Thursday, 22 May 2014

Interview: David Hunter, starring as Guy in Once

David Hunter joined the West End production of Once last July understudying the role of Guy. Nine months later, the performer has now taken on the role full-time, starring opposite former Dirty Dancing star Jill Winternitz as Girl.

Following its Olivier Awards success, John Tiffany’s production is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 4th July 2015. Based on the much-loved Oscar-winning film, Once is described as a “celebration of love, friendship and music.” 

David appeared in the original cast of One Man, Two Guvnors (National Theatre/UK Tour/Adelphi) and in 2012 he finished fourth place in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s television programme Superstar (ITV).

His theatre credits also include: Seussical (Arts Theatre), The Who’s Tommy (Prince Edward), The Hired Man (Leicester Curve), Spinach and Love Shift (Manchester Royal Exchange) and Moving On (The Lowry). 

David catches up with West End Frame to discuss how it feels to have taken over as Guy full-time, why he’s such a huge fan of Once and why being reunited with former Superstar contestant Tim Prottey-Jones is like sharing an ice cream with an angry parrot…

How does it feel to have taken over as Guy full-time?
Totally bizarre and completely normal. I've played the part a fair few times as an understudy, so it felt strange to get nervous before my 'official' first night, but I just couldn't help it! It was great indulging in that first night excitement, whilst knowing I wasn't going to muck up my lines or forget where to stand!

The amazing thing about Once is that all the cast can bring something new to the show. Do you feel have been able to put your own stamp on the role?
Absolutely. On my very first day of rehearsals back in July the Associate Director, Des Kennedy, told me to forget the portrayals I'd seen already in the movie and on stage and to create my own Guy. That's even more the case now that I've stepped into the role full-time, but that hasn't stopped me nicking the best bits of Arthur and Declan's performances! 

Why do you think so many people have fallen in love with Once? What is it that makes the show so special and ends up leaving so many audience members in tears?
I was a fan of the show long before I was a part of it and for me it's the music. It spoke to me when I saw the film about eight years ago and it's stuck with me ever since. It just grabs you by the heart and gives you a good squeeze! The whole show is honest, raw and heart wrenchingly beautiful. I just adore every last bit of it.

You’ve spoken before about Guy being one of your dream roles – has the experience lived up to your expectations?
Yes! I know it's seems cliché, but it really is a dream come true. It's been one of the biggest challenges and one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I mean, someone woke up one day and decided to make my favourite film into a stage show. Unless they make Mighty Ducks 2 The Musical, I can't imagine anything topping it.

David and Jill Winternitz in Once

The entire cast always seem to have such strong chemistry on stage, but what’s the atmosphere like backstage at the Phoenix? 
Top class! Everyone's in great spirits at the moment, we're early into a cast change-over and everyone feels incredibly lucky to be part of this wonderful show. 

Have you enjoyed working closely with Jill Winternitz, helping her to settle into the show?
I joined the original cast about seven months into their run, so I know how it feels to be the new guy! I hope I've helped her feel welcome and supported. She's just as in love with the show as I am, so it's been a breeze really!

And it must be nice to be reunited with fellow Superstar contestant Tim Prottey-Jones?!
It's like sharing an ice cream with an angry parrot, which only he will understand! Me and Tim went through an incredible time together, I can't explain what an intense and wonderful experience Superstar was and Tim was my confidant throughout the whole thing. We shared a room - and even a bed at one stage - and that's a bond that can't be broken! I remember sitting in our room in Jesus HQ and discussing how desperate we were for Once to come to the West End. I added the Broadway webpage to my laptop bookmarks as ‘My Goal’ and it's still there now. To have ended up in the show at the same time as the old Prott-bag is a beautiful thing.

If someone has never seen or heard about Once, what can they expect? It is completely different to anything else in the West End!
It's totally unique. It's almost impossible to describe, but I'd say if you're coming along for the first time, be prepared to fall in love. It's a sneaky little show, it'll creep up on you and wriggle its way into your heart. The music is so raw and authentic, it's impossible to ignore. It's honestly the most beautiful show I've ever seen. I can't recommend it enough, and that's coming from a fan, not a cast member.

David in Once

Guy is a demanding role, how do you unwind after a show and look after yourself during the day?
I've always taken really good care of myself, I don't drink and I don't smoke. The cast have already gotten used to me ‘doing a Dave’ and leaving the parties early and my mates just ignore me when I order pots of tea in wine bars! I love kicking about at home with my girlfriend. I take any opportunity I can to just relax and keep my voice in great condition.

Imagine you had to move to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you, which three would you take and why?
Firstly it would have to be ‘If I Didn't Believe in You’ from The Last Five Years. A mate introduced me to it while I was training at LIPA and it was the first time I realised musical theatre didn't have to be jazz hands and split leaps! It's a beautifully real conversation and it's a joy to perform. Then it'd be ‘Again’ by Scott Alan which in my mind is the most perfect song ever written. Finally, I'd choose ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once. In all honesty, I'd probably smuggle the whole Once soundtrack down my swimming trunks! 

If I was a producer who had billions of pounds and could bring back any show or adapt anything into a musical and cast you in any role… what would you advise me to do? 
Is 'Mighty Ducks 2: A Musical On Ice' too much to ask?! In all honesty, I would have always have answered Once to that question, so now I'm stumped! 

Once has a very loyal fanbase and you already have so many people behind you supporting your career. It must be nice knowing you have that support behind you?
Absolutely. It's lovely when people take an interest in what you’re doing and it's incredibly rewarding when I'm able to introduce them to new work. My mum's my biggest fan though, I’m sure! She's already seen me in Once ten times! That's dedication. 

Interview by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Once is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 4th July 2015.
Visit for further information.

Click here to book tickets (save £22 at selected performances).

Photo Credit 2&3:  Matt Crockett

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