‘Les Mis’ Star Nikki M. James on Theater Casting: “Theater is one of the places where we can do non-traditional casting”

  • Pin It

nikki-m-james-les-mizNikki M. James recently left the Broadway company of The Book of Mormon to tackle an iconic role of Éponine in the revival of Les Misérables. The Tony winner made sure to make the role her own since so many other incredible performers have played the part.

She told the Wall Street Journal, “My main concern is that you don’t end up being a carbon copy of another person. It’s a role that is etched in my mind in indelible ink by a number of women who played this role before me, and everyone has their idea of who she is.”

James really has her own spin to the character based off of the book versus the musical. She explained, “[Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Misérables] describes her using animalistic terms. He calls her a beast, a broken sparrow. She’s past feral—she’s like a wild being who raised herself on the streets. I tried to bring catlike qualities to my movements.”

Since she was a part of the original company of The Book of Mormon, James learned that there was a bit of luxury in the rehearsal process on a well-established show.

“We have the same amount of rehearsal time, basically, but in this, we didn’t have to worry about cutting songs, or changing orders of production numbers, or re-choreographing. We could really spend a lot of time focusing on performances as opposed to trying to create a finished product with the show,” she said.

The 32-year-old Broadway star continued, “That was a surreal experience for me. We would have hourlong exercise sessions. I was thinking in a new musical, no one would ever have time for this, because there’s no time to say, ‘let’s build a barricade,’ which we did.”

One thing she is working with is her own interpretation of the beloved song “On My Own” in the musical. James is doing her best to put her stamp on it while honoring the work of prior Éponines.

She said, “Since I’ve put it up in front of audiences, it has been morphing. In the space, sometimes you can do things that you can’t experience in the rehearsal room, and doing it time after time after time, I’m finding more nuances. But I’m also finding that I do feel the need to hit the money note, Broadway style, and audiences do want to hear that. I’m terrified, it’s really a different experience to be working on something that everyone knows.”

What James isn’t terrified of is the nontraditional casting that took place for the revival. As a black actress, it was refreshing for her to see producer Cameron Mackintosh cast who he wanted in the role versus worrying about race.

She summed up, “Theater is one of the places where we can do nontraditional casting, where we don’t have to be bound by some of the rules that I’m sure people in film or television feel they’re bound by. But I also feel like in the commercial theater, people often aren’t as brave as they could be. I try not to think about it that much because it’s been the story of my life. I’ve played a lot of roles that have traditionally been played by nonblack actresses. I try not to think about it, because that part of it is just not my job. I can’t be worried.”

 

Leave a Reply

http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/watch-andy-serkis-talks-motion-c.jpg
Watch: Andy Serkis Talks Motion Capture, His Career and More
This week saw the release of the final film in The Lord of the Rings saga, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Out of the dozens of actors who appeared in the series, the one whose career was most defined by the six-film franchise is Andy Serkis, who portrayed Gollum in the series […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/dan-stevens-summer-in-february.jpg
Dan Stevens Recalls When Shia LaBeouf Disrupted One of His Broadway Performances: “I wish I’d had a broadsword then”
Though Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is billed as the final movie in the fantasy series, it still incorporates some new blood into the mix alongside franchise favorites like Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. The most significant new addition is Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey, who plays Lancelot. Lancelot doesn’t realize that […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/bradley-cooper-the-elephant-man.jpg
Bradley Cooper Takes A Grad School Dream To The Broadway Stage With, ‘The Elephant Man’
Bradley Cooper is proving to be an actor who wants a career defined by strong work. Instead of solely relying upon franchises like The Hangover, the Oscar nominee is mixing it up again between the big screen and the stage. Cooper is starring in The Elephant Man on Broadway this theatre season. It’s a role […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/bob-balaban-a-delicate-balance.jpg
Bob Balaban on Being a Character Actor: “It’s what I do and who I am and I really enjoy it”
With Glenn Close and John Lithgow in the cast of Broadway’s A Delicate Balance, it’s okay if you didn’t notice that veteran actor Bob Balaban is also in the cast. Balaban, who is probably best known for his roles in Christopher Guest‘s mockumentaries and for his supporting roles in dozens of other films, has returned […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/michael-c-hall-hedwig.jpg
Michael C. Hall on His Broadway Life After ‘Dexter': “There was a desire to perform an exorcism”
When it was announced that Michael C. Hall was replacing Andrew Rannells in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, it was a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t that people thought Hall couldn’t pull off the role of a transgender rock star — he was previously on Broadway as the Master of Ceremonies in […]