BWW Interviews: BILLY ELLIOT's Leah Hocking Talks Life on the Road
Today I am joined by Leah Hocking who is currently touring with Billy Elliot playing the role of Mrs. Wilkinson. Leah performed with the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot as Billy's Mum. This time, she goes out on the road playing the role of Mrs. Wilkinson. Leah has also been part of the original Broadway cast of All Shook Up, Dance of the Vampires, The Wild Party, and Jekyll and Hyde. Other Broadway shows include Mamma Mia and Hairspray. She has also done Film and Television which includes the movie Across The Universe, "Law and Order", "Whoopi". As a principal artist with Broadway Pops International, she has sung with symphonies across the country. Leah is the very proud mother of Mabel.
You are a veteran of the stage and you have done so many great shows like Mamma Mia, Jekyll and Hyde and a list of great shows you have done over the years. How did you get your start? What made you want to be onstage?
I just always wanted to be an actor as far back as I can remember. I can say I was four when I remember wanting to do it. I just did. I made it happen. I performed in high school. I did musicals and then I studied acting in college and then I moved to New York City.
And how long have you lived in New York City?
Twenty five years.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Ohio and then I grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania. We lived there about seven years. We moved to Binghamton, New York and we lived there for about five years. When I was twelve we moved to Michigan to Marquette, Michigan so that is kinda where I call home. My brother is still there. My sister and my mom are in Minneapolis. My dad is still in upstate New York. My other sister lives in Pennsylvania right now.
What is the best thing about working onstage?
I think the immediacy of the response of the audience; having that relationship with the audience.
Do you find that the audiences vary from state to state in how they react to the show?
Not as much state to state, I think city to city. I don't know if it's as much of a state thing as a city thing. The Ft. Lauderdale audiences were very subdued. But the Orlando audiences were the craziest audiences we ever had. So it's definitely city to city.
What city are you in right now?
We are in Columbus, Ohio.
Are there any shows that stand out as the most rewarding role you ever played?
I just enjoy my work and what I do but the first show that I originated a role on Broadway was the Wild Party. That was thrilling to be because I got to be the first person to play the role. That was pretty exciting plus it was an amazing cast.
I know you've done a little bit of TV and some movies. You have done Whoopi and had a part in Across the Universe. Do you think that acting differs from being on stage than from being in front of a camera?
Stage acting is a little bit bigger. You have this great divide especially musicals with the orchestra bit and we are also playing to these huge houses. Everything is just a little heightened. It takes a different kind of craft. Film and television is a much more natural and it's just smaller.
Do you enjoy being onstage more than being in front of a camera?
Oh, no, not necessarily. I don't have that much experience on camera. I'm kind of at this point a little more interested in doing that only because it would be learning something else. The stage thing I've done for many many years. Film and television is something where there would be more of a learning curve there. It would be more of a challenge to do film and television because it's something different than what I've been doing for twenty years.
Let's talk a little bit about Billy Elliot. I know that it's a very emotional show and gives a great message. While you're doing this show do you find yourself wrapped up in the story onstage? Does that make your performance harder or easier?
I'm always wrapped up in the story because you are kind of there in the thick of it. It makes it much easier to just go with it. I don't think as much about what I'm doing. I totally get lost in the show. She's (Mrs. Wilkinson) is a completely different person from me so it's really fun to just go there and get lost and be in her world.
What is it like working with the young actors who portray Billy and is it sometimes hard to keep up with the young children you are surrounded with onstage?
No because I'm the old lady. They have their job and I have mine. The Billys are all great. They are all so different and so great. It's fun. They're so talented and my daughter's ten and she's out on the road with me. They keep you on your toes.
That leads me to my next question. What does Mabel like about travelling all over the United States with you?
She likes the swimming pools a lot. She's just having a great time seeing different cities. She's been to a lot of science museums and has had a blast at the science museums. We travel with our nanny too, Amanda. She has been our babysitter for like five years so she is like one of the family. We also have our dog with us. It's just a bunch of girls on the road. She tutors with the kids and she takes classes. She's learning the show as well. She's a kid. She likes anything. There's so little that doesn't intrigue her and make her happy. You can't get bored when you're on the road.
What does Mabel do while you're performing? Does she watch the show sometimes?
She has a lot of homework so she and Amanda work on homework and they read. Sometimes she'll watch Wizards of Waverly Place or something. They go to movies sometimes but mostly in the evenings she does homework.
Would you ever encourage her to be a performer like her mother if she was interested in it?
I would just encourage her to do whatever she wants to do. Whatever she decides is interesting to her is what I think she should do. She has a really good voice; a natural singer and she has been taking ballet classes with some of the company. She is learning the choreography. We hope that there may be a possibility for the two of us to go back out together after LA but it's still kind of up in the air. We aren't sure if it's going to happen yet. It would be great but there may not be an opening.
Now, switching gears a little bit, I wanted to ask you about San Antonio. Have you ever been to San Antonio before?
I have not. I have friends that live in the Hill Country. I remember them telling me what a great city it was.
Do you have anything specific that you want to do while in San Antonio?
I haven't done too much research about it yet. I usually breeze into town and do the research when we get there. You have to tell me what I should do when I am there.
You have to do the Alamo, everyone does. And there are lots of blue bonnets right now so you will have to take pictures of Mabel and her dog with the blue bonnets.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in theatre?
There is something I always tell kids is to know somewhere deep down inside of you that you're good at it. If you know you are good at it then it will carry you through the time when nobody else thinks you are. There is an awful lot of rejection especially at the beginning. There are a lot of wonderful conservatories now and kids are just walking out of conservatories and getting work right away. If you don't go that route then you need to know that you are good because sometimes that's all you have to rely on.
If you had not become a performer what profession do you think you would have pursued?
Carpentry. I still want to apprentice a cabinet maker. I love wood. I have built some stuff in my apartment. I have tools now but I need more tools. I need better tools. But I will get there.
Thank you very much. That's all the questions I have for you. I'm looking forward to seeing the show in San Antonio. I have not seen it before so I'm excited about it.
Great, I have friends that have seen the show before, who have seen the Broadway production too and they like this one better because it's a little cozier. It's just a good company too. I hope you enjoy it.
Billy Elliot opens at the Majestic Theatre this Wednesday, March 28th and plays through April 1st. Tickets are available by going to http://majesticempire.com/index.php or http://www.ticketmaster.com/. The Majestic Theatre in San Antonio is designated a National Historic Landmark and originally opened in 1929. It is the home of the San Antonio Symphony and a venue for Broadway Across America as well as other concerts and performances.
Photo Credit: Kyle Froman