John is an award-winning and record-breaking West End and Broadway performer probably best known for his performances as The Phantom in The Phantom of The Opera and as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.
This week I had the pleasure of asking John some questions, I hope that you enjoy an insight into – John Owen-Jones.
When you graduated in 1994 with a Degree in Acting, what were your ambitions then?
My ambitions were to play Valjean in the West End, work at the National Theatre and work with Sondheim. I achieved them all within 3 years. After that I had to make new ones up! I then aspired to play the Phantom, release a CD and work on Broadway. Achieved all that too so currently thinking of new ones…!
You have sung in concerts around the world, released CDs, appeared on television and been on the radio, and done so much more, has there been a defining moment in your career when you thought, yes I have made it?
I don’t look at it like that. I suppose you only ‘make it’ when you become a household name and I’m not really bothered about fame per se. I just want to produce the highest quality work I can and if fame and ‘making it’ are the by-products of that philosophy then so be it.
In 2001 you were chosen to succeed Scott Davies as The Phantom, can you recall what it was like during auditioning for the role?
I was naturally nervous until I found out that I was auditioning against John Barrowman for the role. I presumed he would get the part so I decided to relax and enjoy the audition and use it as a learning experience. I guess the idea worked as I got the job. Lesson: there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion!
How would you describe ‘your’ phantom compared with others that have played the part?
I see the Phantom as a socially damaged character that was moulded by his upbringing. His sociopathic tendencies are the result of how other people have treated him. He therefore thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to control others as he was once controlled and this makes him very dangerous… I therefore try to imbue him with a sense of great danger and I see him as a man fuelled by rage. My Phantom is filled with self loathing and terrifying anger. In the novel, Christine describes him as having ‘the mighty fury of a demon’ and as ‘the most unhappy and sublime of men’ and that’s how I see him.
What is it about The Phantom of The Opera that has made it such a success?
It’s a complete theatrical experience. Story, music, lyrics, design, performance all are perfect and work together in harmony to make the show extremely enjoyable on many levels for an audience.
Which is your favourite Phantom song?
Wishing You were Somehow Here Again
One of your other major successes (an understatement) was playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in the West End and Broadway, how would you compare that role with the Phantom?
They are both satisfying to play in their own way. Valjean struggles to find control. The Phantom struggles to keep it. Exploring the way the two characters mirror each other is quite fascinating.
What is your favourite song in Les Miserables?
I Dreamed a Dream
Les Miserables is an inspirational musical, how has it inspired you?
It taught me a lot about the human condition. Both the novel and the show celebrate triumph over adversity and the perpetual struggle that is life.
How does the Les Miserables audience on Broadway differ from the London West End, and how do you modify your character to suit the audience when performing as Jean Valjean?
This may sound a cliché but the audiences in New York were very appreciative and, shall we say, less reserved than their UK counterparts. Sometimes it felt like we were in a rock concert! I don’t modify my performance to suit an audience. I do modify it when working with different actors though. It’s only natural that should happen as the key thing about acting is that you react to others whilst on stage. Otherwise it’s just somebody standing there singing songs or saying lines. Acting is reacting.
You have “been voted the Best Ever Les Miserables Performer and Best Ever Jean Valjean in a worldwide online poll by fans of the show”, how do you ‘keep your feet on the ground’?
It’s lovely that people think that of me but it’s all a matter of perspective of course. As for ‘keeping my feet on the ground’ I don’t think they ever left!
Who would you love to sing on stage with?
Tom Jones and Mandy Patinkin.
What are the fun things that you like to do on a ‘day-off’!
I’m usually very happy to just spend time doing things with my family. I also enjoy going to rock concerts, going to great restaurants and visiting theme parks…
Thank you John for taking time out to answer a few questions, and best wishes for the future in everything that you do!
You can follow John Owen-Jones on his website at www.johnowenjones.com
Follow us on Twitter @LondonTheatre1