BWW Interviews: Robert Lonsdale Of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
It's a thundery, soggy afternoon when I speak to Robert Lonsdale; we've both, weirdly, had the same experience of getting caught in the rain earlier in the day, running from our respective physio appointments to shelter from the seasonal storm.
He sounds on good form, though; and why wouldn't he be? He's had great reviews for his performance as Private Prewitt in the new musical From Here to Eternity, leading a huge company with the added pressure of Tim Rice's name on the project.
Don't take this the wrong way, Robert, but I enjoyed the show much more than I expected to, because I'm usually very picky about movies that get turned into musicals. I always want something special from them - otherwise why bother making a musical at all?
I know what you mean. I think if we'd gone to take on the idea of putting the film on stage, it would have been an insurmountable task. So we went back to the book, and that gave us things that they weren't able to tackle in the film, because it was the fifties and they just couldn't. That makes it more interesting.
But we were very aware of the film, and it's something we were very reverential towards. I watched it two years ago, when I first became involved with the project, but I've not watched it since - it's a powerful thing.
And then making it a musical does offer something new. It's an entirely new device for me, in my first big musical, this need to suspend disbelief that people will stop and they'll sing a song. So I need to find it within myself - that's how he's addressing his audience - and music is a real gift. Prewitt's song 'Fight The Fight' is his entire ethos.
You mention this is your first musical - what's it been like taking such a huge role and leading such a big company?
I've been very fortunate in my career. Some people are out of drama school and they take a leading role and that might be very natural for them; other people might be a bit out of their depth. I've been lucky enough to work with some brilliant leading men, who have taught me so much, and so now it's time for me to take some responsibility. The thing is, the things that are most rewarding are also the most terrifying!
Were you nervous?
It broke me! The last two weeks I've been stressed and exhausted, but now I've built up my stamina and I'm fit and well enough to perform this and sing this eight shows a week. To be honest, what I needed was perspective. I'm telling a story about a character who had it much, much harder than me. That gets me through. You realise where you are and how lucky you are.
It's a difficult sing but also very physical, playing a soldier who's also a champion boxer. Have you been having to hit the gym as well as going to singing lessons?
During rehearsals, our assistant choreographer put us through an hour of intense exercise every day. All the men in the company are incredibly fit anyway, they're all from musical theatre backgrounds, but even they said it was hard work. Now, though, I have a decent enough level of fitness, and as for the boxing, I've been watching our fight director and a couple of guys in the cast who are already adept boxers, and just seeing what they do. That's what acting's about, really, soaking things up, because you're surrounded by people with amazing skills, so they can help you.
So it sounds like it's been a hell of a lot of hard work, but you're now really into the stride of it.
That's exactly it! Now, finally, I'm into the routine. There are still some little tweaks going on but I can get into the zone and continue to discover things about my character.