Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Big Interview: Bradley Jaden, starring as Enjolras in Les Miserables

Bradley Jaden recently took over as Enjolras in Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. He previously understudied the role as well as Jean Valjean.

Les Miserables is now in its thirtieth year in London’s West End. Known as the world’s longest running musical, Les Miserables has been seen by nearly 65 million people worldwide in 43 countries and in 22 languages.

Bradley’s theatre credits include: understudy Sam and Carl in Ghost The Musical (UK tour), understudy Shrek in Shrek The Musical (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), The 12 Tenors (Europe/Japan), The Blues Brothers and The Rat Pack (both Edinburgh), Rock at the Opera (Portugal) and Peter Pan (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

I recently spoke to Bradley about how he reacted when he was asked to take over as Enjolras, why Les Mis fans are so amazing and how the past few years have been life changing for him…

Having understudied Enjolras, how did it feel when they asked you to take over full time?
This whole process has been like a dream come true. Les Mis is always a dream as a younger performer in musical theatre. If I’m honest I thought I was leaving after last year! I was covering Valjean and was second cover Enjolras; the first cover was exceptional, I’d done a lot of covering myself – in Ghost and Shrek – but I thought there was no way I was going to progress up the ladder and presumed I was a bit too young to progress up the Valjean cover ladder so thought it was the end of the road. I just thought ‘I’m 28, life’s too short so I should see if I can do something else or try a different show or go for ensemble somewhere else’. To have the chance to play Enjolras full time was beyond my wildest imagination!

Who was the first person you told when you were offered the role?
[laughs] I phoned my girlfriend, I’m not afraid to admit that I did have a cry! I phoned her and cried hysterically down the phone [laughs], and then I phoned my mum. 

What have your first few weeks been like? Do you think your performance has changed now you’re doing it eight times a week?
Yes, what’s great is that even though the show has been running for thirty years you can still have so much of your own interpretation and bring your own version. Without sounding a little bit wanky, I’m a big fan of the book and really want to try and make sure we just tell that story. I’m not about trying to look good or anything like that, I just want to tell the story. It’s great to be working with people who have come into the show fresh out of drama school; it’s always a big old shock going into a show, but now they’re getting into the groove of things and bringing more to the table. It’s also fantastic to be working with Rob (Houchen, Marius) because we’re best friends outside of work anyway. I cannot say a bad word about it – I’m having the absolute time of my life!

Rob Houchen as Marius
Enjolras is one of those roles everyone wants to play!
I just cannot believe that I’m here! A couple of years ago I used to be six and a half stone heavier, I was covering Shrek. I was in a completely different casting bracket and at a completely different time of my career. Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music for Shrek, said “I think you could be a lot more successful if you lost weight.” Then it stemmed to covering the two leads in Ghost and then it led me here – a couple of years ago there was no way I would ever have thought that I would ever be in this casting bracket… let alone playing one of my dream roles! So much other stuff has stemmed from it too; me and Rob have a healthy eating company (Activ-Eat). I’m trying to help actors and performers have a healthier way of life because of our unsociable hours of work. I feel very fortunate and very lucky to be where I am.

Is it challenging to balance living a healthy lifestyle with performing eight shows a week?
I used to be just over seventeen stone and lost six stone – I was a big old guy! I have a very strict, healthy eating plan throughout the week, and then on a Sunday I relax. I train six days a week, I get up at about eight every morning and run six miles – even if it’s a double show day. I’ve not missed a run in, I think, two and a half years now. I make sure I have my breakfast, lunch and dinner and then a little snack when I get in from the show. It’s quite regimented, but it’s worked. It’s about talent, but unfortunately our business is also aesthetically pleasing. You don’t have to be the best looking person, but sometimes you have to adapt yourself to fit a role. At this point in my career I have to keep maintaining the size I am so have to train hard and make sure it’s part of my lifestyle.

Les Mis is quite a heavy show, what’s the atmosphere like backstage?
There are so many costume changes! I don’t have so many any more, but when I was in the ensemble it was up to seventeen costume changes throughout the show – you’re always running up and down the stairs and have got to keep the morale high so you can go onstage and tell that deep and meaningful story without coming home and being depressed [laughs]. It does take a lot out of you, but we do have fun and speak to each other between scenes and have a laugh.

"To play Enjolras full time was beyond my wildest imagination... I’m having the absolute time of my life!"

It’s the world’s longest musical, now entering its thirtieth year – why in 2015 do you think that audiences can’t get enough of Les Mis? People come back time and time again and are brought to their feet every single night!
That’s a tough one! I think it’s the story - unrequited love, the passion for success, the revolution. Les Mis has everything; the story has its ups and downs and trials and tribulations – not forgetting the lyrics and music. It’s a beautiful story to be taken on, you can just sit there and be taken away and I think that’s magical. There are no thrills to it – being part of other shows, sometimes the audience are taken away by the big budgets and magical lights and stuff like that, but Les Mis is about honest acting and telling a truthful story. It’s not about everything else that comes with it. 

Do any moments of the show stand out for you each night?
Erm… I can’t tell you that because it’s too cheesy, and I’m not a cheesy person [laughs]!

Go on..!
There’s a bit when I’m Enjolras and everything’s got a bit a bit hectic and we all sit down and people fall asleep after ‘Drink With Me’ and then obviously Valjean sings ‘Bring Him Home’. I just get to sit there every night and listen to ‘Bring Him Home’ – I totally understand that’s the cheesiest thing in the world, but I just sit there and go ‘Christ, I am a lucky b*****d’! That’s all I can think of, how lucky I truly am. 

Any ideas about what you’d like to do next?
I mean, I have no idea where I’d like to go! At the moment I’m so lucky where I am and I’m not wishing this away at all. At this present moment I’m just riding this wave and enjoying this part of my life. If things are offered or opportunities come my way then, absolutely, I’m very much a person who goes with my gut rather than my wallet. If there’s something exciting to try or a new piece of theatre then absolutely, but at the moment I’m very happy and content with where I am. 

Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
Oh my god… this is terrible! Three musical theatre songs?! I wouldn’t even take one [laughs]!!

[laughs] You can’t say that!
[laughs] Right, what would I take?! What would I take? This is a killer! I would probably take ‘Let the Sunshine In’ (from Hair) because that’s always good – it brings a smile to your face no matter what. Then I would have to take… erm… just because I love it, ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’. Then I would take… oh my god – this is the worst question [laughs]! What else? I’m trying to think about the conditions, it’s obviously going to be really hot – would I want to sing this? Would I want to rock around to this? I always like the reprise of ‘Live With Somebody You Love’ from Martin Guerre. It’s a little ballad to have for when you’re on your own feeling alone [laughs]. 

There is a lot of support in the theatre world, especially when you’re in a show like Les Mis where the fans are so loyal. What’s it like to have that kind of support behind you?
The fans of Les Mis are absolutely incredible! I was very fortunate to be in Shrek and Ghost which both had very loyal fans who’d always wait outside the theatre, but at Les Mis the fans are absolutely wonderful. They’re always happy! Some of them might not even recognise me because I wear a baseball cap and run out stage door quickly [laughs]. They’re very loyal and know the show, that’s what’s amazing. Les Mis fans love the show and are passionate about it which is the most important thing. Even when we’ve had fire drills or anything like that they’re always at the stage door come rain come shine to ask for an autograph or to say well done and have a photo. That’s the reason it’s been running thirty years! Every night to look out at a full theatre… the support is just mind-blowing. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Les Miserables is currently booking at the Queen’s Theatre until 19th December 2015.
Please visit www.lesmis.com for further information and tickets.

Visit www.activ-eat.com to find out more about Bradley and Rob’s business, Activ-Eat.

Photo Credit 2&3: Matt Crockett

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