Frances Ruffelle

Frances Ruffelle

Frances Ruffelle is set to return to the stage this autumn as she brings her one-woman show Paris Original to London.

We caught up with her to chat about the new show, tackling French music and what lies ahead.

- You are about to star in a new West End show Paris Original, so can you tell me a bit about it?

I did a solo show a few years ago called Beneath The Dress, which was about my life, and it went down really well, and people had started asking me to do something new.

I had a think about what I associate with, and I have been cast in quite a lot of French roles or projects to do with France. I have always loved Paris since I was a little girl and secretly always wanted to be French; it just sounds so romantic.

So I just thought that I would do a solo show based on that theme, and the French music that I love; I love listening to Francoise Hardy. I also loved the effortless chic of the French woman and the French movie stars. So I devised a show around my love of Paris.

- You are the driving force behind this new show so can you talk a bit about the process of pulling all of that together to create this one-woman performance?

It has been four or five months work. I work with a man called Matthew Ryan; I have known him since I was zero, and we devised the show together.

He is one of these people who knows all the songs in the world; he is my dictionary of songs. So a lot of the time Matthew would send me songs that he had found - that is how it has mostly worked in the past.

However, this time I have introduced him to Francoise Hardy, and now he is totally in love with all the French music. Last year, I played Edith Piaf in a play, so, apart from her life story, I also got to know a lot of her songs. Together we have found all the wonderful songs and stories from France.

I am absolutely about entertainment, and so this is not just a gig as it is funny, and it is fun. I love all the Berlinesque cabaret, a dark side of Berlin, and so I also introduce that into the show, but in a French way.

The process has just been lots and lots of research and writing lyrics; I have been writing lyrics to the French songs that either don't have any English lyrics, or I don't like the English lyrics.

Quite a lot of the old French songs have been written into English, but they are just so awful. All the songs just sound so beautiful in French, and so I do do some of the songs in French. It has been great getting back into my writing again.

- The show celebrates the music of the likes of Edith Piaf and Francoise Hardy so how have you found tackling the songs by these music icons?

First of all, I found the Edith Piaf songs incredibly difficult. As I said earlier I did a play about her and about three months before that I worked every single day to get the French language into my brain to be able to sing it; I found that terribly difficult.

Because I have done that I did find the Francoise Hardy songs much easier. I wish I could speak French, but I can't; however, I can sing it. The more I sing it the more words I am learning, and so it is definitely a language that I should take up.

- This is a one-woman show so how much pressure comes with that? And how much is the one-woman performance something that you do enjoy?

There is a lot more pressure, and it can get quite lonely. I do have a band, and that has been nice. My rehearsals are mainly in my head and on my own, and so it is a lonely job.

The good part is I do get to choose what I want to do, and I don't have a boss. It is also a chance for me to explore things that I would otherwise never get the chance to do if someone else is thinking of me for a job.

- There is a very intimate venue for this show, so how do you feel about being so up close and personal with the audience?

I love it so much because I love to play with the audience and watch their faces when they get a bit nervous (laughs). I do have a bit of a laugh. Some people love and know that I work my audience, so come and always sit in the front. Others hide in the back.

When you play in big theatres, you just look out and see darkness - you don't even see faces - but in Cabaret, you do get to involve the audience much more.

- I was going to ask you about playing Edith Piaf. How did you find getting your teeth into that character as she remains a very fascinating woman?

Totally fascinating. It was a huge emotional rollercoaster. We did the show in two acts, and the total time on stage was two hours and twenty minutes and when we broke for the interval, I would just break down into tears.

I just couldn't stop myself as her life took me on such a rollercoaster ride. I played her from the age of eighteen to forty seven, when she died. I did find it difficult, but it was a role that I just threw myself into.

I have never ever experienced such a role before, and it was the most challenging role of my life. She is fascinating because she came from the gutter with this beautiful voice.

She didn't have much love, and she shared her affection with me; she basically had sex with different men as that was her way of getting affection.

She was amazing in some ways as she helped with the war effort, but she could treat the people closest to her quite badly. I do think her story is fascinating today; my children came to see the show, and they just wanted to know more about her.

These stories happen all the time, and Amy Winehouse is like a modern-day Edith Piaf. Even though she died fifty years ago it is still a very current story.

- The show that really kick-started your career, and one that you are still synonymous with, is Les Miserables. It is a show that is still loved by theatre go-ers so what do you think is the show's secret to success?

One of the most important thinks is the book because it is just an incredible story that touches everyone; everybody knows what it feels like to have lost love.

It is just beautiful music that is written in a French style. It was staged was brilliantly by Trevor Nunn and John Caird; it was a Royal Shakespeare production originally.

The original was also amazing; some of them were from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was very young, and I was very excited to be working with the people that I worked with.

- You also had a small role in Tom Hooper's movie, so how did you find being part of all of that?

It was something that I had to do really; it would have felt wrong not to have been part of it. I was really flattered that he asked me to do it. I am glad I did it.

I was bloody hard work though (laughs). It was cold and wet, and it wasn't very glamorous. However, I am glad that I did it.

- We are going to be seeing you back on the big screen in Long Forgotten Fields, so can you tell me a bit about that?

I have got a couple of movies coming out; Long Forgotten Fields is a lovely romantic film set in Shropshire. I play the mother of the leading girl; playing mothers is what I do these days (laughs).

I just played a bitter and alcoholic mother in a horror movie called Devil's Tower, which is coming out soon as well.

- How much is film something that you would like to get back to doing more of?

Before I started musicals, I did TV and film work. I didn't really know I could sing, so singing was something that just happened. Before I knew it I was doing musicals.

You can get a little pigeon-holed, and because I had done so successful with Les Miserables it was more difficult to go up for TV and film work. I have just been slowly getting back into doing some more acting.

Something came along and I did it, and now I am doing more TV and film. It's really exciting to be able to do everything; I get bored doing one thing anyway.

- Finally, what's in the pipeline for you?

Next week, I am in New York doing my old one-woman show: I will take Paris Original to New York as well.

There is a new musical called Bend It Like Beckham, and I am just doing a workshop production; however, that doesn't mean that you actually do the show.

It's a creative two weeks where you work with the director and the composer and other cast members to create what will eventually be the musical. That is a really great fun job to do. However, I don't know what the future holds on that.

I do potentially have another movie, but I cannot confirm that with you, until they have confirmed it with me.

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