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

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/2015/06/channing-tatum-magic-mike-xxl.jpg
Channing Tatum’s Reddit AMA Covered Everything from ‘Magic Mike XXL’, His “Bad” Acting in ‘Step Up’ and Frozen Poop
"I do get nervous to act, it kind of depends on what it is really." - Channing Tatum
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/true-detective-taylor-kitsch.jpg
Taylor Kitsch on Living Up to Season One of ‘True Detective’ and Sleeping on New York City Subways
"I had someone very close to me say to me that hopefully I’ll have many more ups and downs, not in just my career but in life. If you don’t have that, you’re not taking enough risks." - Taylor Kitsch
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Sutton-Foster-Younger.jpg
Sutton Foster Talks Ageism and Her Need To Be Creative
"Even when I’m not working, I’m still working on something because I just want to create something." - Sutton Foster
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/brian-wilson-paul-dano-love-and-mercy.jpg
Paul Dano on Playing Beach Boy Brian Wilson: “I’ll probably never find a better acting job”
"Learning to play Brian’s songs, without question, brought me closer to the character." - Paul Dano on playing Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/david-oyelowo-nightingale.jpg
David Oyelowo On Why He Became A Method Actor
“You can’t afford for there to be gaps in your pool of knowledge when it comes to a character, otherwise what ends up onscreen is generalized and unspecific" - David Oyelowo