At the time of the interview, Amy was appearing as Teen Fiona and Tweedle Dum in Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London. She very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about herself and her career.
Where did you go to school and which parts did you get in school plays?
I went to St. Margaret’s School in Exeter and was very lucky to have a fantastic Performing Arts Department. I played parts such as ‘Brigitta’ in ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Puck’ in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Alice’ in ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’ and ‘Benny’ in ‘Guys and Dolls’ (it was a girl’s school!) My younger sister was always cast in shows as the comedy male and said for a long while after that she couldn’t remember how to play women!
Before going to drama school I went to Leeds University where we had two fantastic performance societies. I was in shows such as ‘Fame’, ‘Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens’, ‘Guys and Dolls’, in which I played ‘Big Jule’ (the irony is rather obvious!), ‘Sandy’ in ‘Grease’ and ‘Mary Phagan’ in ‘Parade’. Being involved in University performance societies is a great way to experience a broad range of shows whilst combining them with the social side of being a student. Interestingly, many of us who were in ‘Parade’, are now performing professionally in the industry.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Obviously it’s slightly cliche, but without a doubt it was Drama. I had an incredible teacher, Nick Dereza, who inspired in me such a passion for the subject. I believe teachers at all levels have a huge part to play in whether or not you like a subject. There were never any boundaries with Mr Dereza and the Bursar would have a field day trying to stop his visions in the name of health and safety – cars in the playground and us hanging off ladders comes to mind. I believe that with drama you should be allowed to be experimental with the notion of ‘anything goes’.
At what age did you realise that you wanted to be an actress?
I always loved performing and was constantly writing plays, creating pop groups and putting on shows. I would rope in my sister and our neighbours and would charge our parents 20 pence to watch and then the same again for refreshments (which were of course provided out of our kitchen cupboards!). My sister would like it noted that it was of course always me in the starring role and her as comedy backup!
Growing up, acting was never something that I considered as a career, it was just something I adored doing. At the time it didn’t seem accessible. I went through a long phase of wanting to be a teacher solely because I liked writing on the blackboard and marking work with a red pen!
No-one in my family was in the creative industries. My Dad is a Solicitor and my Mum a Tennis Coach so I had no idea of how this could be a career. It was only at the age of 11 once I started taking part in pantomimes at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre that I would speak to and gain advice from the professional actors that I worked with. I realised early on that it was an incredibly hard industry to get into and sustain a career in. I took part in the Sylvia Young Theatre School’s summer school and this made me determined to audition for a full-time place. My Dad, wise as ever told me to get my A Levels after which I could do what I wanted.
Did anyone in particular inspire you to want to be on the stage?
If I think back both Principals from my Primary and Secondary schools, Robert Dudley-Cooke and Maureen D’Albertanson, were incredibly supportive and passionate about the arts. It was Nick Dereza who encouraged me to see that it was a profession that was in fact attainable. I was also a member of The Northcott Young Company which was run by the incredibly inspirational Rachel Vowles. She gives young people a professional experience. Her directorial vision is always innovative and exciting, no matter who is in the cast, and she treats all ages the same. Most importantly she has a huge sense of fun!
From a different perspective the two performers who have always stuck in my mind as inspirational to me are Idina Menzel as Elphaba in Wicked and Debbie Kurup as Mimi in Rent. To date I am yet to see anyone own the stage in the way that I saw from these two in their performances. I literally sat open-mouthed!
Where did you train to be an actress?
I went to The University of Leeds (Bretton Hall) and completed a degree in Theatre and Performance. I then undertook my further training at The London School of Musical Theatre run by the wonderful Adrian Jeckells. It was the most intensive year of my life and I was pushed beyond all boundaries, but without a doubt I would not be where I am today had I not been there.
You made your professional and West End debut in Shrek, what was the experience like during auditions and rehearsals?
Auditioning for Shrek was a very intensive experience – I think I had about seven auditions overall. I actually mucked up on my first round! I only had a few days to prepare so on the morning I squeezed in a singing lesson beforehand and ran to the audition. I had sung about a page of my song when the Associate Director on the panel stretched his arm. I thought he was cutting me off and so I stopped. Too much watching of X Factor!
The next week was a whirlwind with me charging from work in my lunch break to the audition. I remember at one point going in to the room with three rows of people sitting before me including Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire and the head of Dreamworks. It was all very overwhelming but I kept having to remind myself of what my Head of Acting had told me, ‘they want to like you they’re not there to catch you out.’ In a later audition Jeanine got up to play the piano and workshop the song with me. All I could think was if this is all that comes of this then WOW!
The day of the final round came which was amazing. Everyone was together singing away to ‘I’m a Believer’ during the dance call – I doubt all finals are quite as fun as this was! Then that was it and all I could think of was how talented everyone was and how much more experienced they were than me. I felt like I had learnt so much just from the audition process. Three days later I received a call to say I had got the part….I think I actually screamed at my agent down the phone!
Rehearsals were amazing. Of course the first day was terrifying especially knowing that everyone there had been in the business a long time and had CVs I can only dream of at the moment. I genuinely pinched myself not able to believe that this was now ‘work’ and I remember the first day walking to the theatre and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
But everyone is nervous on their first day and I just feel so privileged to be working with such an incredible bunch of people. I have learnt so much from them and I’m constantly asking questions. My Head of Singing at LSMT always said to me that you learn more when you’re in a show than you could ever learn at drama school and he of course was completely right.
The show has been running for a few weeks now, what is it like to be appearing in Shrek as Teen Fiona and Tweedle Dum?
It still feels like a dream (an amazing dream at that) to be working at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane as part of the original London Cast. I feel so lucky to get up every day and look forward to the day ahead. We have so much fun as a cast on this show- laughter is usually the main noise coming from the building. I think as an ensemble we’re a very tight unit and my favourite moment of the show is in Freak Flag where we all move down the stage in a clump, all beaming away at each other, because for me that moment is genuinely representative of us being a real team.
Teen Fiona is a great part established by the fantastic Marissa O’Donnell on Broadway. The show itself has been reworked from the Broadway production, and so the creative team wanted us to all have a completely fresh take on the roles we were playing. Teen Fiona shows some good old teenage attitude and is quite sassy in her ways, however she is still desperate for the perfect happy ending. Being locked away in the tower for 958 days has meant that she has read too many fairy stories and believes that her Prince will come and sweep her off her feet. It’s a lovely moment in every show when young, teen and the adult Fiona all sing together and I remember what a magical moment it was when we sang it for the first time with the orchestra.
Tweedle Dum is right at the other end of the spectrum and still to this day the lovely Michelle Francis, who plays Tweedle Dee, and I just get pointed at and laughed at. The funniest sight is seeing everyone backstage in their ridiculous costumes having perfectly normal conversations with each other. There is never a dull moment in the fairytale world which usually results in us desperately trying not to laugh. On a more practical note, the hardest thing about this role, is wearing the fat suits and boater type shoes whilst doing Josh Prince’s energetic choreography. It’s a whole different way of moving your body.
Who is your favourite character in Shrek?
Without a doubt- Lord Farquad! Nigel is hilarious both on stage and off.
There are some great songs in Shrek, do you have a favourite?
Jeanine Tesori and David Linsay-Abaire have written such a great and memorable score. On different days my response would be different things but I think my overall favourite is Freak Flag. It just puts a huge smile on my face when I hear it and when I perform it.
What do you usually do on your days off from Shrek?
Before opening night having days off was a rarity so now we are back to normality it depends. At the moment it seems to be catching up on house work and jobs that I put off till my day off! I always try and spend quality time with my boyfriend Jamie and catch up with friends. My favourite way to spend my time is socialising over food and drink, so I’ll meet friends for coffee and cake or go out for lunch or supper. I’ll also try to see as much theatre as I can and watch my incredibly supportive friends in their shows.
It is early in your stage career, but is there a particular play or musical that you would like to perform in?
One of my real aims is to be in a play at the National. I don’t want to just be pigeon-holed into musical theatre.
When I’m a bit older I’d love to play Glinda in Wicked- the idea of entering in a bubble is just fabulous! I’d also like to play Eponine or Cosette in Les Miserables, having been brought up with this musical, and Sophie in Mamma Mia. Who knows; you never know what path you’re going to be taken on next.
Is there an actor or actress that you would like to work alongside?
My dream, that I’m sure will always be a dream, is to be in ‘My Mother Said I Never Should’ with Kate Winslet as my mum and Judi Dench as my granny- we can all dream can’t we!
Do you have anyone as a role model that you aspire to be like?
In myself I aspire to be like my parents who are such supportive, wonderful people and are always putting others first. I also aspire to be more chilled out like my sister and boyfriend. I’m definitely a worrier!
Sutton Foster has huge energy and charisma on stage; it’s almost like electricity where you feel compelled to watch her. I’d say I would aspire to be like her and would love the career to match! I am also really inspired by Lea Salonga. Her voice, to me, is without doubt the most beautiful voice I have heard.
Are there any long-term ambitions that you have either on the stage or off it?
To be in a period drama! I’m such an old romantic. I’d also love to be in something like 24 (although it’s now finished), or Spooks which just so happens to be produced by our lovely neighbour. Hint Hint! I quite fancy myself as a secret agent!
Who is your favourite actor? Who is your favourite actress?
I find this a hard question to answer as this is ever-changing and generally I will like certain actors in certain roles. For instance Tracie Bennett was incredible in End of the Rainbow, I adore Juliet Binoche in Chocolat and Angelina Jolie in The Changeling.
Jonny Depp amazes me. He is like a chameleon; constantly changing into completely different characters and always so wholly investing in his characters.
Which is your favourite part of London that you like going to?
I love London (although loitering tourists have the ability to drive me mad!) and one of my favourite places is Fulham Palace Gardens. It’s right next to the river and you feel so secluded and a million miles away from the city! I also love milling about on the Southbank. My little sun trap on my balcony is a personal haven, but the top spot of all, is definitely with my family at home in Devon.
What is your favourite musical and film?
I have always loved the musical Rent. I think it’s so powerful when done well and the songs are fantastic. I also adore Hair. The recent production over here broke down so many theatrical barriers with the cast sat on your knee and then inviting you onto the stage. I wish that Spring Awakening was still in The West End as it dared to be different and didn’t have the run it deserved. Currently I can’t stop listening to Next To Normal, The Book of Mormon and The Addams Family.
I’m a typical chick flick lover with ‘How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days’, ‘Bridget Jones’ and ‘The Notebook’ being my ultimate favourites. ‘The Green Mile’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ are incredible films but I can’t bring myself to watch any of them again as I cried from beginning to end.
And anything else you might like to add?
Come watch Shrek!
Keep up to date with Amy on Twitter at @amy_bea
Interviewed by Neil Cheesman who you can follow at @LondonTheatre1
28th June 2011