Perhaps best known for his role as Barry, the Muslim convert, in Chris Morris’ Four Lions, Nigel Lindsay has become an ever-present star of the screen and stage since he quit being a stockbroker more than 20 years ago.
More synonymous with playing dark, edgy roles though, he wasn’t exactly everyone’s obvious choice to play Shrek in the recently launched UK musical. Even his agent thought it was funny.
Excited by the challenge however, he agreed and, after spending an hour and a half every evening in make up to become the green ogre, he’s joining Amanda Holden, Nigel Harman and Richard Blackwood in the show’s West End debut. I caught up with him to ask what it’s like to be in a show his daughters can finally watch.
What can audiences expect from Shrek – The Musical?
‘It’s a show with a capital S. Shrek works on so many levels. It has spectacular effects, characters and a story that audiences know and love, and the humour from the films, which means that both adults and children can understand and enjoy it.’
It’s a very British sense of humour too, isn’t it?
‘I think it was Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks who said: “Britain is the home for Shrek”. The Americans are aware that a lot of the humour is very British and they have even rewritten bits to make it appeal even more. I think audiences are going to be pleasantly surprised.’
Why did you decide to become involved with the production?
‘What is not to like about playing Shrek in Shrek? It’s a part that no actor who is lucky enough to be asked to play could turn down. I love the films and the songs David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori have written. Besides, if I had said no my kids would never have forgiven me!’
Is there added pressure being part of an adaptation of such a well-known franchise?
‘Shrek The Musical and Shrek the film are obviously from the same family but at the same time they are very different entities. Although the musical is based on the first Shrek, we have all new songs that don’t appear in the films. Also, I am not doing an impression of Mike Myers’ Shrek. My Shrek and all the other characters belong to our musical world. I like the pressure of playing someone so well known though – at least I know he’s popular!’
With numerous TV and stage credits, what is it that you look for in a role?
‘A part has to have something I can get my teeth into – whether that’s an aspect of character that I’ve never played before or a certain physicality I can imagine when I read the script. Sometimes it’s to do with people I want to work with as well. I saw an interview with Jack Lemmon once where he said: “anything that scares me, I do” and I know what he means. If I’m terrified I won’t be able to do it I say ‘yes’. I like a challenge!’
What was the audition like?
‘I was in the middle of rehearsing for another play about boxing called Sucker Punch at the Royal Court so my head was somewhere else. I genuinely thought, “I’m just a long shot, they’ll get someone else. I’ve only been in one musical in my life”. So I cycled in, opened the door and thought, “Thank god, I don’t have to sing, there’s only a few people”. Then I turned round and the piano was behind the door and I thought, “Oh dear, I’m not going to get away with this!”‘
How do you feel now about seeing your name up in lights in the West End?
‘It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. When I come and stand on stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and see how big it is, it’s definitely the biggest theatre I’ve ever played. And when I walk past the theatre and see this huge picture of Shrek and my name up there, Nigel Lindsay, I just think: “Oh my god!”‘
Shrek The Musical runs until February 19, 2012. Previews are until June 13.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Tel: 0844 871 8810
Image by Jason Bell