2010 has started well for French-Canadian actor Alex Gaumond, currently playing Emmett in Legally Blonde The Musical, which opens this week. He talks to Caroline Bishop about his first lead role in the West End.
1997-2000 Trained at Guildford School of Acting
2000 Professional debut in the ensemble of Miss Saigon in the Philippines
2002 West End debut in the ensemble of The Full Monty
2002-2008 Various ensemble roles on tour and in London in shows including Sunday In The Park With George, Desperately Seeking Susan and Guys And Dolls
2009 Plays Galileo in We Will Rock You on first UK tour
2010 First West End principal role as Emmett in Legally Blonde The Musical
Where in Canada did you grow up?
Montreal. I’m used to the snow without the disruption in public transport! I understand it doesn’t happen as much [here] obviously. But it’s a shock sometimes! But I’m ok, I’m on the tube line so I’m not too affected.
My first language is French. My accent is so weird because I’ve been living here 12 years and I normally speak French when I’m home. I only learnt English at school, so whenever I’m home or when I call home it’s always French only.
Why did you come over here?
My father was a businessman and always wanted to work internationally, and had told the company if there is ever an opening anywhere else in the world I’d like to be considered for it, and eventually got a job in Reading. My brother and my mother were definitely going to go with him and I was at the point where I was 18 and I had to decide if I would go with him. That actually changed my fate because at the time I was doing business studies and doing musicals just on the side as a sort of hobby, and my girlfriend at the time said well you love doing musicals, and if you’re going to move to England it’s one of the best places to train so why don’t you look into training there. So I looked on websites and found Guildford website and liked what I saw, applied and then was accepted in the school. So after having my path aligned to go into business studies and all that, I was suddenly training in musical theatre. It was a complete turnaround and I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay since. I think had it not been for my father having a job over here I would never have considered training in that field.
What got you interested in musical theatre?
Again it was not even my own decision. It was a friend of mine… [at school] I was singing and a friend of mine said I’m doing this musical thing, I’m in the orchestra, why don’t you audition to be one of the singers in it, we can do it together, it will be fun. So I said ok, I’ll give that a go. I auditioned and they gave me the part. I did a few more year after year and I really enjoyed it.
First professional acting job?
My first job was Miss Saigon in the Philippines, of all places. So it was quite an adventure. Miss Saigon has been associated with the Philippines for so long over the years with the original actress playing the lead role being Filipina. So this was the big deal for them, almost the homecoming production. I think to date it was probably one of the biggest things they have ever done, because they had the original Kim coming back to do it, Lea Salonga, who is quite a famous actress. And they cast most of the GIs from this country. So we were going there, a bunch of guys coming from the UK, being completely overwhelmed. Obviously being flown to the other side of the world was absolutely awesome as a first job.
How do you feel about playing your first West End lead in Legally Blonde?
Absolutely thrilled. This year for me has been the big turnaround year because I’ve just finished doing We Will Rock You on tour, playing the lead in that, and that was an awesome experience as well, but to be in a brand new West End show which has never been done this side of the Atlantic is quite a big deal, and working with the original American team, it’s really exciting. And the cast that I’m working with is phenomenal. Working with Sheridan [Smith, who plays Elle] is quite an experience. She’s terrific! So I’m skipping to work every day as it were!
Most obscure job?
I did a tiny little fringe production at the Courtyard theatre in King’s Cross which was very exciting. It was over Christmas I think and it was Aesop’s Fables made into a musical, it was really fun. The lyrics were really quirky. I did that quite a few years ago, in 2003 I think. I was a lion and there was an Elvis element to him, it was quite funny.
Favourite experience to date?
Even if I put everything else in perspective, I think this year for me has been miles above anything I’ve done before. For completely different reasons I think it’s an equal tie between We Will Rock You and this, Legally Blonde. Because We Will Rock You, singing those Queen songs was phenomenal, they are such awesome pieces of work, and so challenging as well to sing. But what I get with Emmett is such a well written role and a well written show and that it’s a brand new show as well so that whole excitement, and then being in London obviously. I pinch myself every morning, I’m very, very fortunate what’s happening to me at the moment.
Have you noticed any differences working with an American creative team rather than a British one?
Yes. Well this is the first time I’ve worked with an American director, but what’s specific about Jerry Mitchell is, he comes from being a choreographer as well, and he comes from being a performer himself, years ago, so he’s very hands-on and very physical about the way he directs. So when he’s directing he rarely sits on a chair talking to you, he’ll stand up and he’ll get involved. So that’s probably less of an intellectual approach and more of a hands-on physical approach, which was nice and refreshing as I hadn’t experienced something like that before. And also, coming from having done the show on Broadway and on the American tour, he knew everything about this production and it’s his baby because it’s the first show he has directed as well as choreographed. So he knows the show inside out. At first it was very much… well let’s quickly get the choreography and the blocking done, get the skeleton going, and then we’ll delve into things later on. At first I think a few of us who were more used to the ‘let’s sit down and talk about our characters for a week’, at first we were like, oh this is different. But we adjusted within a few days and then we really loved the process.
Best thing about being in Legally Blonde?
Working with Sheridan is at the top of my list, she’s absolutely tremendous to work with. The other thing I love about the particular role of Emmett is it’s such a well-written role in the sense that it’s such a slow journey. He’s just a guy that comes in 20 minutes into the show, you don’t quite know who he is and you really get to know him slowly and he becomes friends with Elle. Really slowly the friendship between Elle and Emmett grows... it’s such a slow process that they [the audience] almost don’t see it happening. So to just tick along during the show and then to finally get the girl at the end and the audience being on your side… it’s really nice to play the nice guy, the nice guy that gets the girl.
…and the worst?
I think most of us doing the show are just loving it at the moment. I suppose doing comedy, like any show when you do a comedy, you get different audience reactions. Sometimes they are more quiet than other times. It all depends whether you have people who are going to laugh out loud or just enjoy it quietly. But that’s why I always love doing comedy, it’s never the same show every night.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
One thing that has always stayed with me funnily enough, I was in The Full Monty in the West End, which was my first West End job, back in 2002, and an actress called Lynda Baron was in that, she was playing the comedy role. She was just passing it on, I think, but she said, ‘a good director told me once that the number one rule of comedy is you have to hear the line. If they don’t hear clearly what the punchline is you will never get the laugh.’ I was like, you’re right. We don’t think about that because you’re like, 'oh did I do the right thing, did I pull the right face', but if they don’t hear the line they will never get it, so it’s about clarity more importantly.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
It’s a tricky one because I was still doing the whole music thing because I write music as well. I had been doing music for a long while. So I don’t know if I would have ended up there, but if I had carried on with the business studies path I think I would have ended up somewhere in advertising, because I would have still been doing something creative, I think. I love good adverts, clever adverts.
Which show that you have seen do you wish you had been in?
Parade was an extremely good production at the Donmar, I would have loved to play the lead role in that. I really liked Michel Grandage’s Evita as well, and Che is a really good role.
I like to go to the theatre because every time I watch a show, the next performance I do after is always slightly more inspiring. It’s nice to get out of your same routine of performing the same show every night. It’s nice to just go and see something else, it just puts a different spin on things and perspective. I recently went to see Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles and he was absolutely tremendous. And the next show I did after that was very inspiring!