The Bodyguard is a much-loved movie, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary! Were you a fan of the movie growing up and did you rewatch it again after being cast?
You know strangely I never watched the film when I was a kid. Ok, this is the honest truth – I watched the film for the first time when I knew I was doing The Bodyguard musical in China. I’d never seen the film, but the soundtrack was giving me life throughout my entire childhood. I love the movie now; I’ve seen it a million times!
I had a ticket for a special screening of The Bodyguard for the 30th Anniversary. I went to the movie theatre on my own and was so excited. Of course, only this would happen to me and a room full of Whitney Houston enthusiasts – the film starts playing… and it was a cartoon! The venue had messed up and were no longer able to show the film. People wanted to cry, including myself!
Can you briefly summarise the plot (without spoilers) and tell us about your character – Rachel Marron. How would you describe her?
Rachel Marron is a popstar/ actress who is at the height of her career. She is definitely a diva, but kind of aloof and unaware of some of the issues that are going on behind the scenes. When someone starts sending letters and stealing clothes from her home and dressing room, a bodyguard is sent in to protect her.
Rachel is really focused on her son and trying to create the best life for him. She’s a single mother who is extremely high-functioning, so misses all the signs that something is wrong – but her team is also hiding the fact she has a stalker from her!
Most people will know you from The Pussycat Dolls, one of the most celebrated girl groups of all time. How does your experience as a world-renowned songstress influence your interpretation of the role of Rachel Marron – are there any parallels?
It’s just you doing the best job that you can, and the job of a popstar is a full-time, all-energy position. Everything you do is for that job. So, I can relate to the character in that way. There are also certainly things going on behind the scenes that your team aren’t going to bring up to you. But I would hope someone would have let me know if I had a stalker!
I’ve definitely experienced some enthusiastic fans who would forget that we were also people and would show up in Los Angeles and find us on the street. I had to hide in a restaurant one time for a couple of hours until security came to get me.
You were the youngest member of The Pussycat Dolls. What was that like for you? Did you receive any guidance from people within the industry?
In the early 00s it was very much sink or swim. I’m not resentful in any way for that, because I now have a structure that works for me that I created for myself. Of course, there were lovely people to jump in and say, ‘You might want to try it this way or that way’, but in the early 00s it was a lot of people minding their own business. However, there are so many people that I owe for my being here, and I’m grateful to them to this day.
Given the life experience you now have, what piece of advice do you wish you could have given your younger self, ahead of being propelled to global stardom?
I’d say that some of the fears you created in your head around interacting with other people are just projections. People aren’t as scary as you think. I was very avoidant of others, trying to just do my job and not create any relationships, when in actuality networking and relationships are what helps to propel your career. They can’t get a feel for you if you don’t put yourself out there!
I always try and forgive myself, because there are things you don’t know so you have to accept that if you’d known better, you’d have done better.
You’re no stranger to the role, having previously starred in The Bodyguard abroad. What made you want to return, and will you be approaching it differently this time around?
I loved the show, I was jubilant doing it! I want the challenge. I’m really enjoying revisiting the show.
Whitney Houston is also very dear to me, and what she means to Black America. What she went through as a black girl singing pop music was brave. She battled a lot of preconceived notions in the industry, and what she did for me was help to create a lane for the little black girl in the pop group. She is important to me in that respect, so anytime I have the opportunity to sing Whitney’s hits I’m going to do it.
The Bodyguard features an incredible soundtrack, with hits made famous by Whitney Houston. Do you have a favourite number to perform?
My favourite number to perform is ‘Queen of the Night’, but my favourite song is ‘All The Man That I Need’. I watch Whitney’s live performances, because I’m always looking for what I call ‘bail outs’ – moments in the song that we know commercially to be sung a certain way, and then how she does them live. She was such a master, she would find ways to hit a note, working around the difficulty. In her performances of ‘All The Man That I Need’ I think she’s singing to God, as she grew up in the church. If you listen to the song, to me that’s what she’s saying – He’s all the man that she needs.
The songs in the show require powerhouse vocals night after night! How do you vocally prepare for this? Do you have methods you use to sustain your vocal health?
I actually taught myself to sing listening to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, and since being in the industry and working with different vocal coaches I’ve learnt how to take a lot of pressure off my voice. For me it’s about sustainability to sing night after night. I want it to be the best quality every night, which is a challenge that I’m working on. I tested it out recently on the Masked Singer Australia which went really well.
When it comes to vocal hygiene, I make sure to clean my nose every night with a nasal wash. Something I learnt from my time in China, is to drink cold water when you’re done singing to bring any swelling down. We’re all so programmed to drink hot! These are just some of the things I don’t live without.
What do you hope audiences across the UK will take away from this production?
I look forward to hopefully inspiring some kids to want to work on stage. The beautiful thing about theatre is that it’s live. I’m grateful to be the age that I am, and to have begun at the age that I did before people were relying on autotune. This sounds crazy, but what I look forward to are the mistakes, because it’s real. I think it’s beautiful to see a performer pick up the pieces and keep going if something goes wrong. I love that because it gives me room to just perform as an actress and sing as a singer.
The Bodyguard comes to The Orchard Theatre from Mon 27 March until Sat 1 April, with tickets from £14.50. Book online at orchardtheatre.co.uk.