It is incontestably the event of the year in London. After being created in Toronto, the musical version of The Lord of the Rings invests in the West End, at the prestigious Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Currently in previews, the show will open 19 June and its our Jérôme Pradon who plays the charismatic Aragorn.
Jérôme Pradon, how did you get the role of Aragorn in The Lord of The Rings?
It goes back very far! I have known Kevin Wallace, the producer, for a long time. In 1997, just after Martin Guerre, he wanted me to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar [note: on stage, in London] but I had refused in order to do Nine with the Folies Bergère. Then, in 2003, when I performed in Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse, he asked me to meet Matthew Warchus [director and author of the book and the lyrics of The Lord of The Rings]. They wanted me in their first workshop but I was not free because I was performing in Et Si On Chantait? Then, in 2005, they remembered me, so wanted me to audition for the next workshop. They thought of me for the role of Elrond, then by seeing me, they said to me that it was necessary that I work on Aragorn. I therefore played this part during this new workshop. The show was then created in Toronto… without me. They explained to my agent it was to do with quotas. Equity, the trade union of actors, is very powerful and had authorized "the importation" only, of four English actors. The producers then made the choice to import four Hobbits. On my part, I thought that I had been forgotten and that the business was regulated. Then they called me in June 2006 for a new workshop, to work on the book again. There, it was just intended for the creative team, I played, at the same time, Frodo and Aragorn. I then returned to France to perform in Le Cabaret Des Hommes Perdus and whilst there, they asked me to audition again. I confess that I was a little fed up, especially as they knew me by heart. Anyway, I went there and they explained me that it was only a "formality". They offered the role to me while I was playing in Le Cabaret Des Hommes Perdus at the Rond-Point.
What was your reaction when you found out?
To be honest, I had mixed feelings. There were many projects for me in France, in particular with L’Opéra de Sarah [a musical written, composed and directed by Alain Marcel] which had received very positive reviews at the time of its presentation. I almost wanted to remain in France, but The Lord of The Rings was a superb project all the same. This show is very prestigious but I hesitated nevertheless: at the last workshop, the role of Aragorn had been considerably reduced. My relatives made round eyes at me as if I had three heads! They told me "Why don’t you go? Are you insane? You were spoiled too much! Go to London immediately! " I was therefore in a mixed state of mind on the first day of rehearsal, but I had the good surprise to discover that the role had evolved.
Were you already familiar with The Lord of the Rings?
Yes, I am fan! I haven’t finished reading the books yet but I saw the films, I know the story well and I love it!
Tell us about your character?
It is a difficult role but the advantage with Tolkien, is that nothing is entirely black or white. There is a beautiful complexity in the composition. Aragorn is a hero who refuses to be one. He rather prefers being a soldier in the shadows than a man who seizes the power in the limelight. He is a beautiful character for an actor to play. The character immediately spoke to me, as from the first time that I auditioned. I know that I will play a role when something stirs inside me, that there is an immediate obviousness, that a sensation is created. It is difficult to describe, it is very emotional, but it has always been like that for all the important roles in my career. As soon as I know that I have an emotional connection with the character, I do it.
The show was very criticized during its run in Toronto, can you tell to us about it?
The critics concerns were mainly to the book. You lost the gist of the story, was attacked by a visual frenzy, breathtaking certainly, but it did not enable us to be identified with the characters. There was much work in improving it and that still continues. We are at that crucial time where scenes are being altered at the last moment, a scene is taken out, another one added, the lyrics are changed…… It is a bit hard not to get the scenes mixed up! I do not know how it was in Toronto, and I am not the best judge. With the workshop, I found the production already splendid, although a thousand times too long. But I adore what they do and I find that last rewrite is really well, there is a beautiful harmony. And there are five more weeks. In the previews, every evening, the show is different.
Precisely, how are the previews received?
There is an excellent reception and some positive comments at the moment, which was not the case in Toronto. Word of mouth is going formidably well and we are almost full each evening. So it seems to be getting well received!
What are the difficulties inherent in this show?
The required "physicality" is much more important than for any other show. Le Cabaret Des Hommes Perdus was very physical and tiring, I ran everywhere all the time, but all went well. Here, there is a technical dimension which must be followed… and that takes an enormous amount of effort to follow, because it is incredibly complex, it is difficult to control and it requires hundreds of people backstage. It is enormous, but also very beautiful, it is a visual festival and people that I know have left the theatre filled with wonder. It should be known as it is a show which beats many records: the most expensive musical in history, the longest period of rehearsals, the longest period of previews but also the show with the highest rate of injuries when it played in Toronto!
It is a show which does not seem to resemble any other?
Yes, indeed. It is not really a musical, strictly speaking there are few songs and there is much underscore. It should be more regarded as a play with music, written with a little Shakespearian spirit, with great dimensions, like an epic. For example, I do not have a solo before the third act. It is very pleasant, this change! I had never yet done that in a large production in England. During all the show, I am mainly an actor and at the end, like a cherry on the cake, I sing!
How would you describe the music?
It is very difficult. At times, it makes me think of the folklore of Northern Europe and New Age music, with a small amount of Indian music and a hint of "British musical". It is very interesting, I adore this "atmospheric" side and this Eastern and folk mixture is indefinable.
In which state is the cast in this period of previews?
We’re forming into a very cohesive team, composed of people who show appreciation and respect, which is not always the case! Here, the approach of work is very humble. There is no status of "star", everyone works to create a character. I like this a lot in England: the acting profession is a craft and a vocation at the same time. This makes for a good atmosphere because when you start a show, you’re always afraid of not getting along with others! There, everyone is supportive and there is a beautiful emulation. There are excellent actors who have great abilities.
And not too much stress?
Yes, of course, in particular for me because of what occurred with my physical injuries [Jerome injured his calf muscles during the rehearsals and another time during the previews]. And then, the production team is putting pressure on us so sometimes we have to unite, but at the same time, we have to work! Furthermore, there is inevitably stress related to the fact that it is the theatrical event of the year in London. There is enormous pressure on the success of this show but you do the best that you can! For me, it is very strange to pass from Le Cabaret Des Hommes Perdus to The Lord of The Rings. It is the antithesis! You’re a little afraid that you’ll be overwhelmed by such an enormous production and sometimes, you feel like absolutely nothing in the middle of all these special effects. But I hope that this large production will be used to support the story, and that everything coming all together, we will tell this formidable story.
REGARD EN COULISSE, The Musical Theatre news magazine (IN FRENCH).