies; Wonder Woman and Iron Man are stand outs for me, with Gal Gadot and Robert Downey Jr. being two of my favourite actors. I love Creed and trying out Michael B. Jordan’s workout regime would be a dream! Anne Hathaway is fantastic in everything she’s in, especially Love & Other Drugs. I really like The Equaliser movies; Denzel Washington is another one of my favourite actors. As for the theatre, I think Hamilton has to be my current favourite, and I could honestly go on for days!
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I have only just finished my A-Levels, so up until recently I was having to combine my education with acting, which proved difficult at times. I am a very physical person and enjoy many different types of sports and exercise. Weightlifting, with occasional cardio sessions, is a regular part of my routine at the gym. I enjoy training with a group at the local athletics track where I focus mostly on sprinting. I also enjoy playing golf and would like to spend more time trying out boxing and tennis. It might sound quite like a lot, but I feel that staying active is essential for my physical and mental well-being. My family is really important to me, and I enjoy spending quality time with them. My mum is my go-to companion for activities like shopping, going out for lunch, or simply taking a walk in the park and I enjoy going on holiday with my dad and sister!
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about and what are you hoping the rest of the year brings for you?
I am not currently involved in any projects, however, I cannot wait for the current strikes affecting the industry worldwide to be settled when more opportunities should begin to emerge. In the meantime, I am committed to staying fit and healthy whilst working on my acting skills in my spare time. One ambition I have is to play a role that combines acting with sports, allowing me to both train and perform in a film or series. That would be a dream!
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