I don’t think I will ever do another musical. There won’t be a role that will ever fit me as well
You had never done a musical before The King And I. What was the biggest challenge?
IN the beginning, I had no confidence that I would be able to do a musical at all. During the rehearsal period to the opening of the Broadway run, I was shocked by how much I learned and grew as a performer and this gave me confidence. It is very different from films because there is no room for any dialogue error when you’re in front of a live audience. I had to learn doing theatre in English from scratch. I don’t think I will ever do another musical after The King and I because there won’t be another role that will ever fit me as well.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
BEFORE every performance I pray to the god of theatre for the success of each show and for the safety and health of the cast and crew.
Do you have a favourite song in the show?
THE whole Rodgers and Hammerstein score is magical, but my favourite songs are Hello Young Lovers and Something Wonderful. Listening to these two songs from close range was a perk of being King.
What is your strongest memory of the Broadway opening night?
SADLY I had a high fever so I wasn’t able to enjoy it. However, I was able to approach the West End opening with more ease and I was so excited and nervous. We had two shows the day after so I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the after-party. I had to make sure to leave a little early to rest my body for the next performances.
What was it like returning to the role of the King and working with your co-star Kelli O’Hara again?
I HEARD about the show moving to London towards the end of my run in New York. After coming back to do the show a second time on Broadway, I realised how much I didn’t want this journey to be over. So in that sense, I am grateful I was given another chance to play the King. Every show with Kelli felt like we were fencing. It was so much fun and also very thrilling. I was a little bit nervous about performing to a London audience, but they were incredible and really enjoyed the show – especially on the weekends. Many people have a drink or two before the show and it felt like their laughter was noticeably louder. I imagined this has not changed since the days of Shakespeare.
What do you believe is the enduring appeal of the musical?
AT the very core of this story is the theme that regardless of country, race, sex, age, and profession, people can come to understand and respect each other. This theme is why people can relate to the story. The world is now faced with new social issues, so we always found ways to keep our show relevant and fresh.
Is it tricky working with so many children?
THEY are all so professional, so it wasn’t too different from working with the adults to be honest. All the kids respected me as the King so it was easy for me to be natural with them on and off stage.
How did you approach playing the King of Siam?
WHILE being under constant pressure and threat of colonization from western powers, the King had a sense of mission for his country to progress and modernize. However, there were many things that he could not come to accept or understand because of the education he received. He also understood that Thailand would not fully progress to the same level of other modern countries until he relinquished his power to the next generation. His death was required in order for his country to change drastically. This mission was a lonely and difficult process that few understood.
You have worked on many Hollywood blockbusters and The King And I will be seen in cinemas later this month. What was it like filming the stage production?
FILMING for cinemas was such an incredible experience. We filmed over several nights with a live audience of thousands each time – which is very different compared to filming a scene on a movie set. I tried to keep the intensity and sense of drama that every live show had.
How do you feel about having your performance preserved on the big screen for people to enjoy all over the world?
IT’S such an honour that we’ve been able to film this production and now audiences around the world can enjoy it for themselves and see the passion of our wonderful cast on the big screen. I’ll probably be so nervous though that I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy watching it myself.
■ The King and I: From The Palladium can be seen in cinemas on Thursday, November 29. For tickets and venues go to kingandimusicalcinema.com
Ken on stage with Kelli O’Hara Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam in the London production of The King And I