Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Big Interview: Leon Lopez

Leon Lopez was most recently seen starring as Jake in Porgy And Bess at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre and as the male vocalist in Burn The Floor’s world tour.

A few of his extensive theatre credits also include: The Color Purple (Menier Chocolate Factory), Brit in We Will Rock You (UK Tour), Frid in A Little Night Music (Theatre Du Chatelet, Paris), Michael in Tick, Tick... Boom (Duchess), Theo/Lucian in Piaf (Donmar Warehouse), Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (National Tour) and Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman Theatre). 

Leon has enjoyed a long association with the musical Rent. He’s starred as Collins many times, including in the most recent anniversary concert tour as well as in the 2007 West End revival entitled Rent Remixed.

The actor famously played Jerome Johnson in Brookside between 1999 and 2002. His screen credits also include: The Courtroom, Holby City, The Bill, Hollyoaks: In the City and Doctors. Leon recently wrote and directed his first feature film entitled Soft Lad.

I recently spoke to Leon about how he landed his part in Brookside, his love for Rent and the highlights of his incredible career in theatre…

Did you enjoy your time in Porgy And Bess?
Ever since I first saw something at the Open Air Theatre I’ve always wanted to work there. The cast were incredible, I had heard of a few possible names before I got the part. It’s been great to work with Nicola Hughes again because obviously we did The Color Purple together. I had heard that she might be doing this so I messaged her and she phoned me up straight away! I loved having Jade (Ewen) as my wife! 

And just before it opened you starred in Burn The Floor when it visited Japan and Australia. How did that opportunity come about?
The last time it was here I auditioned for the world tour and got down to the finals for it, but then I was offered We Will Rock You at the same time. I didn’t know at the time, but the show ended up going to Broadway, I knew it was going to places like Brazil and I really wanted to do it. But as an actor We Will Rock You was more of a character based thing so I chose that and pulled out of Burn The Floor auditions. The guy who did the world tour couldn’t do the last few months so they approached me and asked if I would be interested in doing the show for the last two months in Japan and Australia and I was just like… “umm… ok!”

You’ve worked in television, film and music as well as theatre. Did you always set out to do it all?
I pulled out of my A Levels after a year because I had always wanted to do theatre. I’m from Liverpool and you didn’t really do things like that. For some reason I was doing English, History and Science and I went to see the career adviser because my teachers were leaving and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I said, “I’ve always wanted to do drama” and I was told “Liverpool Arts Centre do an amazing drama course, why don’t you audition?” He got me an audition; I got in and did two years of performing arts. At the same time I was in a pop band - a three piece harmony band and we were nominated for a MOBO award. 

And then Brookside came along…
I was doing scriptwriting too [laughs] – and through that I met one of the scriptwriters for Brookside! He recommended me for a new character coming in for a few episodes… and I got it! However, then I had to phone the manager of the band. I thought I wasn’t going to take it because I wanted to focus on the band. My manager told me I would be ridiculous not to do Brookside because it would be good profile for the band and so on. Plus it was only four episodes - so I took it. Then they offered me more and more episodes and then suddenly a year had passed. Our band manager sadly passed away from cancer so the band disbanded and then the rest was history! 

So originally you never intended to do TV?
I never wanted to do TV! I was a bit of a snob when it came to soaps, I thought they were full of people who can’t act. I think I wanted to do more drama or film – when you’re a kid you can think you’re above everything. Brookside turned out to be the best experience of my life. When I started it was three episodes a week and by the time I had finished it was five. It’s funny because now when I get sent a script for an audition I read it and within about an hour I’ll know the lines. It was an amazing training ground for me.

Last year you appeared in the Color Purple which was a very special show. What was the experience like?
The Color Purple was a crazy, amazing experience. John Doyle as a director is phenomenal. After the very first preview everybody literally just jumped up and you could feel the wave – most of us stepped back. I never got to see certain parts of the show because if you weren’t in a scene during rehearsals you weren’t allowed to watch. None of us knew how great the show was so every night we were investing our all into it. The piece brings people together, including us a cast. We all loved each other! 

We need to discuss Rent as it’s played such a huge part in your career!
I’ve done Rent a million times, there was a joke in the cast that it’s the only job I’m ever going to get [laughs].

When did you first fall in love with the show?
When I was twenty years old I has been doing Brookside for two years and had a lot of money for a twenty year old kid so I went on a life searching discovery [laughs]. I was going through some personal things in my life and decided I wanted to go to America – stupidly [laughs]. I always had this thing where I wanted to go backpacking… but I only had seventeen days off. I went to LA first, then San Francisco, flew over to Philadelphia… got off the plane and, to cut a long story short, realised I couldn’t stay there! I got straight on the bus and went to New York and booked into a hostel for a few days until I decided to treat myself so booked into a hotel for the rest of the time. In San Francisco I saw Les Mis, it was the first time I had ever seen it and it was fine – it was alright. 

So then you saw Rent in New York?
During my final year of college one of the boys had been to New York and he had seen Rent and played us the CD when nobody really knew about it. So because of that when I was in New York I decided I really wanted to see Rent! I sat on my own in the back of the circle and as soon as Collins came out I thought, ‘oh my god I could play this part’! Throughout the show I was honestly in tears… on my own – there was snot everywhere! I was sobbing and an absolute mess. I had seen loads of shows but couldn’t believe I was watching something that sounded like that, had characters I could actually relate to and a part I wanted to play. I was so moved and told everybody about it – without a doubt I was a Renthead!

Did you see it in London?
I didn’t see it in the West End but I saw the UK Tour. Obviously the Brookside and Hollyoaks studios were together and I told everyone we had to go and see this show and then I sat there and thought, ‘this is not the production I saw’. It wasn’t that the cast weren’t good enough, it was just so slow. Everyone was polite and said, “oh this is great” but I insisted it wasn’t the same show I saw. For some reason it didn’t connect. 

And then finally you were cast as Collins! 
Eventually it came back and I auditioned, originally I was offered Benny/first cover Roger and Collins. Then the guy who was supposed to be playing Collins was offered a part in Parade so they called me back in, I auditioned again and then they offered me the part. 

At the time people had strong opinions about Rent Remixed, didn’t they?
A lot of people slated Rent Remixed but, in reality, if they hadn’t changed it, it wouldn’t have been put on – they wouldn’t have got the money and producers. They were trying to make it appeal to a new audience and give it a new edge. It didn’t necessarily work the way people wanted it to, but even during the recent tour I did people came up to me and said they loved Rent Remixed. The one thing which was the same was the story and people still connected to it. Musical theatre isn’t about beautiful melodies – it’s theatre and it needs to portray a message. In my opinion the most important thing is that the message gets through to people. It doesn’t have to be anything because it’s an art form. There’s no point in just loving everything! Sorry… I get carried away [laughs]!

Imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take?
Oh god. I love ‘For Good’ from Wicked, it makes me cry every time. I act it out as well in the dressing room – I put the album on and sing all the parts really badly [laughs].

Are you Elphaba or Glinda?
Both of course! I’m trying to think what musicals I listen to. This is a hard question! I… would… take… something from Company! This is so hard – my mind has gone blank! Ok, I would take ‘What About Love?’ from The Color Purple. I just love that song, and I do a mash-up of it going to ‘I’m Here’! Can I take a mash-up?! 

Alright then… and your last one?
Maybe something from The Last Five Years or Tick, Tick... Boom! Ahh it would have to be ‘Come to Your Senses’ from Tick, Tick... Boom! They’re all girls songs though, shouldn’t I have a boys song in there? It’s hard! I think most male songs in musical theatre are quite macho and boring, it’s sad! Why can’t we have some more sensitive stuff, I do like ‘Being Alive’ but it’s still quite macho.

If you had to play another role in a show you’ve previously been in, which part would you choose?
I really want to play Khashoggi in We Will Rock You! Roger in Rent would be fun, but to be honest I don’t think I could do eight shows a week!

Would you play Collins again? 
Umm… yes I would [laughs], I would definitely play him again – I love him! Someone said we could come back in 2024 for the 30th anniversary! People go back to the show all the time because they love it. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Leon Lopez can next be seen in West End Bares on 7th September. 
Follow Leon on Twitter @leonlopez and visit his website www.leonlopez.com

Photo Credit 2: Darren Bell

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