Friday, 18 March 2016

Big Interview: Sophie Linder-Lee

Sophie Linder-Lee is currently starring as Columbia in the UK tour of The Rocky Horror Show.

Sophie first played the role when Rocky Horror played a limited engagement last year at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre. 

She shared the stage with the show's creator Richard O’Brien as well as Rocky Horror legends including David Bedella, Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty with a gala performance being broadcast to cinemas and topping the UK cinema box office.

Later this month on 27th March Sophie will play a solo show at Above The Arts to perform original material as well as musical theatre classics with special guests Daniel Hope and Sam Lupton. 

Sophie finished as a runner-up in West End Frame's 2015 Understudy of the Year Award for standing by as Glinda in the West End production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Sophie was originally a swing in the show before taking over as stand by Glinda. 

Her theatre credits also include: understudy Lisa in Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales), Silence! The Musical (Barons Court), Apollo Victoria Theatre's 80th Anniversary Gala (Apollo Victoria), lead vocalist on P&O Cruises (Stadium Theatre Company) and Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas (U.S. tour).

I recently spoke to Sophie about her whirlwind experience with The Rocky Horror Show, what people can expect from her solo show and why playing Glinda for the first time was one of the biggest nights of her life, plus much more…

How did you react when you found out that your first time playing Columbia would be in the West End with a bunch of Rocky Horror legends plus the show’s creator?!
It was actually kept a secret for quite a long time. I had been cast as Columbia in the UK tour, and then was told that I had been asked to do an important anniversary which was going to go into cinemas… but I wasn’t allowed to be told what it was! I trust my agent dearly, but whilst I was waiting my fingernails were down to the bone [laughs]. Even though I knew I had got the tour I hadn’t put two and two together. Then eventually I got the phone call saying I was doing the Rocky Horror anniversary with all these amazing people and I said, “Oh my god! Are you sure they want me?! Almost everyone else has already done it, but I’ve never been in the show before!” I was absolutely thrilled. Luckily Wicked were amazing and let me go early – everything aligned and it all worked out.

How did you feeling going into it?
Obviously I was really nervous because it’s such an iconic part. Not only was I doing it for the first time, but I was doing it for the first time in front of thousands of people in cinemas across Europe… no pressure! I decided not to watch anything so I could figure it out for myself and do my thing with it.

Sophie with Liam Tamne in The Rocky Horror Show

Had you seen the show before?
I had never seen it on stage! Obviously I had seen the film. I kind of knew the flavour of the show and was aware that the stage version is a lot more cartoon-y which is right up my street. The rehearsal period was very quick because I was doing it with people who had done the show before so they were kind of like… “go”! It was instincts galore – I figured it out as we went along but had to do it quick time [laughs]. 

Were you able to take in those two weeks of doing the show in the West End? Or was it all a blur?
The first night I had absolutely no idea what to expect and it is by far one of the loudest shows I have ever done in my life. My ears afterwards were ringing! We practised a few of the shout-outs, but obviously it’s different when 1,000 people are shouting those things back at you. I was a little bit overwhelmed! I had just come out of Wicked which is a big, noisy show, but Rocky Horror feels like doing a rock concert. After the first show I came out with ringing ears, it was like an otherworldly experience. I remember thinking ‘Did I just do that?’ It was pretty bonkers… I’m not going to lie! But after a while you sort of get used to it.

Talking of bonkers, how did you find the gala night? What’s it like stepping on stage knowing that thousands of people are watching you in cinemas as well as the rowdy crowd in the theatre? 
The best thing that we could all do as a cast was to just pretend we were doing a normal show. A crazy number of people were watching it live in cinemas, but we all made a pact and said “Nobody get over excited, we’re just going to do what we do and just think about the audience in front of us”. We’d had a camera rehearsal a couple of shows before which actually threw us more. By the time of the actual gala we were used to the cameras and were able to pretend we were just performing it to the Playhouse Theatre. You can’t comprehend on that sort of level. It was pretty awesome! Obviously we had all those celebrities – I love Stephen Fry! He’s so tall! I had grown up watching Ade Edmondson, Emma Bunton was lovely and Mel Giedroyc is absolutely hilarious plus Anthony Head was an old Frank N Furter himself – and he had his old boots from the show! 

Sophie as Columbia
And what was it like to work with the legend that is Richard O’Brien?!
I mean… he is one hell of a man! He loves a story – in rehearsals he’d tell us these amazing, inspiring stories. I remember him telling us that once he was seeing a show with his mum and sitting right up in the Gods and, looking down on all these people, he was inspired to be an actor. He told us this the night before we opened as a way to remind us to play to the full house and not just to the stalls and dress circle because there could always be another little boy in the gods who is inspired to be an actor. It was really cute! He’s eccentric… that’s why he created this absolutely bonkers show! 

Fast forward to now, you’ve been playing the role for quite a while on tour. How have you found getting the chance to work with this cast and put more of your stamp on Columbia? It’s so different from Wicked!
Oh yes it’s completely different, that’s partly why I wanted the job. You couldn’t really get any more different! Chris (Christopher Luscombe) is such a generous director, the freedom I’ve had with the part has been amazing. They trust us which is perfect for me – I love to play! Whatever you’re doing it’s really important to keep it instinctive. In this show you’ve got a lot more freedom than maybe other shows to stretch things out a little bit. 

What’s the company vibe like?
They’re such a lovely bunch! I’m not just saying that. Everyone gets on, there are no bad eggs. It’s a happy company! We played Cards Against Humanity the other night which was a right old laugh. Because we’re on tour and spend so much time together it’s important that we get on outside of the theatre because that affects what happens on stage. We’re living, sharing dressing rooms and going to the gym together. Everyone’s so talented, especially the Phantoms – they’re so versatile and cover so many different roles. It’s a show of characters so everybody’s a really strong character actor… and what often comes with character actors is strong personalities [laughs].

Rocky Horror audiences are insane, some fans literally tour the UK with you. People full out dress up every night. What has it been like for you to come into this cult?
They are insane, but they’re quite similar to the Wicked fans in some ways! It’s the same thing in that they just love the show so much. It’s quite interesting to see the people who keep coming back; they sometimes come in the same costume each time so we can spot them. It’s so great to meet everyone at stage door! I literally can’t think of any other show where most people come dressed up! They did it occasionally at Wicked… maybe a few people might wear Pink Ladies jackets to Grease… but the whole point of coming to Rocky Horror is so that you can dress up and shout at the actors. There’s also no other show where the fourth wall is broken so much, apart from panto. It’s so unique and I don’t think I’ll ever do anything like it again.

What are your favourite parts to perform each night?
I get nervous every single night before my freak out where Columbia has her big old rant. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to do [laughs]! It forces me to be brave, and I quite like pushing myself. Also I love ‘Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me’ where we’re being idiots at the window. That’s a fun bit and always a laugh.

Sophie performing 'The Time Warp'

So on 27th March you’re back in London and doing your solo show at Upstairs at the Arts. Are you excited… scared… all of the above?
I’ve been trying to put this together for quite a while. I’m really looking forward to it! It has been a matter of timing. For starters I had to find a time I was in London but I also needed to make sure I was in the right place to do it and had enough material to show people. Eventually I would really like to have my own show of all my own original musical comedy songs. That’s my long term aim, but obviously I also love musical theatre so this is a really good chance for me to self-indulge [laughs], mix things up and do a show about me!

So it will be a nice mix of material?
Yes, there will be some of my own stuff and some of my favourite musical theatre songs… there will also be some pop stuff in there and mash-ups. I don’t like to be boring! I want to do something a little bit interesting, different and creative. It’s a real chance for me to get creative and do something of my own. I think it’s especially important for longevity in this business – being creative keeps your brain going. It’s like playtime! 

I’m so gutted that I’m away and won’t be able to make it – you’ll have to do more!
Keep your eyes peeled, this will hopefully be the first of many. We’ve got things in the bag for later in the year which is exciting. Hopefully it will grow a bit each time I do one and I can put in some more of my own stuff. 

Sophie at the 2015 Olivier Awards with her Wicked co-stars

And you’ve got two Boqs joining you!
[laughs] At first I didn’t even realise that both my guests were Boqs! I love working with Sam (Lupton, former West End Boq). We’ve done quite a few things together before and we bounce really well off each other so asking him was a no brainer. Me and Dan (Daniel Hope, current West End Boq) are really good mates and we have a really good connection. Before I knew it I was like, “Look at me with my two Boqs!” [laughs]. It worked out well – my little Boq backup band!

So talking of Boqs, what is it like now to look back on your whole journey with Wicked?
I really miss Glinda. She’s such a special part so I always knew that when I left I was going to miss it. Hopefully my time with the show isn’t quite done… you never know. I never thought that I would achieve what I achieved in that building. I still have to pinch myself sometimes! I was very lucky to be welcomed into the company, and they were always so loyal to me. I made that transition; it’s really hard, but I always wanted to go from dancer through to playing parts. I was so lucky to be able to do that within a job, because usually you have to put yourself out of work to be able to put yourself back into work. I’m super grateful! Coming out the other side, things have definitely changed and I’ve had opportunities I might not have had before. I’m older and I’m going up for different roles and different parts now. It is certainly very different to going into those big dance calls – life is pretty different, and I’ve got Wicked to thank for that. They gave me the opportunity to play one of my absolute dream parts. 

So many people right now will be at drama school dreaming of playing Glinda or Elphaba; what is it like when you go on for the first time in such a massive role? After dreaming about it for so long it must be surreal?
Yes, and I actually had a really long wait to get on. Initially I didn’t even understudy the role, then in my second contract I was second cover Glinda but never went on – it wasn’t until my third contract that I had a planned date. I had been in the show for a long time, watching the part, rehearsing it for eighteen months. It was the longest wait ever! I had ninety of my friends and family in the audience because they had all been waiting to see me. It was a huge deal! If I’m perfectly honest, I think it was one of the biggest nights of my life. I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was absolutely terrified. As much as you can get prepared from a dress rehearsal – and I’d had a few – you just don’t know what it’s going to be like. Until you have the audience and the full cast around you… I mean…. I can’t even remember it! I just remember the wall of noise that hit me when I came down from the bubble. It’s not the easiest way to start the show, is it?!

You must have been terrified!
You have to wait up there for a couple of minutes, then you come down, the music stops, the entire company look at you, you’ve got 2,000 people staring at you and you’ve got to sing in the beautiful top part of your voice and not mess it up… and tell a story! It’s one of the hardest entrances ever. I always found the opening particularly hard. It’s a ‘wipe your brow’ moment, once I’d got through the first quick change and was back onstage again for Shiz then I could relax a little bit. There’s a lot to think about!

Once you became standby, it must have been amazing to perform more regularly and develop your own interpretation of the character?
Oh my god… it was amazing. I never expected to play the role once, let alone become a stand by! It was absolutely nuts. There’s so much to that part so I never, ever got bored once. As an actor I was kept on my toes and able to work on my instincts. I loved singing it all and loved every scene, there was never a moment where I thought ‘I don’t want to do this bit’. I loved it!

Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Oh gosh! Ok… erm… I know what albums I would take but songs are harder! Avenue Q is my favourite show… so now I need to pick a song from it… [laughs]. Something I would never get bored of. I’m deciding between ‘Sucks To Be Me’ and ‘Fine Fine Line’. I think I’ll go for ‘Sucks To Me Be’ because I’ll be stuck on a desert island! It would cheer me up and make me laugh, I still laugh out loud at that album [laughs]. Number two… hmmm… Miss Saigon is another one of my favourites! I used to sing ‘I’d Give My Life For You’ when I was younger in front of the mirror. So If I could find a mirror then I could be a bit self-indulgent on my desert island. It’s a nice ballad! I love everything about that musical. This is tough! I can’t think! What would I like? I want to choose something good! I love a bit of Next To Normal… oh I know! I love A New Brain! It’s so funny – I would take anything from that score. Kristin Chenoweth played the Waitress and the Nurse in it, you can recognise her voice straight away if you listen to the album! That would be my part if I did it [laughs]. 

Finally, what is it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from theatre fans?
It’s pretty mad! I would do this job whether I had support or not; if you were working in an office all day and then had people on Twitter giving you a round of applause every time you answered the phone you would think ‘I’m just doing my job’! It’s a bit odd, but obviously so, so lovely. It’s so amazing that people enjoy what I do and my work. We do this for the audience! I never really had the support before, it’s still quite a new experience for me. It’s so lovely, there are quite a few lovely people who always follow what I’m up to. I’m still getting my head around it – it’s all a bit surreal! I guess the only way I will be able to do more solo shows will be if I have the support of the musical theatre fans and the comedy fans. I guess if you’re trying to keep working in this industry – which I am, I’m a lifer and will be doing this until I’m an old lady shaking [laughs] – you need to have the support from ‘fans’. It’s just something I never thought I would have! And it’s really nice! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Rocky Horror Show is currently touring the UK. 
Please visit for further information, full tour dates and tickets.

Sophie's solo show takes place at Upstairs at the Arts on 27th March 2016. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit 1&6: Darren Bell

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