Alex Gaumond of the West End production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels talked to The Pickwyck about his role as Freddy Benson, avoiding the Trunchbull curse and working with Queen in this new interview!
Your professional debut was in the Phillipines performing in "Miss Saigon," from there you went on to perform in Hong Kong and Singapore. How does the theatre scene differ in those places versus the West End in London (besides the obvious geographical difference)?
- "I loved my experience in the Far East. The main difference I guess is that they don't have as many theatres as London's West End or Broadway, so whatever big show is on at the time tends to be a much bigger deal. Especially when we did Miss Saigon in the Philippines, the amount of media attention our production got was insane. The highest political and cultural figures attended our opening night. I'll never forget it."
If you could star in your choice of show, who would you want as your costar and why?
- "Daniel Day Lewis or Meryl Streep, because they are both so phenomenal on screen and I would love to see what they could do with a role on stage. To share the stage with either of them would probably be an unforgettable experience."
What are you most passionate about in your own life?
- "I would be lying if I didn't say my work. I'm very fortunate to be doing something I love for a living so I put a lot of effort and care into making sure it stays that way. This industry is very competitive so you have to be passionate, hard-working and totally committed in order to succeed and maintain that success. I've always been very ambitious so I guess that helps. I'm always trying to push myself further and constantly improve."
Who would you want to be your "Freaky Friday"?
- "Can he be fictional? I'd love to swap with Superman to feel what it's like to have superpowers. And he can fly into space which would be pretty awesome. Plus, he's the only superhero who is "himself" as the superhero, and puts on a persona to be the "regular human". And he was born that way, he didn't have to suffer some horrible radiation accident or get bitten by a genetically modified spider etc. As long as there's no kryptonite around, I'd be a happy man."
What is your favorite book?
- "Life of Pi by Yann Martel"
- "The Fifth Element"
What are some of your guilty pleasures? (Television shows, junk food, etc?)
- "Ben & Jerry's ice cream, South Park, Family Guy & American Dad."
What has been your most embarrassing moment onstage?
- "When I was in Legally Blonde, there was a scene where I had to pick up Paulette's bulldog and give it to her. One of our bulldogs, Monty, had been doing that particular scene every night since the beginning of the run because he was so well behaved and good at it. However, from the day he went to the vet to get his "manhood" removed, he wouldn't let me pick him up. Instead, he would do a complete starfish and flatten himself on the floor, and the first few days he even left a puddle on stage. Bless him, he didn't want me going under there so it was quite awkward to pick him up, much to the audience's enjoyment. Very sweet. In the end we used the other bulldog (Ronnie) for that scene. Eventually he got over it, and Monty and I remained best buddies throughout the run. I loved that big guy, definitely my favourite amongst all our dogs (including the very cute chihuahuas, so that says a lot)."
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
- "No rituals really, but depending on the role I'm playing I may develop a pre-show routine that I'll stick to every day. In Top Hat for example, I played an Italian character so I used to say the same few phrases to lock in the accent before each show. For Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, I had a regime of vocal articulation exercises and a list of about 30 tongue twisters that I used to go through before every performance. Tim Minchin's songs for Trunch are so fast and wordy that I had to keep my articulation muscles super sharp."
Where did you grow up? Were you brought up in a musical or theatrical
- "I grew up in Canada. My parents weren't that musical but a few of my mother's siblings were professional musicians or music teachers. I learnt piano at my uncle's music school and started my singing training with my aunt. No acting in the family though, that came later."
What was your first memory of theatre?
- "I was putting on my own plays and puppet shows with my brother when I was a kid, does that count? We didn't charge my family for tickets though. We were quite generous that way. Missed a trick I guess..."
You seem like a very hard working and adventurous actor who is willing to tackle any role. What is one role that you want to play? What would you like to try in future projects?
- "So far in my career, I've been extremely fortunate to have played roles that are all very different from each other, which I absolutely love. I guess I'd like to keep that trend going as I really enjoy the challenge of having to reinvent myself for each role, as opposed to draw upon what I've done before. It's very satisfying and rewarding. There are a few roles I've always wanted to play that I've yet to tackle, one of which being Jamie in The Last Five Years. With the movie coming out next Spring, maybe it's time for a revival somewhere? Any producers reading this?"
What is a role that you would like to play, regardless of gender?
- "If I was older, Rose in Gypsy."
You have been in several comedic productions ("Matilda," "The Full Monty" and now, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"). Do you prefer this genre over others?
- "I don't have a particular preference but I do love doing comedy on stage purely because of the relationship you have with an audience. The best analogy I've found to describe it is surfing. Every audience is as unpredictable as each other and you have to learn to be responsive to that, whilst maintaining a steady hold on the storytelling to make sure they follow the plot. It's a great feeling when funny moments really land well and you ride that wave of laughter onto the next bit. It feels like the audience is very much another actor in the piece and when that's working at its best, it's a real buzz for us on stage."
What has been your favorite role to date and why? How about the most difficult?
- "It's really hard to identify a favourite as a lot of the roles I've played have been equally enjoyable for very different reasons, but I guess Emmett in Legally Blonde will always hold a special place in my heart. It's the role that gave me my big break, but also Emmett was quite close to me in terms of personality, probably the closest out of all the roles I've played so far, so I could inject a lot of myself into it. Plus, it's thanks to that show that I met my girlfriend Jane McMurtrie 5 years ago. So many great memories on that job. My hardest role in terms of singing was Galileo in We Will Rock You, my hardest overall was Miss Trunchbull. Both roles were extremely demanding in terms of stamina but equally rewarding."
You played the lead role in "We Will Rock You." What was it like working in that production, and with Queen? Any fun memories?
- "Incredible. Hard work vocally but totally worth it. I had to stay mute until 4pm most days and really look after myself to sustain singing those songs 7 times a week. But during the last 20 minutes of each show, with the audience on our side and the band blasting out those awesome Queen anthems, it's the closest I ever got to feeling like a proper rock star. Great memories. I even had the honour of performing Bohemian Rhapsody with Brian May and Roger Taylor a few times, which was nothing short of epic."
You will be portraying Freddy Benson in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." As you know, he is quite the character. Do you feel any sort of connection to Freddy? Any similarities between the two of you?
- "The obvious connection is that Freddy is also an actor (loosely speaking), since he has to play many different roles to earn his "living", even if it's under very immoral circumstances. He has to be totally believable and committed to every role he plays in order to pull off his cons, so I can totally relate to that. He's a lot more crass than I am but it's great to be able to go to that place and not shy away from being vulgar. It's a lot of fun."
Several actors who have portrayed the legendary Miss.Trunchbull in the musical "Matilda" have injured themselves in some way during their runs. Have you fallen victim to the "Trunchbull Curse" during your time in the show?
- "I knew about the physical demands of the role when I got the job, so leading up to the start of rehearsals I made sure I was in good physical condition. Throughout my year run, I worked hard to keep a level of fitness that was higher than the demands of the show, so that the show itself would not be taking my body to its absolute limits. It seems it worked (along with luck I guess) as I managed to never go off due to injury, but that doesn't mean I didn't have many aches, pains and niggles along the way! Let's just say I certainly paid a few visits to the physio in that year. I think with that role, a certain degree of pain is inevitable. It's just about managing it the best you can so it doesn't turn into a proper injury."
Would you ever want to do a show on Broadway?
- "Absolutely, it's definitely on the "to do" list. It will just be a matter of timing and the right project coming along."
What are some upcoming projects that you are excited about?
- "I have some very exciting projects lined up for 2015 but I'm afraid I'm not allowed to reveal them yet. One of them should be announced in the New Year I hope..."