His picture has been plastered all over the London Underground ahead of his first big leap into the West End next week in the stage adaptation of the hit Irish musical romance, Once. Former Boyzone frontman Ronan Keating tells Shelley Marsden he hopes this will be his break as an actor while the show’s producers are also hoping he will be good for box office.
Dubliner Ronan Keating is obviously hoping to make the transition from former pop star to serious actor following his modest, blink and you’ll miss, big screen debut last year in frothy Australian rom-com Goddess and having missed out on a part in The Hobbit.
The 37-year old former boy band singer, and father of three, hopes to do it by taking over the London West End lead in the hit Irish musical Once. Talking about it to the Irish World he sounds excited, but also nervous.
Ronan joins the Olivier Award-winning London production, about a busker and an immigrant whose eventful week together in Dublin sees them write, rehearse and records songs that chart their own love story, later this month. He plays Dublin busker Guy (played by The Frames’ Glenn Hansard in John Carney’s 2006 film), and will stay on in the role until next March, just after St. Patrick’s Day.
Stirring songs, a romantic storyline and all the lively atmosphere of a Dublin pub have made the musical a popular crowd-pleaser, and the show’s producers clearly believe introducing of Boyzone’s former lead singer man can only help at the box office.
It’s a brave enough move for Boyzone star as West End theatre critics may not be particularly forgiving to the Irish pop star with acting ambitions who also moonlights as judge on Australian TV’s X Factor.
So Ronan, have all your Christmases have come at once getting the lead in Once?
Ha ha… It’s a perfect situation, it’s just a great role for me. But I’m apprehensive about it at the same time, I’m a little scared. I’ve never performed in the West End and it’s a huge commitment. It’s already an award-winning musical I’m coming into, and I guess there’s rather a lot expected of me – because I’m me, you know? That’s not me saying that I’m good, it’s just that I’ve been around for a lot of years. People are… probably expecting me to be a great guitar player, a great singer… there’s a lot expected of me and it’s a great show I’m joining.
What attracted you to Once as opposed to other musicals doing the rounds?
I’ve been asked to do musicals a few times over the years, and it never really floated my boat to be honest. I enjoy going to see them but I’d never wanted to be in one. It’s just so unlike anything I’ve ever seen; it’s a play with songs, rather than a ‘jazz-handsy’ musical.
Then there are the stories, from the north-side of Dublin, Guy’s story… and the songs are wonderful. It all felt… right. It felt real, it made sense to me. John Tiffany’s the director and John Carney and I have worked a bit together on something else, so it just seemed to be the right thing to do. I was truly bowled over when I first saw Once. I believe it’s a modern-day masterpiece.
Being a Dubliner yourself, do you feel like you can tap into the role quickly?
I’ll be the first Irishman to play this role, which is bizarre when you think about it! There have been Americans, English, Canadians… so of course, I feel close to it. It’s kind of weird being a musician playing a musician, though.
Did you have to brush up on your guitar playing for the role?
Massively. It wasn’t brushing up, it was learning! I play a little but, but I don’t play that much and I certainly don’t play in the sense I needed to play for the show, so it’s been a huge crash-course every single day – two hours a day every day to get myself ready. It’s exciting, I feel like I’m really bettering myself as a musician.
Where do you find similarities between you and Guy?
Look, us Dubliners are all the same, we wear our heart on our sleeve. I really get Guy, I can relate to who he is – a little bit foolish, a little bit… a guy with a big heart. He’s a little bit clumsy when it comes to romance, which I definitely get! He kind of jumps in with both feet, and doesn’t really know what’s going on. There are lovely comedy moments in the show, which I adore, full of Irish humour which I think is the best humour in the world.
The Commitments which is playing in London across the road is a different animal..
It’s a very different story, one we all grew up with as kids. It’s a very different kind of show. It was a great film, and funny enough Glenn Hansard was the guitar player in it so he has a connection with both, which is kinda nice.
You’ve been wanting to crack the acting game for a while – was it frustrating to be a ‘famous’ person, go for roles and not get them?
Absolutely. It was frustrating, embarrassing, tough… But because of what you are, what you were for years you can’t expect to get the gig. You’ve got to work for it, you’ve got to graft. There are no shortcuts.
Are you hoping Once will lead to more acting roles?
I hope so. Hopefully I’ll learn so much from it, I’ll really benefit from it. I don’t know who’s going to be in the theatre to see it but maybe a director, a producer sees me and, who knows…
I’ll tell you after Once, I guess. Right now I’m excited about Once. It’s not like this is a stepping-stone. Once is a big deal, it’s not a way into film, it’s something amazing in itself. So let’s see how this goes.
If the acting continued beyond Once can you see the music taking a back seat?
No, I’m actually planning on writing an album while working on Once, every day I plan to write. So I think with all that music around me, so much guitar-playing it will inspire me to write more. Th first few weeks will be pretty intense, but I think there’ll be time, once I get into the show and have the role down.
You and the lads also have the new Boyzone album to promote, a homage to Motown. This is the first themed album in your twenty-year career; was it time to explore your funky side then?!
I guess so, yeah. The album’s called Dublin to Detroit, and we just thought, these are some of the best songs ever written, and wouldn’t it be great to cover them? It’s the second album with our new Warner deal, we’re in the Warner stable now, and we just thought yeah, this would be a fun project. And it was, big-time. I love Smokey Robinson’s Tracks of My Tears, but You Can’t Hurry Love is my absolute favourite. It’s the perfect song.
Ronan is in Once from 17 November until 21 March 2015 at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JP (0844 871 7629). For more information visit www.oncemusical.co.uk.