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on Tue, 08 Mar 2016
The singer/songwriter and actress, currently playing Holly Golightly in the new UK touring production of play Breakfast at Tiffany’s, talks diamonds, hot showers and high heels.
Tell us about the new stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s…
It’s staying true to the original story that Truman Capote wrote, so it is set in the 1940s. The play still has all the amazing characters and stories from the film, the different characters that make up New York, but this isn’t the film brought to life on stage. The movie was set in the 60s, so the era alone makes it quite different. I haven’t actually watched the movie again since I knew I was doing the play because I didn’t want to get too caught up in it.
How does it feel to be playing such an iconic character as Holly Golightly?
I feel really lucky because it is such an amazing role to take on for my first play. I adore Holly. She is extremely free-spirited and has lots of energy, but when needs be, she is also very direct and can tell people how it is. She has a secret past, but she’s a survivor and she makes it through.
Do you feel the pressure is on because Holly is such a well-loved character?
To an extent, but because the play is based on the book and not a complete copy of the movie, the pressure is off slightly because I can’t be completely compared to Audrey Hepburn, who was obviously amazing. Hopefully people will see I’ve created my own interpretation and brought my own personality to the role.
Some might say this is quite a departure for you as you are best known for your music…
Well, I have always believed in being as rounded as a performer as possible. Music is my first love and passion, but I love acting as well. I think it’s really cool to go outside your comfort zone and push yourself as a performer. I did that when I took part in Strictly Come Dancing [in 2014] where I had to learn ballroom and Latin from scratch, which I really loved. I am continuing to write music at every opportunity I can – I will hopefully have my new record ready towards the end of the year, with maybe a little teaser in the summer – but this year it’s been really amazing to focus on acting. Beforehand, I had only done titbits here and there, but now I can focus on a proper, wonderful character whom I get to play every night.
Was there a tough audition process?
It was I guess, because it came a little bit of out of the blue and I had to quickly prepare and learn the script. But once I got in there [Nikolai Foster] the director made me feel really relaxed so I could get into the role easily. So I actually really enjoyed the audition.
Did you have the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey poster when you were growing up?
[Laughs] I actually have it as a coaster for my cup of tea next to my bed. I’ve had it there for ages, long before I won the role. I only realised that the other day. It was obviously meant to be!
Did you know that Truman Capote originally wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role, but her agent advised her against playing ‘a lady of the evening’?
She’s an amazing character and I think Audrey was amazing for the role, very classy and stylish, but I think Marilyn would have been great as well. It would have been a very different kind of Holly. I didn’t have any reservations at all about taking the role because it’s all part of being an actress. Besides, Holly isn’t actually a [prostitute], Capote called Holly an ‘American geisha’. I think she’s an amazing character and once you watch her and get to know her in the play, you see all the different sides and how fabulous and endearing she is.
Are you like Holly in any way?
We’re both really forgetful, she lives at apartment number 2 and my flat is number 2, and we’re both short-sighted. She also likes fashion, I like fashion, and I’d say I’m pretty free-spirited and I love travelling as she does too. So there are a few things that make us quite similar.
Does it concern you that audiences will be making comparisons with Audrey, as that is the Holly they know best?
Like I said, I don’t think the play can be compared to the movie. It’s the same when I perform covers of songs by Kings of Leon or The Killers that I put up on YouTube. I always say I can never compete with the original because it’s always going to be the best. I always do my own interpretation and make it completely my own, and then it stands on its own rather than being compared. I feel like this is the same sort of thing.
The song Moon River is obviously hugely associated with the story – how does it feel to be performing such a classic song?
It’s a timeless song and a dream to sing. And I’m pleased that I get to sing a little in the show. There’s always pressure, but I’ve got to focus on enjoying myself. In previous experiences of performing, as long as I enjoy myself it helps the audience enjoy themselves, and that’s what it’s all about.
You learned to play guitar especially for the role – what was that like?
I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar, so really the play has given me the perfect excuse, and I can keep it up afterwards and use it to write songs. It’s hard though! The guitar’s really, really hard! But I’ve been practising a lot. It appears in an intimate moment for Holly, so I’m sort of playing it to myself, rather than turning into a big old musical song and dance. It sits well in the play.
There is music from the era and original music by Grand Olding – so do other songs feature in the play?
They do. There’s music playing throughout, and I also sing a little hillbilly ballad on the guitar, which helps illustrate some of Holly’s past, but apart from that all the music is from the 1940s or 1940s inspired.
This is your first major stage role since you were a child/teenager – why did you leave theatre for so long?
Because I wanted to get my songs out there. I started writing when I was 13 or 14 and I always wanted to be a recording artist and make my own albums. That was always the goal, and it just sort of took over because it came in first. Music is something I will always keep on doing and I am still recording alongside the play.
The chemistry between ‘Fred’ and Holly is intrinsic to the story – how do you get on with your co-star Matt Barber?
We did meet the week before rehearsals began to go through some lines, which I think was a really good idea. It was nice to go in on the first day of rehearsals already knowing each other. But yeah, we get on really well, which is lucky, as we’re going to be spending a lot of time together.
At its heart, this is a love story, focusing on Holly’s self-discovery – would you agree?
I think everyone’s self-discovery. ‘Fred’ comes to New York to find himself, so does Holly. All these people in New York and their personalities and how they are finding themselves in the city.
Does your Holly have a cat?
I’m still getting used to the cat. I’m not really familiar with holding cats or being with cats. Thankfully, I’m not allergic, but I’ve got to get my cat acting up to scratch!
Can you remember the first time you became aware of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the novel or the film)?
When I was younger we watched the movie – all the girls in my family loved it, But I didn’t read the book until I auditioned for this production. I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s is every girl’s favourite movie because it’s very stylish and classy, and you take a little bit of Holly away with you afterwards. There are some really good qualities in her.
Let’s talk about costumes as Holly’s look is so iconic – will you be wearing Givenchy like Audrey?
I don’t think so, that would have been amazing, but all of my costumes and accessories are genuine vintage pieces, which is wonderful. I love playing with the way I look, experimenting and trying different things so creating Holly’s style has been a dream. The styling for the play is totally 1940s, and I have lots of costume changes, so it is very different to my usual get-up.
Have you ever done the whole having a coffee and Danish pastry outside Tiffany’s thing?
I haven’t done that, but the last time I was in New York I did go and check out the store. I’ve always been a fan of Tiffany’s, and I like coffee and Danish, but I’d say I’m more of a tea and toast kind of girl!
The play is touring before it moves to the West End – you must have packing for the road down to perfection?
Unfortunately, I still haven’t learnt how to travel light. I just shove all I can fit into a case, and it’s always so heavy. I’m really excited about the tour though because it’s good to see the different audience reaction in each city. I guess Canterbury is closest to my family because it’s in Kent where I grew up. And, of course, I am super-excited to be performing at the Haymarket in London. This will be the longest I’ve been in each location, so I will have a little bit of time to explore them and get to know them a bit better.
What can we expect to find in your dressing room – will it be as chaotic as Holly’s apartment?
I’m a really messy person! I guess there’ll just be loads of make-up and maybe a candle and some pictures of the era to help me get into character. So it will probably be fairly chaotic. I’ll say it’s part of the character and blame it on Holly.
Has your boyfriend Oliver [Cheshire] been helping you with your lines?
Oliver was really excited for me, but I’ve been trying to get everything into my head myself. My mum and dad have helped me run some lines, but they’re really not very good actors. My mum’s American accent sounds like Mickey Mouse or something!
What will surprise audiences most about the play?
Probably that it is not exactly like the film, and it’s also quite a rollercoaster of emotions. Most of the time it’s very high-energy and then there are times when it can move you. It covers all areas. It’s surprising that even though it was written in the 40s, so long ago, Truman Capote’s story is still so relevant and ahead of its time. I guess that’s what makes it such a modern classic.
How would you sum the play up in a few words?
Exciting, moving…and fun!
Danish pastries or croissants?
Croissants, if they’re warm, otherwise Danish.
Diamonds or Pearls?
I’m going to say diamonds, but Holly actually says diamonds are for older women.
Night in or Night out?
Couture or High street?
Couture, all the way.
Acting or Singing?
This is a tough one, but I owe my life to singing.
Cats or Dogs?
Baths or showers?
Champagne or Whisky?
Heels or flats?
Again I love both – so flats during the day, and heels at night.
By Jeremy Mark
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is showing at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 18 - Saturday 23 April