BWW Interview: Keala Settle Opens Up About Why She Just Can't Wait to Get on the Road Again with Hugh Jackman
The 'This Is Me' singer tells us what the song taught her about herself.
As BroadwayWorld previously reported, the Tony nominee will rejoin the song and dance man for the final leg of his world tour-The Man. The Music. The Show. Since launching the worldwide tour in May with sold out shows across Europe and the UK including six shows at the O2 in London, Jackman and the 193-person cast and crew headed to the States in June and July for a 22 concert-run which included three sold out shows at Madison Square Garden and two sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl.
Settle, who previously starred with Jackman in the 2017 mega-hit The Greatest Showman, has been along for the ride, appearing as a special guest in most of Jackman's international shows. Earlier this week, they continued the tour at Boston's TD Garden arena and and prepare for upcoming performances in Uniondale, Newark, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Antonio, and Mexico City.
Settle checked in with BroadwayWorld earlier this week to tell us all about life after the Bearded Lady, how one special song changed her life, and why she just can't get enough of Hugh.
How did this start? Did Hugh just come to you and say, "Hey, wanna tour the world with me?"
Yep! That is literally exactly how it went down. [Laughs]
And how can you say no to that?
I was trepidatious at the start actually, because I was fresh out of brain surgery. It had been six or seven months when he asked me. I was great, but a little bit worried about that. But then I just said to myself, "Well, if I'm not gonna do it now, when am I gonna do it?" So I jumped at the chance.
What's it been like being around Hugh again?
I never stopped seeing him! Even though the film finished, we are basically family. We never stopped seeing each other. When I was in New York or when he was in Los Angeles, we would always make time for the family. It's great because he is like my brother. He is somebody who has been one of my biggest champions, above and beyond my own self. He's helped me come out of my shell in so many ways. He 's a really great guy. He's just a really nice guy, who happens to also be Wolverine. [Laughs]
Do you remember the first time you met Hugh? What were your first impressions of him?
I don't think I really had one. As a Broadway performer, when you're working the hustle, you're just like, "Oh great, so-and-so is here. How much is this check and will it pay for my rent for the month?" That's the mindset that you're in. So I don't think I really had an impression that first time, because I was more worried about paying my rent. That's the hustle- it's what Broadway is. The second you book a job, you're trying to book four more.
I watched him introduce you at the Madison Square Garden show and he talked about all of the ways he admires you. What do you admire the most about him?
That what you see is what you get. We are in a day-and-age when people are so hung up on creating a persona. Hugh is just Hugh. It's not his job, it's who he is. It's without apology, without any kind of anger or malice towards anyone. There is no hidden agenda. Especially being a part of this industry, you doubt that. There must be something going on here! But truly, he is genuine.
Obviously you're singing "This Is Me" on this tour. Can you tease anything else that you'll be doing?
Yes! When we were in Australia, he asked me to sing a song that I wrote. I've actually written a lot of songs and I'm in the process of putting together an album. I didn't really want to tell anyone about it, but I ended up performing it because he asked me to. I was petrified to do it. But I ended up doing it for our entire run in Australia and New Zealand.
The song is called "Harder." It actually wasn't even released at the time, but once I did it, Hugh said, "Keala, you need to put this on iTunes." And I said, "Screw you, I'm not doing that!" [Laughs] So he got a hold of my record producer, Greg Wells, and told him that it had to happen. So basically, Hugh Jackman became my music manager. I couldn't fight it. So about a week and a half after I was performing it, it went up on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music. We're shooting a video for it later this month, when I have some spare time between shows.
How great that you'll get to perform it again!
Yes, in this last leg. He asked me about it and I said, "Well, I don't know..." and he was like, "Really Keala?!" [Laughs]. It was a song that I wrote for suicide prevention week last year. It's an issue that is very close to home for me. I had just decided to flesh it out in a song along with a couple of other people. We all got into a room and put it together.
I'm sure that The Greatest Showman experience was a whirlwind for you for a while. Now that you have a little bit of distance, how do you look back on it?
The funny thing is that there is no distance. It's still going! I'm on the road with Hugh! If anything it's given me the opportunity to learn how to take my own advice. "This is Me" and the character I played were one thing, but originally I was not that person. The song come first, so I had to grow into that song. It's taken me two plus years to figure out what that means for myself and how I can expand from that creatively. It's been a massive learning experience for me.
"This Is Me" is a song that means a lot to a lot of people. I'm sure you get people stopping you to tell you how important it is...
I just went into a PetSmart yesterday to pick up my puppy's medicine and this girl was with her dog and asked to take a picture. And I was like "Sure, you can take a picture of my dog!" and she said, "No, of you!" And I couldn't understand why. Then she just went off. Yes, it's still happening.
You made your Broadway debut in 2011 in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I think it's safe to say that your life has changed a lot since then. Do you have 'pinch me' moments of "How did I get here?"
I have those moments every day, and honestly, they're more nostalgic than anything else. I wake up every day in a really comfortable place on the other side of the country. It doesn't seem real a lot of the time, but I know that it can disappear at any second. That is not lost on me.
It helps me in turn to understand the ramifications of the song that I sang. I sang the song and I remember telling Hugh, "Don't come and find me. I'm leaving as soon as this film is over. I don't want to see anybody. I don't wan't to sing this song." It's a diary entry. Channeling that and being that are two different things. I had to learn about myself and why I was able to channel that. I figured out what that meant to me, because it seemed like everyone else was reaping the benefits of the message of the song except for me. And I was singing it! [Laughs] It was a learning experience of who I really am. I didn't know who I was.
You have a dozen shows coming up over the next month. What are you most looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to being in the US. I haven't done many cities here, as far as this tour is concerned. I've had the privilege of playing many of these cities being on Broadway tours, but never with a man like this; never with a crew like this. It was a different life. It's nice to be able to go back and have this opportunity to revisit these cities with new eyes and new lease on life.
Actress and singer Keala Settle is the breakout star of 20th Century Fox's, The Greatest Showman, alongside Hugh Jackman. The Hawaii native's performance of the film's Oscar-nominated song "This Is Me" became an explosive anthem of self-acceptance, propelling the soundtrack to the top of the charts worldwide. Her performance at the 2018 Academy Awards brought the entire audience to their feet with a performance that The New York Times applauded as "commanding" and a perfect summation of "what became the themes of the night - diversity, empowerment, [and] inclusion."
For more information please visit HughJackmanTheShow.com.