BWW Exclusive: Meet Broadway Couple Jenny Jules and Ralph Brown!
When Hermione Met Muldoon...
What would you do if, upon walking in on your first date, you saw your date as a sixty-year-old woman? Would you turn and run, or would you tell her you saw your future? The Ferryman's Ralph Brown chose the latter when walking in 25 minutes late to his date with Cursed Child's Jenny Jules and, 20 years of marriage later, they are sitting down with BroadwayWorld to talk all things life, love and all magic that comes in between.
Where did you meet?
Ralph: We met in London at a theater called the Tricycle Theatre, which is now called the Kiln Theatre, in Kilburn. I was doing show, and Jenny was an usher.
When was your first actual date?
Ralph: It was a few months after that. Actually, it was three years after that, to be fair, until our first actual date. We'd had a bit of a 'ping' moment where we were kind of like, "Wow, who's that?", but the people in the theater definitely warned Jenny off of me. They'd told her, "Don't go out with him, he's not a good guy to go out with. You don't want to go near any of these kinds of guys". So, I ended up going out with somebody else for three years. Though when that didn't work out, we both still wanted to see each other and made a date very near to the [then] Tricycle Theatre.
Jenny: Ralph told me a lovely story. He was late by 25 minutes, and I was absolutely furious. I'd had too much red wine and was about to call a girlfriend who lived around the corner to say, "This man has let me down... again". Though as I was about to stand up I saw him enter the restaurant, and he looked over to me and we looked at each other. Our chemistry is really strong, it's like we can never away from each other. Ralph said that when he saw me, he saw a sixty-year-old woman and just went, "Oh my god, there's my future". Instead of turning around and turning out, he just came walking towards me.
Ralph: It's true. It was weird.
What has the transition been like from the UK to the US?
Ralph: We moved here five years ago when Jenny came over to do Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, at St Ann's Warehouse in 2013. Jenny and the cast were being billeted in Brooklyn Heights. I came over for a couple of weeks for the opening and stayed in this place on Willow St. Coming out of there every morning we would think, "Hmm, this is kind of nice... we could live here!" .... without having done the research into the $10k a month rent. Three months later we are living in Brooklyn, not Brooklyn Heights, but in Fort Greene which we absolutely love. Literally two suitcases and one cat each, got one a plane and we've been here ever since. It takes a while to settle in. You have to get used to the express train and "What's your credit rating?", and we're like, "Well, we own a house in England!".
Jenny: It doesn't matter. It doesn't count for anything at all!
Ralph: But I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. If somebody asked if I wanted to go back to England, or go to Rio, or Vancouver, or Phnom Penh, I'd tell them that New York City is it. That's the way I feel right now.
You've both now begun your roles on Broadway! What has been the biggest adjustment between your old normal, and your new normal?
Jenny: Our old normal is that I would go to work at night and I would come home at night when Ralph is probably in bed as he is doing some filming in the morning. Though our new normal is that we are both on the same schedule, and it's really kind of lovely. We can go into work together and we can come home together, and that's kind of neat! We get to see each other and still have our relationship.
Ralph: And we're only 2 streets away. 45th [The Ferryman] and 43rd [Cursed Child].
Ralph, this is your Broadway debut at 61! Is this something you've been working up towards, or something that fell right into place?
Ralph: It's something I've been avoiding all my life! I gave up doing the theatre in 1990 as I had an extremely bad experience playing Macbeth in Liverpool with a director who utterly ruined my confidence onstage, and potentially forever. We've been telling each other and the world and anyone who will listen the story of, "I do cinema and television, and my wife does stage". That I'm subsidizing the arts doing rubbish television while Jenny is not being very well paid on the stage. That's certainly been a lot of life, and that story was starting to wear a bit thin. Honestly, I was without an agent last year and Jenny talked her agent into having a look at my reel, and they liked it enough to meet me and break their own rule of not representing married couples. While they were interviewing me, I said that I don't do theatre and reeled out the usual old nonsense about not doing stage work and they said, "That's going to be a problem for us Ralph, as that's how we work here. We build people's careers from the stage". I agreed, and this [The Ferryman] was the first audition that came along. So, I'm back in my twenties where I started out - onstage and falling in love with the theatre again, kind of wishing I'd done it ten years ago!
Jenny: And he's great in the role.
How do you feel Broadway differed has to film and television thus far?
Ralph: It's very different indeed. You know, film and television work is very piecemeal. You're not telling the story in order, and you're only doing bits of the story at a time. Think about a gas ring... you're kind of on simmer until they say 'action' and you burn, and then you turn it back down again. You don't really ever turn it off, but there's very short bursts. On Broadway, even if you're not onstage, you're still on. And the company are much closer than they are in television and movies, you know, especially if you're on vacation some people don't want to mix, they just want to be in their own little world. I've still got great friends from film and television. I also feel so much more exposed onstage than I do in front of the camera. I'm very relaxed in front of the camera. I feel like I am in command of what I am doing, though on stage I'm walking on a tightrope and could fall off at any minute... in public.
Jenny: Just how I like it [laughs].
Ralph: I'm learning from Jenny!
Of course, because Jenny is no stranger to the stage! How has being in a show like Cursed Child differed from your previous shows?
Jenny: It's massive. It's a massive technical experience. It's event theatre. I'm doing two plays, which ends up being 5 hours of theatre, whereas most shows I do are two-and-a-half hours maybe three hours maximum. I am having the best time. It's truly extraordinary. It's been a really long rehearsal period, and I have learned lots of new skills. I'm learning how to be a magician! All the magic that happens on stage is done live for the audience every night. There's no CGI, there's special effects in that way. It's magic! It's really magic.
So, it's very much that if you stand in the wrong place by an inch...
Jenny: Oh, yes! Yes. We've been drilled. We've been drilled throughout rehearsal in a really positive, fantastic sort of way by this amazing man called Skylar Fox. All of his criticism is always positive, and it just makes us want to be better and better for him. And Neil Austin's lighting is exceptional, so we a blessed.
Have you had an opportunity to see each other in your respective shows?
Ralph: We have!
Jenny: Yes! Ralph has seen half of me, and I've seen all of him [laughs]! I thought he was fantastic. I think The Ferryman is an amazing play, truly extraordinary. Children and animals?! Really exciting, very unusual, and really funny, and very shocking. Ralph had this moniker when we lived in England where his best friends called him "Scary Ralph" ...
Ralph: Don't know why that is [laughs]. I did the 'Which House Are You In?' Quiz on the Pottermore website, and I'm Hufflepuff. So much for 'Scary Ralph'! And then I did the 'What's Your Patronus?', and mine is a tortoiseshell cat. I could show you pictures of my tortoiseshell cat sitting on my shoulders right now... that was kind of like magic, but also kind of creepy. I saw the first part of Cursed Child last during their dress rehearsal, which was lucky as I was off; though the second part was in the evening and I was on, so I couldn't see that. There are so many WOW moments in the show. The lighting and the effects are amazing, but the actual magic is WOW. You can hear the audience just going [gasps] like that, cause it's like "What did I just see, and how did they do that?!" There's quite a lot of those moments in it. And the cast are just incredibly strong. I am so proud of Jenny. I thought she outshone everybody onstage, but she always does. Ever since I've known her and watched her, it brings a tear to my eye watching her onstage as she's so exceptionally good at what she does.
With a marriage of 20 years, I assume you've been a strong witness to the changing political climate surrounding interracial relationships. From your experience, what would say have been some of the biggest changes - whether positive or negative - within not just the outside world, but also within the entertainment industry?
Jenny: A positive change that I've seen for both of us in the outside world is that people don't necessarily look at us when we walk down the street. People don't make comments anymore like they used to, both black and white people would make comments. There were some occasions where I almost found it hysterical. I think it's really silly that we are so tribal that we negate people's love. I find that incredulous. I can't understand how people don't get when people are together, you know? It's no one else's business.
Ralph: Though if there's one city where people of all backgrounds are going to be making babies, it's New York.
Jenny: Though that hasn't happened in the last few years. In the entertainment industry I believe that discrimination is changing as people are allowed to play roles that they haven't been allowed to play before. That's women playing traditionally male roles, and that's black actors, or actors of color, playing roles traditionally played by white actors. That is happening more often. It's just about allowing people to have a go, you know? Because all of us a good. Most actors are really, really good at what they do. So to just give people the opportunity to exercise and stretch out their muscles is great, and it's happening more and more.
And it's happening in Cursed Child!
Jenny: Yes, yes! I'm Hermione Granger. I've had some really shy, lovely women come up to me and say, "Well, in the books it says she's tanned and that she's got frizzy hair!", and it just makes me laugh! I get the odd girl go, "I knew she was black from the beginning!", and I just say, "You embrace that baby, it's yours. It's yours now".
And there are kids of color in the audience seeing you on stage, who are just so inspired...
Jenny: It's changing their life.
Ralph: It's changing slowly, but over the course of our relationship we've seen a black majority rule in South Africa, and a black President of the United States of America. We're now in the middle of the backlash from that, but you can't hold the future back. You know, we are the future. Us and our family, our children, our nephews, our nieces, our grandchildren. We're the future.
And a bit of wisdom to round us out... having been not just married for 20 years, but also working actors for 20 years, I think it's safe to say you've really figured out how to make a strong relationship work. What would you say are the keys to maintaining a relationship in such a crazy industry?
Ralph: We know how to fight. If you don't know how to fight, you've had it [Jenny laughs]. You know, because you just end up sulking and you just grow apart. To stay close you need to fight properly.
Jenny: You also need to choose your partner every day, and I choose him every day.
Ralph: One day at a time, for sure.
Jenny: Even when he's on my last nerve, I still choose him.
Ralph: We make each other laugh critically. I think that's vital.
Jenny: Our taste is entirely opposite of each other. What I love, he hates. And what he loves, I'm like ew [screw face up].
Ralph: We don't eat the same food, we don't drink the same drinks - so cooking is always interesting. I'm vegetarian, Jenny's not. Etcetera, etcetera.
Jenny: He's Hufflepuff, I'm Gryffindor! [laughs] I'm like, "Who is this guy?!". We're still discovering who each other are, and that's how it's going to be for the rest of our lives.
You can catch Jenny Jules as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, now playing at the Lyric Theatre on 43rd street, and Ralph Brown as Muldoon in The Ferryman, a short two blocks away at the St. Jacobs Theatre on 45th street.