BWW Interview: Jillian Butler - Cosette in LES MISERABLES at the Peace Center
Jillian Butler grew up dancing.
"I got really hurt when I was in eighth grade," she said during a recent telephone interview. "I had a knee injury so I couldn't dance for a year. And honestly it was kind of a blessing in disguise."
Being on the sidelines forced her to focus more on her singing, and then seriously study acting, until theatre became her focus. "I applied to colleges, went to the Boston Conservatory for four years, then I moved to New York, and I've been on the road for about three years with different shows, so I'm very grateful. I've been on the road ever since I graduated."
Butler currently plays the older Cosette in the North American touring production of Les Miserables, which arrives this week at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. We asked Butler to tell us a little about her experience in the beloved, epic musical.
Jillian Butler: I grew up listening to the musical and I hadn't seen that many productions. I'm from a small town, so they weren't really doing Les Miserables in the town where I grew up. They were doing Hairspray and Grease. But I was lucky enough to see the revival that they did on Broadway, which just got finished after a two and a half year run. I got to see it from the second row with my parents. And it was like, "I want to be in that!" So when I found out it was touring, I auditioned and am very lucky to be in it now. It's just such an incredible show.
BroadwayWorld: Cosette is a key symbolic character. How does it feel to take on that kind of role?
Jillian Butler: That is the little girl on the poster that people see, and you have all these huge characters - Valjean and Javert and Eponine - and Cosette is a well brought up young lady, but she has this horrible past that you kind of see with little Cosette. But it's a nice change for the audience because there's so much epic and intense things happening in the show, that to be able to play Cosette, who is the romantic love story, it's just nice to be able to give the audience a little bit of light. She's also a big part of the story. Fantine gives her life for her daughter and Valjean says at the end of the show she's the best I've ever had, she's the best of my life. So even though I'm the romantic and lighthearted part of the story, she's really the throughline. And everyone loves "Castle on a Cloud," and little Cosette is so darling. So it's really great to play a character you see grow up and you have to, as an actress, go back to her past. I feel really grateful to be playing Cosette.
BWW: Did you read the novel?
Jillian Butler: I read parts of the novel. I cheated a little and skipped to the Marius part, and it really gives you a good sense of the romance I have to make the audience believe. But just the way he writes is so beautiful and it really helps capture the essence of these characters even more.
BWW: Why do you think this show still resonate so much? It really sticks with people.
Jillian Butler: I think that it's just so timeless. There are so many themes that people can resonate with through the characters. Love and falling in love for the first time, but more than that forgiveness, compassion, redemption. It's really about the survival of the human spirit, which I think everyone can relate to. And then you throw in some incredible music and some compelling characters that really speak to everyone - we're not reinventing the wheel here with our version, but it's just such a masterpiece I think people will walk away feeling very hopeful. If you haven't seen it, it's easy to think, 'Oh Les Miz is so epic and it's so sad,' but, no, it's actually a story about hope and things that can come out of darkness. The songs still relate and give me chills today, and I think people walk away feeling really hopeful and resonate with these characters and the themes in the show: selflessness, redemption, grace - there are so many things. One of my favorite parts of the show is the epilogue, because even in dark times you can find hope, and we're telling people you have a voice as well - just forgive and be compassionate.
BWW: What's different about this production?
Jillian Butler: We don't have the turntable that people know. We're using projections. It's very cinematic. Victor Hugo was actually a painter, so we're using his images and projections as our scenery sometimes, to help give us a sense of time and place. The show is so amazing - the lighting, the visuals, the projections - oh, it' so beautiful, I cant wait for you to see it!
Cameron Mackintosh presents the new production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's Tony Award®-winning musical phenomenon, Les Misérables, direct from its acclaimed Broadway return. Featuring the beloved songs "I Dreamed A Dream," "On My Own," "Stars," "Bring Him Home," "One Day More" and many more, this epic and uplifting story has become one of the most celebrated musicals in theatrical history. With its glorious new staging and dazzlingly reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, this breathtaking new production has left both audiences and critics awestruck. "Les Miz is born again!" (NY1).
Performance dates are October 31 - November 5. The Saturday, November 4, 2 p.m. performance is designated as an ASL signed performance. Please speak with a Customer Service Representative to ensure you are seated in the correct location.