At the time of the interview, CJ de Mooi was soon to be appearing as Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin’s comedy thriller DEATHTRAP at the Brookside Theatre Romford. “DEATHTRAP is a hilariously twisted murder mystery with an equal dose of laugh-out-loud moments and scream inducing thrills starring BBC TV’s, CJ de Mooi and international recording artist, Nicki French.”
Earlier this week CJ took some time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about himself and DEATHTRAP. Enjoy!
At the age of 8 you played the lead role in a school musical called Rooster Rag. What can you remember of that time?
Very little (as it was a very painful time of my life) although there was a high note which I had to sing, while dressed as a rooster and being strangled!
Is there anyone in particular that has inspired you to want a career in performing arts?
I’d always wanted to be an actor (apart from when I was 7 and I desperately wanted to be a palaeontologist!) and remember being fascinated by the first time I ever saw The Rocky Horror Show at the age of 11. I was at a party and sat transfixed by the video… oh yes, we had video back then). It was then I knew I wanted to be an actor, preferably musical theatre… and when I knew I was gay too!
In your teenage years you were forced into being homeless and sleeping rough for 3 years. How did you break from this and what positives could you take from this difficult time in your life?
This was a horrible time of my life but still better than the 17 years of abuse and hatred I’d endured before it. The main reason I survived was my sheer bloody mindedness. There’s a line from Schindler’s Ark where a woman begs her friend not to kill herself as she’ll never know how it all ends. That line kept me going.
Just before turning 20 you gained a modelling contract in Cologne and you stayed there for 5 years. What did you like most about living and working in this historic city?
I loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Although I’d spent a year and a half in Amsterdam previously, I was sleeping on a staircase in the Amsterdam Central Rail Station so not completely able to enjoy the city.
You returned to the UK in 2000 and following several appearances on TV quiz shows you found yourself popularised on BBC’s Eggheads, joining the programme from its start. What did you enjoy most about being on the show?
It was a unique opportunity to show off my knowledge and act out a character that was a grotesque over extension of my personality. As the show progressed, more and more restrictions were introduced and eventually it became less enjoyable. A downside was that in 2007-8, I received more hate mail and death threats than anyone else at the BBC (these haven’t stopped even now).
You left Eggheads in December 2011 to pursue your ambition of performing in musical theatre. What inspired this ambition and how hard was it to walk away from the TV Show?
I hadn’t enjoyed the show for some time and realised the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to leave. I recorded my last show on 3rd November 2011 and embarked on a life as a penniless (and usually workless) actor. I’ve always said that given the choice between a year on TV for £1 million or a year on stage for £1, I’d take the stage every time. Acting isn’t what I want to do, it’s what I need to do.
I never wanted to be famous but gladly gave up the money and ‘celebrity advantages’ for perhaps a 1% chance of carving out a career in a very over populated business against people far more talented than I could ever be. I gave up everything and there have been a lot of awful struggles because of it… and not for a single moment have I doubted it was the right decision.
In 2011 you performed in the short film The Renata Road. What can you tell us about it?
A fantastic opportunity and the most enjoyable week of my life. The production company Beyond The Bar auditioned and cast me for the lead in this tense psychological piece. It was so successful and well received. We’re making a feature film version in 2013.
You recently made your professional stage debut as Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance at the new Brookside Theatre in Romford. Tell us about that experience and what it meant to you.
I’d done a few pantos but this was my first fully professional musical and I was petrified! Possibly the most famous Gilbert & Sullivan role and certainly their most famous song so I had a lot to live up to. However, it was a great challenge and we all know how excited we were after the endless auditions and rejections when that first role is achieved. I was euphoric!
You will shortly be appearing in the lead role as Sidney Bruhl in DEATHTRAP at the Brookside Theatre. What can you tell us about your character and this adaptation of the “hilariously twisted murder mystery”?
A massive challenge! It’s an enormous role with 60% of the lines over the 2 acts. He was played on film by Michael Caine and in the West End by the amazing Simon Russell Beale so an incredible legacy to live up to. I’m very apprehensive to be honest but the producers and director seem to have faith in me so I’m working bloody hard to make sure I repay that belief.
What is it about the Brookside Theatre that has made it work for you and the theatre?
I’ve always supported the introduction of new performance spaces into areas, especially this one without existing facilities. The Brookside is Romford’s first permanent theatre space and such an initiative was very appealing. The producers Jai (who wrote the musical Disco Inferno) and Harri Sepple are so professional and have been so welcoming it’s been a true pleasure to work here.
Do you think your TV popularity helps or hinders you as an actor?
Definitely hinders. People may have the perception I’m difficult to work with from my TV persona. A director said I was demanding but because I wanted to get it right he hugely respected that. I’m not a big enough name to jump straight into roles but conversely won’t get an audition for a lot more as there’s the idea ‘Oh here’s another failed minor celebrity trying to jump on our bandwagon’. No thanks!’
Regarding auditions, I read that you said: “Yes of course it’s soul destroying going through the endless cycle of auditions you don’t hear back from and periods of not being seen for anything at all.” How do you manage to work through this process and gain ‘positives’ from it?
This is the most difficult thing for an aspiring actor. Constant rejection is never personal but, oh boy, it feels like that sometimes. I’ve screwed up more than my fair share of auditions and although it’s annoying, there’s nothing to do there except try not to make the same mistakes again. The worst is nailing it and hearing nothing back. Why? If you’ve done your best, that’s all you can do and simply have to use it as experience and know the same standard on some other day in some other place will have some other outcome.
You seem to be somewhat of a contradiction in that you have said that you don’t really enjoy being a celebrity and “can’t imagine anything worse than being famous”, but you have also said that you like performing and enjoy the applause and the spotlight. How do these two diverse aspects of your personality sit together?
I would be deliriously happy in the unseen ensemble at the back of the stage as long as I’m performing and I can scrounge some tiny percentage of the applause for myself. Fame was not for me and although it came with pleasant (and some very unpleasant) side effects, it wasn’t real or fulfilling.
What ambitions do you have as an actor?
I would, along with every other hoofer, like to appear in a West End musical, in any sort of role. However, a play, the fringe, a tour or whatever, it doesn’t really what or where it is, I just want to perform. A lead role at the Palladium you say? Don’t mind if I do! The Accrington Stanley Palladium? Still works for me thanks!
I just want to work.
Away from performing arts you have various hobbies, one of which is chess. Who inspired you to play and who is your favourite player of all time?
In 1999 I was the most active player in the UK with 360 rated long play and 260 rapid games. I haven’t played for 7 years now but was intrigued and inspired by Bobby Fischer. His games were brilliantly simple and stood apart from any other world champions (I know Karpov and Kasparov personally but their playing styles don’t compare for me). Unfortunately Fischer was vehemently anti Semetic and homophobic and once he removed himself from the stabilising influence of chess, he became very bitterly vocal about his bigotry. I, along with most other enthusiasts, prefer to remember him for his games.
Do you have a preferred opening or preferred defence when you play chess?
My favourite system was the imaginatively named Bishop’s Opening (it was an opening with a bishop. No really)
You are involved in promoting and fundraising for various charities. What has driven you to support the charities that you do?
I’ve been undeservedly and unbelievably lucky in my life. My first 20 years were terrible but they made me the person I am today and gave me a very personal insight into a world that remains hidden to most.
Homelessness and HIV charities remain very close to my heart but I’m willing to help out wherever I can. On 18th November I’m singing at a gig to support Love146 against human trafficking. I’m also passionate about gay equality, animal welfare and poverty.
If I’m able to do a little something to help others, I always will, even though I’m bizarrely, heavily criticised for this too!
What message do you have for anyone that is following your career?
If you can see anything at all that will make you happy, do it. If your heart and soul are consumed by acting and it’s in your blood, please try. Dreams are there to be chased but the sacrifices and painful obstacles are huge. If those mean nothing to you, you’re meant to be an actor.
I was, and for the time being at least, I am.
Interviewed by Neil Cheesman @LondonTheatre1
DEATHTRAP showing from Wednesday 7th to Saturday 17th November 2012
Evenings 8:00pm and Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday 2:00pm
Tickets £11.00 with concessions £9.00
Written by Ira Levin
Directed by Neil Reynolds
Produced & Designed by Jai Sepple
Saturday 20th October 2012