Monday, 30 September 2013

Big Interview: Tristan Gemmill, currently playing the title role in The Bodyguard

Tristan Gemmill recently joined the West End production of The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre as Frank Farmer. He stars alongside multi award-winning recording artist Beverley Knight as Rachel Marron.

Based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Oscar nominated Warner Bros. film, Thea Sharrock’s production of The Bodyguard premiered in December 2012. 

Tristan is best known for playing Dr Adam Trueman in Casualty, a role he played for four years in the BBC’s long-running medical drama series. 

His theatre credits include: A Street Car Named Desire for Theatre Clwyd, Dangerous Corner for Chichester Festival Theatre, Design For Living for English Touring Theatre and Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

Tristan's extensive television credits also include: London’s Burning, Distant Shores, Strictly Confidential and Cape Wrath. Tristan can be seen in the newly-released British independent film Flying Blind starring Helen McCrory and will be appearing again on the big screen later this year in the fantasy adventure film Mariah Mundi And The Midas Box with Michael Sheen and Sam Neill.

I recently spoke to Tristan following his first three weeks in The Bodyguard about what it’s like working with Beverley Knight, what it was like taking over the role from Lloyd Owen and his four years in Casualty...

You’ve finished your first three weeks in the show now, how’s it going so far?
Very well actually, I’m settling in nicely and we’ve been getting great responses from our audiences. We have a really fun time doing the show so, so far, so good!

Did it feel strange at all going from rehearsals to performing the show in front of an audience?
Yes and no. Obviously it was different performing in front of an audience for the first time. However, because the show was already up and running we’ve had a lot of access to the theatre during the day. A lot of the time we were actually rehearsing on the stage with the crew so it wasn’t a surprise a few days before we opened, as sometimes you rehearse in some room and then suddenly you move to the performance space just before you open. It was a great help!

When I saw the show the audience went crazy, why do you think people have fallen in love with The Bodyguard?
I think it’s a really well put together show. The emotional journey that the audience are taken on is very cleverly plotted out by where the songs have been slotted in. Obviously the songs weren’t written to be in a musical, they were all independent songs in their own right. It really helps people to emotionally invest in the show, so that at the end it’s a real release during the final number.

Beverley Knight & Tristan
Do you still love hearing all of Whitney’s biggest hits every single night?
I do! So far that’s not an issue, I guess it helps that I already liked her music anyway; it would have been tricky spending a long time in a show where you weren’t into the music! But a) I really love the songs, and b) the way Beverley [Knight] sings them is just out of this world, and it’s a privilege to be near that every single night.

What’s Beverley like to work with? Obviously for both of you this is your first West End musical…
She’s a dream, an absolute dream! And I’m not just saying that to be mushy or schmaltzy. She’s a complete pro and although she’s never professionally acted before, she’s an absolute natural. She’s just divine in so many ways: to be on stage with, to listen to and as a human being, so I count myself very lucky that Beverley is my Rachel… or that I’m her Frank – whichever way you look at it [laughs]! She’s pretty damn amazing, I have to say!

Apart from in the karaoke scene, Frank doesn’t have a big number, do you secretly wish that you had a big ballad in the show?
No, I am perfectly happy not having to sing any ballads! It’s an absolute no brainer playing a title role in a musical and not having to sing properly [laughs], it’s a win, win situation!

What are the rest of the cast like to work with? 
They’re brilliant; it’s a new experience for me being in something on this scale. I’ve done plenty of theatre before but it’s been mostly on a smaller scale. I’ve done Michael Sheen’s Henry V with the RSC, but suddenly being surrounded by an ensemble and dancers and covers and swings and alternates and all these new words that I’m learning is actually a very big thing to come into. It helps that everyone gets on very well and we’ve all had a good laugh so far. 

I understand you first saw the show after you had auditioned and been offered the part, how did it feel seeing the show for the first time?
Well it was weird seeing something already up and running that I had the opportunity to be apart of, I’ve never been in that situation before and I’ve never taken over from somebody before. So I didn’t arrive with a cynical frame of mind, but I was prepared to be critical because if you are prepared to give a year of your life to something you want to make sure that it’s something worth doing. It won me over really easily actually! It was a very easy date [laughs]! I got it and was completely captured by the show. I knew that I wanted to be a part of it so that’s why I am where I am.

Tristan as Frank Farmer

And then how did you find the process of taking over a role? Having seen Lloyd [Owen] playing the role, did you make a point of making your portrayal different in any way?
I tried not to make being different to him a motivation of mine, but at the same time Lloyd was very generous with his time and I had lots of chats with him. One night I actually shadowed him backstage. I literally walked two paces behind him all night, like the unwanted younger brother at a New Year’s Eve party, and he showed me all the entrances and exits and the timings of certain things. We also sat down and spoke about the character and the part so he was more than generous with his time and his experience with the show. I would have been foolish to ignore somebody who has done it 300 times! He could tell me things that I wouldn’t have discovered for months, if ever at all. I suppose what I’m saying is that I’ve probably shamelessly stolen a few aspects of his performance, but at the same time I’ve tried to approach the text and the rehearsal process as if I’m starting from scratch, so hopefully I’ve got the best of all possible worlds.

Eight shows a week is very demanding, how do you go about keeping your performance fresh each night?
Well that’s the thing, and there’s a difference between straight and musical theatre. I’ve done runs which have lasted maybe five months before, so I’m used to doing the same thing over and over again for a while. It’s a discipline and you have to maintain your concentration. Already three weeks in, occasionally you think you know something but the truth is you don’t yet - you’ve just done it a few times, so I have been caught out. You have to maintain your focus which is an ongoing thing.

"I am perfectly happy not having to sing any ballads! It’s an absolute no brainer playing a title role in a musical and not having to sing"

People also know you from your television work. How does working on something such as Casualty compare to working on something such as The Bodyguard? I imagine it is different in every way possible?
Well it is! And that’s one of the things that attracted me to The Bodyguard! As an actor you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself and setting yourself new challenges. I had a brilliant time on Casualty. I had four wonderful years playing a great part with some great people which I will always be thankful for. But at the same time I didn’t necessarily want to keep doing that, or similar things to it. So to be able to play Frank Farmer on stage was very attractive. It’s a very different world, but if you want to be the best actor you can be you’ve got to exercise all the different muscles, and now I’m using a very different set of muscles!

You were in Casualty for such a long time, do you miss certain things about the show or is it starting to feel like a slight blur?
Well, the working hours were quite hard. I would be on set from 8am until 7pm, with an hour either side for getting in and out of costume and make-up. Those were long days and I worked hard, but at the same time it was great for me and my family. We were able to settle down a bit, we bought a house and had children so it was a lovely security blanket as well. I did one hundred and seventy odd episodes of it so I feel like I went as far as I could with that character. Adam had lost a few family members along the way and I had had some great storylines, some fallings in and out of love, and tragedy – lots of stuff happened to Adam and I think there’s a time when you’ve got to say “actually any more than that and you’re going over old ground.” So it was a great length of time, but also it was the right time for me to leave the show.

Tristan as Dr Adam Trueman in Casualty

Now that you’re in a show, you don’t have the chance to see many another shows. But before you joined The Bodyguard did you have the chance to see much theatre?
I did! During the rehearsal process I went to see a few shows. I saw Sweet Bird Of Youth at the Old Vic. It was an excellent production but I think the play has its limitations. Kim Cattrall was wonderful! The character dominated the first act but then disappeared a bit, Kim was almost better than the play itself. I also saw Lenny Henry in Fences and I thought he was magnificent! It completely opened my eyes to the works of Mr. Wilson and also to Lenny Henry as a forceful dramatic actor! Now I can only see shows on Thursday matinees so I’m going to look down the list and see if I can squeeze any in. I believe The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui has a Thursday matinee so I’m going to check that out!

What would you like to do next?
I would like to keep mixing it up! I would like to try and do something different again when the chance comes around! To be honest I’m pretty open minded and you have to wait and see what comes along. Being away from the family, which I am while I do this, is something I also have to take into consideration. I’ll bear that in mind and see what comes my way!

Going from an established TV drama into a big West End musical you have built up a very dedicated fan base. What is it like having that kind of support behind you?
I’m very fortunate to have a small but loyal bunch of fans. There’s one particular lady who works for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and runs a fan page and I feel like I’ve never really given her anything, but she does all this work for me and I’m very touched! I’m doing something that I’ve always wanted to do and the fact that other people come along for the ride is a really lovely feeling. I think a lot of them are coming to see The Bodyguard so they will see me in a different light and I hope they still feel as positive about me afterwards!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Bodyguard is currently booking at the Adelphi Theatre until 8th March 2014.
Click here to book tickets.

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Photo Credit 1, 2 & 3: Paul Coltas

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