BWW INTERVIEWS: HAIRSPRAY London's New Edna PHILL JUPITUS
Hi, Phill, thanks for joining us and welcome to BWW:UK. How is everything?
It's going really well. Obviously it's something completely outside of my experience, and everybody's taking a flier with this - the producers and myself. But I decided I would take it because I'd already seen Michael Ball in the role, and he was so good that nobody will ever be as good as him, so audiences have seen the best already. That takes off a lot of pressure. It's very freeing!
How were you approached?
I auditioned to play Wilbur. I went along and saw Mel Smith, who was brilliant, but my eye was always being drawn towards Michael. And I thought, well, I could play Wilbur, but I'd love to play the mum. It was the first time I'd seen a man play a female role as a serious character. Edna is a serious woman. She has ideas of her own.
And so the producers gave me a polite "you're not right for the part of Wilbur", and then asked how I'd feel about playing Edna. Of course I said yeah, I'd love to! Then it was six or eight months later before I met up with Jack O'Brien and some of the production guys, and I really thought I'd lost it when we were sitting in a coffee bar talking about everything but Hairspray. I thought I'd blown it. And one month later they asked me to start in October. It's an honour.
You've tweeted a lot about how much you enjoy the cast dynamic.
Yes, it's a special vibe. Hairspray is a very singular family. And it's a great show. Just the arc of the thing - it's perfectly constructed. It's fascinating seeing how the theatre works. Yes, I've been a stand-up, which just means you're an introspective psychopath; this is so different. Belinda [Belinda Carlisle] started at the same time as me, and I think the producers are just thinking more laterally about casting. I'm quite often asked whether it's difficult for a stand-up to go into acting. Stand-up is all artifice. Any stand-up can act. It's sticking to a script that's the problem. When you dry and you've got a script, every single bone is tellling you to fill the gap. And you just think, "No, no, there's an actual line I've got to say."
Has that happened on stage then?
Yes! Just one night, and it was my third line. And my mum was in. I'm blaming her.
How are you getting on with the singing?
I thought I'd have to be coached. But no. I'm just doing it in my own way. I'm following an amazing singer in Michael Ball, and of course Brian Conley has a track record in musical theatre. With me, the only note I got from the MD was, "Try singing in the shower once a day." Having said that, they're always looking at your performance. There's always someone giving notes. They don't leave you alone!
You helped with one of the tasks during I'd Do Anything, so I was wondering if that had inspired you to go into musicals.
They just came along [to the Trafalgar Studios, where Phill was performing in Lifecoach] and brought the actresses along. It didn't take too long. And it's lovely that Jodie [Jodie Prenger] is starring in Oliver! just up the road now. Inspired? Not really - if you look at my CV, it's all over the place. Most things will be entertained. Why not a musical? I think it's a fantastic form of entertainment, and real value for money.
It's funny you should say that because some people can be quite snobby about musicals.
Hmm, I don't know. This is only my second acting job, and I make my living making jokes about Westlife the rest of the time, so I don't think I'm really qualified to comment about snobbery!
What are you up to in the New Year?
I'm not sure yet! We've just done the last Buzzcocks, and I finish in Hairspray at the end of January, so I'll have to have a real think about what to do next...
Phill stars as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre.