Caroline Hanks-Farmer talks to Paul Wilkins who currently plays Marius in London’s Les Misérables:
So tell me Paul, whereabouts in Hampshire are you from?
I was born in St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth and grew up in Gosport where most of my family are from. I moved away when I was about 18.
(As I’m from Fareham myself I was keen to know more and we’ll return to Paul’s early years later.)
You are in the longest running musical Les Misérables, possibly the most iconic musical ever. Can you put into words what that feels like?
It’s really hard to find the words to describe it – I’ve been lucky to be in it since I left drama school. I went in as second cover and then progressed to lead role. I kind of feel like I’ve shot myself in the foot?Being part of a musical like this is creatively fulfilling and I feel extremely lucky to be in this position.
Why is that, Paul?
It doesn’t get better than this it’s such a huge show and so well-known. You can mention the name to anyone and most will be able to tell you something about it. Which is quite rare for musicals.
I guess you have started at the top, Paul?
Yeah, it was daunting at first, but I also found it very fulfilling after all the training I’d been through and the hardship as a student. It’s a tough profession, definitely not easy. You have to tell yourself constantly something will come along.
You mentioned there about being a student tell me about your career journey from Portsmouth to the West End? Is this what you’ve always wanted to do?
I trained for four years in total – three at Arts Education which is where I graduated from. Most of that time I used my overdraft and it was hard, you couldn’t always see you’re way out. But you keep going because it’s what you want it’s not the money it’s more than that.
Is there anyone you would like to work with?
I’d like to work with Dame Judi Dench. To work with someone like that would be amazing. I saw a documentary on her recently, and in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music, she just kept using different approaches. I like to improv act so it interested me. Like Mark Rylance, I want to be able to get closer to the character, to be the character rather than just put a cloak on – feel it I guess? I’ve only recently discovered or felt comfortable enough, that when you audition you should be yourself but a different version – why not try something else?
Let’s talk Dream roles. Marius must be a dream role for you but is there any others you dream of playing?
I’d like to play Quasimodo. It’s not in production yet but there is a The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack with some beautiful music written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. So yeah that’s what I would love to do if it happened.
Can you remember a pivotal time when you realised you wanted to follow this as a career?
Um no? It just kind of happened. I danced from an early age and continued drama at secondary school. I knew I didn’t want to do paperwork for A Levels, and all the time I was building my knowledge of stagecraft. So I went to South Downs College and took a Musical Theatre BTEC. It was a natural progression to go to drama school, but I didn’t really know much about it, but I auditioned and got into Trinity. I did a year there before I received a scholarship to Arts Ed and on graduation then joined Les Mis. Everything just kind of fell into place.
You mentioned about your college South Downs did you also do Amateur Dramatics?
Yes I was in Portsmouth Players for a time before going into drama school.
If you could go back in time to any era when would go back to and why?
Tudor Times – they had some very stupid ways to kill people you know capital punishment. So I’d like to say what are you doing or make some silly mistake and probably break the law to stop them.
If you could be a super hero or have a super power what would you have and why?
I’d freeze time – I spend a lot of time in Starbucks so I could go into Starbucks freeze time and make my own coffee.
Who is the influential person to you at the moment?
Someone whom I respect is Stephen Fry. He fascinates me, he’s interesting, kind and does so much for LGBT rights. Yes and I admire that he just seems to live life to want to improve things, he’s so intelligent. So yes I’d say him?