Fra Fee might be more well-known around the West End area than here in the States, but if you saw the Les Miserables movie than you surely remember him as Courfeyrac. He’s had an impressive career thus far in his roles in various roles on stage across the pond and I’ve been a huge fan for a while. So, it was really exciting to have the opportunity to interview him recently! Read on to see what Fra had to say about his work!
You’ve played numerous roles in Les Miserables, all of them members of Les Amis. What’s it been like to switch characters like that?
It’s interesting because although each character of Les Amis has his own personality and sense of individuality, they all form part of a collective, a band of brothers fighting for the same cause and they all share that passion. Having said that, of course, they are individuals and approaching each role with that in mind gives you so much freedom to explore and bring out each character’s own identity. When I covered Marius and Enjolras in London, I didn’t even sing in the same way for each character because their personalities and emotional make-up required a different vocal quality. Marius, although politically motivated, is the romantic who almost gives up his fight for a girl he has simply seen. In that way he differs so very greatly from Enjolras whose drive would never have been compromised in the same way.
Did you ever look to the book (also called the BRICK, because it is!) when preparing for roles?
Yes. It acts as a bible for any cast member. Victor Hugo’s descriptions of the ABC members are so brilliantly vivid, it would be foolish not to look to the book.
While Les Miserables is a timeless classic, you’ve also been in FAME and Aladdin, shows that are definitely more contemporary. How did these experiences (the expectations, the preparation, etc.) differ?
To be honest, I approach each project in the same way. My first job out of drama school was Dirty Dancing, and although admittedly a much more light-hearted piece of theatre than Les Mis, you’re still responsible for telling the story with the same honesty that you would if you were doing Shakespeare. You still study the script in the same way, ask the same questions, mould your character in the same way. The ways in which different projects can be different are mainly to do with logistics – the size of a theatre to determine your level of projection, whether it is Proscenium or in-the-round (where the audience surrounds a circle stage), if there is singing involved and what style of singing is required (more legitimate/classical, pop); that sort of thing.
You recently played Florizel in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. Did you know of the production beforehand? How did that compare to well-known shows like Les Mis, FAME, and Aladdin?
I knew the play – I actually did the original Shakespeare at drama school but I didn’t know about this musical adaptation. I was very much aware of Howard Goodall however. I’m a massive fan of Howard’s work. Just prior to doing Winter’s Tale I was performing for the opening of the new St. James’ Theatre in London, doing excerpts from Howard’s Silas Marner, a beautiful piece with a gorgeous score so I jumped at the chance to do a full production, and the fact that it was new and a premiere was an added bonus.
The story is magical and brilliant for any actor or director due to the fact that it’s so very interpret-able – there have been many guises of the play for years and similarly, approaching it new again as a musical gave us so much freedom to create. So, in that way it differed greatly from Les Mis, which has been a well-oiled machine for almost 30 years- you’re required at least to fit the mould of something that was created a long time ago. I was able to approach Florizel from an entirely new and fresh perspective.
How about Follies? Did you know a lot of Sondheim music before you got the role? Favorite songs?
I adore Sondheim. I don’t think I know one singing actor who doesn’t. His songs are written so well that they’re just a joy to sing and perform. Strangely though, I didn’t know Follies incredibly well. I knew a few of the numbers (‘Losing My Mind’ is one of my favourite songs!) but didn’t really know the story at all. I very quickly fell in love though. Like quite a few of Sondheim’s shows, it focuses on the lives of people much older than your typical juvenile lead, and I love that; not only do the performances tend to be better with actors and actresses drawing from the years of experience but the stories of the characters being portrayed are all the more interesting, focusing on people with real depth of experience.
In Follies I was playing the younger version of one of these characters (Buddy, played by Jerome Pradon . It was fascinating to play the young, innocent, blissfully ignorant version of someone when onstage you witness the fate of what is to come, right in front of you. It really is an incredible show. I’d love the chance to do it again in England.
My favourite Sondheim however, is undoubtedly Sweeney Todd. I’ve been obsessed for years. Maybe I’ll get to do it soon… Editor’s Note: Very funny, Fra!
How has the Les Miserables movie changed your life? Are you recognized more? How does that feel?
Umm…I don’t think it’s really changed my life. I still get on with things the same way I did before. It was certainly one of the most incredible experiences of my life that I’ll never forget. I do get recognized now and then and it feels very strange. I sometimes forget that more people than just my ma and sisters saw the movie…quite a lot in fact.
Some Les Mis alumni have come back and played the adult roles after playing the teenagers, is this something you would want to do? Who would you want to play?
Yeah, for sure. To be honest, I’d love to play Marius and own the role for a while. But yes, I think I’d love to come back in later years to play Javert – what a role..!
What do you look for when auditioning for “the next thing?”
At the moment, I’m very wary of auditioning for long contracts in long-established shows. I’ve had so much fun doing new, short projects (A Man of No Importance recently was easily one of the best creative experiences of my life) that I’m not going to rush into stepping into someone else’s shoes in a West End show. I just want to do projects I’m passionate about.
Do you have a particular memory from any show you’ve been in that sticks out for you?
In Fame I played Schlomo, the musician. At the beginning of my scene after being revolved onto the stage, the piano stool I was sat at collapsed and I fell on my arse in front of a packed audience…that one sticks out for some reason…
Your website says that you teach vocal lessons, and you’ve advertised that you partake in Master Classes as well. What made you decide to do this on top of acting?
I love teaching – particularly the workshop stuff – it’s amazing to meet young, enthusiastic performers who are so eager to learn and have fun performing. I did a music degree at university before going to drama school, so I enjoy getting back on the piano and being a musical director for a while. And it’s brilliant because it’s the type of work you can do alongside acting. I don’t start work in a theatre until 7.30pm – plenty of time during the day!
Don’t think, just answer!
“Something’s Coming” – West Side Story
Who are your biggest influences?
Besides acting and singing, how do you like to relax?
Reading with a coffee, listening to music (no musical theatre!), going to the gym, watching good quality films. But if I’m being completely honest, you’ll likely find me in a pub sinking a pint.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Don’t be sad it’s finished. Be happy it happened.
Advice for up-and-coming actors?
Chill out and enjoy the ride!
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