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Interview: Elaina O'Connor And Lloyd Hopkins of LEGALLY BLONDE at Crown Theatre

Two of the leads in the upcoming production of LEGALLY BLONDE discuss the show, and what's changed since they played the same characters four years ago.

Interview: Elaina O'Connor And Lloyd Hopkins of LEGALLY BLONDE at Crown Theatre

Elaina O'Connor and Lloyd Hopkins first played the roles of Elle Woods and Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde back in 2018. Both were in one of their first roles straight after graduating, but now, four years later, they bring a broad range of experience back to the characters they know well. Not only have the actors come a long way, but this time they'll be performing to a bigger audience in a larger theatre for a longer season.

Legally Blonde is based on the 2001 novel and hit film, telling the story of Elle Woods and her struggles to be taken seriously as a Californian sorority girl at Harvard Law School. She falls in and out of love, makes new friends, and learns a lot about herself and others on her journey, eventually finding that the most important thing is staying true to one's self. The show is full of memorable songs, large dance numbers, and hilarious characters.

Both Elaina and Lloyd have appeared in a variety of productions since first starring in Legally Blonde. Elaina has appeared as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and Veronica in Heathers The Musical among others, whilst Lloyd has been Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Fred in Oklahoma!, and several other stage credits in both theatre and opera. I sat down with them to discuss the upcoming show and see what's changed and what hasn't from when they first played these roles.

2020 was tough for everyone, and you two as performers would have been hit hardest. How did you maintain and improve your skill sets whilst the world was in lockdown?

Lloyd: I was lucky enough to be able to work with my vocal coach regularly anyway. In lockdown we were able to work over Skype, and then when restrictions eased, we could work face-to-face because it was just me and him. Other than that, we had so much time to indulge in watching or listening to theatre we may not have been able to do prior, so it was good in the sense that I had that time to focus on learning and developing. There's a positive spin to be put on it for performers at least.

Elaina: My experience was similar. I do musical theatre teaching as well as performing, so I found a lot of the time I was planning classes which is obviously approached differently to performing. But through teaching I was working on my own skills as well: kids certainly have a knack of teaching you things you never even thought about before! It was hard to keep motivation sometimes, but it was nice to have the break from life and performing. It was a good time for performers to be able to focus on their craft; you can lose your love for performing when you're always putting yourself through the rigors of it, so it can be a good thing to be able to sit back and focus on the things you love about performing without necessarily having the pressure.

Do you see yourself in your characters in Legally Blonde?

Lloyd: Absolutely! Emmett is a bit of a dork in that he loves his law and he's worked so hard to get where he is. I feel I've worked really hard to get where I am, and I'm also a bit of a dork sometimes- I still love Pokemon cards, for example. Feeling like we have a lot in common may make me see Emmett in a different way to how others see him, but I've taken a lot from Emmett and I think that allows me to give a lot to Emmett, too.

Elaina: I'd say I'm very bubbly and outgoing like Elle. If I could just play one role for the rest of my life, I think it would be this one. Obviously it takes a lot to get into any character, but when I was Veronica in Heathers I had to strip back the girly girl in me, strip back the hair and nails- literally- and whilst that may seem easy, that's before you start thinking about things like how the character stands or the gestures they would make. In Legally Blonde it's a lot easier because the characters we play are like us. As Lloyd said, Emmett is just a good guy, and that's Lloyd! He's a good guy! And I feel like I'm very much Elle. In fact, before I decided to pursue musical theatre, I actually wanted to study law. When I missed out on studying law, I thought it was the end of the world. I really feel I bring that into Elle, and I hope the audience can see that there is a big bit of us in our characters.

Have you found that beyond adding a dimension to your characters, have your characters impacted your lives?

Lloyd: I feel like Emmett has taught me a lot about gratitude, and a way of looking at things positively. He grew up in the slums and had to build his way up, and still finds a way to remain positive all the time and remains focused. Not only that, he cares so much about others, and even when he finds that some people aren't all good, he still tries to see the good in everyone. I think I've learnt a lot from him.

Elaina: I've definitely learnt a lot from Elle. Like I said, I feel we're similar anyway, but her character sees the good in every single person, even when people are specifically against her she still tries to find the good. Not only that, she is all about girl power, she stands up for all women. That's why I feel this show is so relevant in today's climate. This role teaches you as a woman to stand up and be strong, to have courage, to have a bit of Elle in your life.

How are you different from when you did the show in 2018? Do you bring anything different to it now?

Lloyd: Definitely. We were a lot younger then, and I think my skills- vocal and acting- have developed significantly. To be able to take the Emmett I was as an 18-year-old and to add to that has been good.

Elaina: I'm a strong believer in the idea that you never stop learning, you can always keep improving. We're not going to say that this time around we're as good as we're going to get. There's so much to the singing, and the dancing, and the acting that you can always improve on. So I'd say we've worked a lot on our craft since then, and we can see the improvement. I hope that anyone who does see this show, and who did see us in 2018 -and who recognizes us- can see the improvement.

How is it having John O'Hara directing? He has a long list of acting credits, how is it working with him as the director?

Lloyd: It's been amazing to work with John. He's done so many shows, he's well respected within the industry, and I really look up to him. I've been lucky enough to work with him on stage before, in Grease around four years ago, and in Legally Blonde 2018 (where O'Hara played Professor Callaghan), which were awesome. He has an incredible approach, he doesn't just treat us as people delivering lines and moving around, but he treats us all as artists and he wants us to bring our own art to the production. That has been so powerful to have a director look at me as an artist and not just an actor. I think that approach allows our best work to blossom.

Elaina: It helps that he's been a performer as well. He's worked with so many incredible people both on and off stage, and he's been able to see so many directing approaches, so he's taken all that on board to come up with his own style. He sees the production from both sides of the stage, which is just brilliant. He's not the type to instruct every single action, but instead allows us as artists to have that freedom to put a bit of ourselves into the characters. It allows us to add that flair to our characters and not only do we benefit as artists but the show benefits, too.

What is the main message you get from LEGALLY BLONDE?

Elaina: The first thing that pops into my brain is 'Do not judge a book by its cover.' Elle seems ditzy, everyone things she's a dumb blonde, but she's not. It takes her losing Warner, who she thought was her whole world, to step back and say "I'm worth so much more than this," and even though she struggles at first at law school she realizes she doesn't need a man to motivate her, and she finds her own drive to be the best she can be. In this climate it's such a powerful message for girl power. Even when there's a misbalance or things seem unfair Elle stands up for herself, and I hope the audience will leave motivated to bring a bit of Elle into their world. She also realizes that circumstances can change but there's opportunity in everything, and Elle's ability to roll with the punches and keep an open mind leads her to succeed.

Lloyd: For me, I love how it's all about girl power, and it's so relevant right now. It also shows me that when you find passion you can find drive- Elle struggles at first but then develops a passion for it- and is then driven to succeed. I think that shows that when you have passion you can achieve anything.

Interview: Elaina O'Connor And Lloyd Hopkins of LEGALLY BLONDE at Crown Theatre

Photo credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian, HAMA Productions

From This Author - David Bravos

I sit in the small field of miners who enjoy theatre. My love began when The Phantom of the Opera toured, and I dragged my new girlfriend along. Interest in one show became an interest in many, as ... (read more about this author)

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