Versatile London stage star Lloyd Owen is about to grab the spotlight as he steps into the role made famous by Kevin Costner in the eagerly awaited musical adaptation of The Bodyguard. Owen will be joined by Tony winner Heather Headley (Aida) as Rachel Marron, the diva role originated in the 1992 film by the late Whitney Houston. As he prepares for a first performance on November 6 at the Adelphi Theatre, Owen spoke with Broadway.com about juggling genres, and continents, as he pushes an ever-evolving career in yet another direction.
We’ve been watching you on the British stage and on screen for several decades. But is this your first musical?
It is! It’s interesting because I like to sing, but it’s not something I’ve pursued much over the years. Singing in the bath and singing with an orchestra is a different prospect entirely [laughs]. If you remember the film, you may think, wait a minute, my character [Frank Farmer] doesn’t sing, so what’s going to happen there? Let’s just say that [book writer] Alex Dinelaris has circumnavigated that condition rather brilliantly!
You’re appearing opposite one of the most celebrated American singers, Heather Headley.
She’s unbelievable. I just the other day learned a phrase you’ll obviously know—“triple threat”—and that’s Heather. She has it all. If I was doing this as a straight play and she was the actress opposite me playing Rachel Marron, I would be delighted to have her. But not only is she a great actress, there’s also that voice, which is quite extraordinary. Once I heard it was her [playing Rachel] and I did my research, there was no hesitation. Add to that a really good story and an enduring movie that continues to be talked about, and I thought, “Yes, this could be something very exciting.”
How important has the film been for you in preparing for the stage version?
I watched the film when it first came out, and it’s very interesting how things change. It seems almost a period piece now; it has bits that are good, and bits that are not so good. At the same time, it’s quite interesting to be reminded of what its great strength was, and why it endures and why people remember it so well.
It’s about love in all its complexity, which is unique to each and every one of us. That’s what I like about the film: It’s in no way simple, and to some extent it’s about a love that can’t be. And it doesn’t have the ending you might expect, either.
There seem to be two models for transposing films to the theater: Dirty Dancing, where it’s transferred literally scene-by-scene; or Hairspray, where the stage show reinvents its celluloid source.
I would say this lies between the two. It’s loyal to the film, given that over the past six years they have bought up the whole [Whitney Houston] songbook, and Alex has done quite an extraordinary job of placing those songs within the framework of the show; it’s almost as if they were written for this musical. And Lawrence Kasdan [screenwriter of the film] has made some cuts and tweaks and changes to the material, which are great, as well. The aim is for something unashamedly theatrical.
Some have accused the stage musical of attempting to profit from Whitney Houston’s death. Do you think that’s fair?
I actually got this script two or three months before she died, so I knew that wasn’t the case. And how long has this been in gestation? Six years. The fact of Whitney Houston’s death is totally tragic, but you could equally argue that the show is a memorial service for fans who couldn’t go to the memorial. It is a celebration of her music and of her.
You’ve lived in Los Angeles yourself, so presumably you know the culture of control that the story is about.
I’ve witnessed that degree of fame, though I haven’t experienced it. But, yes, I am aware of how isolated you can become as a big Hollywood star, where you find yourself thinking, who do you trust, and what happens once you stop making money for anyone else?
Not to mention the business of having minders and people constantly at your beck and call.
Ian McKellen told a great story, having done the whole Hollywood thing, of when he was back in England and there was a coffee break, and he crossed his legs and waited for his cup of tea, only to realize, “Oh, yes, I have to go get the cup of tea myself now!” [Laughs.] Stories like that keep you real.
Does a big musical like The Bodyguard feel different in terms of scale from the not-for-profit shows you’ve done, such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida?
I really don’t think about that stuff. At the moment, we’re halfway through the third week of rehearsal and [director] Thea [Sharrock] is working quickly and has quite a bit of it up on its feet. But, you know, the rehearsal room is the same shape and size as most, with a table and a director and a group of people who are there to try and tell the story truthfully in this moment. All you can do is focus on that.
Do you go to see musicals very often?
Usually when mates are in shows. I don’t go that often, but I do love the classic musicals, like West Side Story or Guys and Dolls. And I went to see Sweeney Todd, which I absolutely loved; Imelda [Staunton] blew me away, as she always does!
Do you still keep a base in L.A.?
We just let it go. We had a home in Los Feliz, having been in Santa Monica and Venice. But my older child is 21 and studying at the LSE [London School of Economics], so it’s nice to be back here.
The LSE? Very impressive! He’s not a budding actor?
Hopefully, he’ll just produce the movies! [Laughs.] He’s the only one of us who is going to get a proper job.