Zrinka Cvitesic is currently lighting up the West end stage as she stars alongside Declan Bennett in the hit music Once; this is the first time that she has a music theatre role in her career.
We caught up with her to chat about the role, how she is finding working in the West End and how she has been finding the reaction to the show.
- You are currently starring in the musical Once, so can you tell me a little bit about the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet?
It is a very simple story. It’s not a typical musical. It is a story about music, about love; I think it is one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. When I read the script, it was like Dr Zhivago of the twenty first century. It is a story about an Irish busker who wants to give up on his life.
Then he meets this young woman living in Dublin, and they begin this journey together of trying to make him believe in his music once again and go on with his life. I am not going to tell you the end (laughs).
- The show is based on the film of the same name, so what was it about the script and the character that interested you in the role?
To be honest, I was planning to do two movies this year; theatre was not in my plans at all. Then my agent called and was like ‘I think we should check this out’. First of all, I think I wanted to test myself in a different field; I have never done anything like this before.
I came to London and became part of a team of amazing people and I just had a feeling that I had to do it. It is a small cast but it is like one big family; that is something that I was interested in, as I didn’t want to be part of a huge musical production on the West End stage.
I have seen those types of shows and enjoyed them, but I have never imagined myself being on stage in them. Then I read the story and I was like ‘this is it, I just have to do it’.
- How are we going to see your character develop as we go through the show?
When we started to do rehearsals, I was really frightened because with musical stuff, I was ok, but I wasn’t great. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do this in the way I wanted to do it. So I was really frightened. Most of the guys in the cast had a musical theatre education and all played several instruments (laughs). I was like ’oh my god, I should just go home’.
With the character itself I was afraid because she is 100% pure honesty on stage; she is walking through the world with her heart in the palm of her hand, and that is so not like me. I was afraid because I knew that she would open me up; and that is exactly what has happened.
- As I said Once is based on the hit film and is a book by Edna Walsh, so how much did you use the film and the book as you were preparing for this role? Or have you avoided them purposefully?
The director didn’t want me to see the film, read the book or see the show on Broadway, so I respected his wishes, as I knew that he must have had a reason for that. When I saw the movie about a month ago and I was like ‘wow that was a good call’.
I was mostly a movie actress before this role and I think he knew if I saw the movie then I would have wanted to do movie acting on stage, which would never work. It was a good call I think (laughs).
- The show sees you star alongside Declan Bennett so how are you finding working with him and the rest of the cast?
I made a movie in 2010 called On The Path, for which I was nominated for Best Actress for a European Oscar. We had a press conference and my partner in the movie was asked ‘what was is like to work with Zrinka?’ And he answered ‘you know when you have a feeling that you are standing on top of a cliff? Well I knew that I could throw myself off at any time because she was there to catch me.’
Well, that is the feeling that I had when I worked with Declan. It is just amazing and this last eight months has been such a beautiful journey; and it still is. He is pushing me to go deeper and further, and I am pushing him. It is just unbelievable.
- The show also has some fantastic music/songs in it, so how have you found tackling them?
It is amazing. It is so simple as you have four to six chords in every song. I think that it is the simplicity both in the music and in the story that really does touch everyone’s hearts. It is unbelievable what Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova did.
- How have you been finding the response to the show so far - it does seem to be going down incredibly well?
Amazing, yes. We have had 250 shows, including Dublin, and we have had a standing ovation; apparently, that is not something that is common in the West End.
What I like the most is the married couples that come to the show, and you can tell that the men are dragged by the wife to see the musical. But you see the men stand for the bow and they are clapping and there are tears in their eyes. #
I think that this show is great for every generation as it is about the only thing that matters: to find true love in your life. I think that everyone can connect with that.
- Throughout your career you have worked in TV and film as well as theatre so how do the mediums compare?
I think that musical theatre is a completely new world for me to explore. I always loved music; I went to music school when I was young but I never combined acting and music. Therefore, this was combining two of the big loves in my life. It is so different to classical theatre and shooting a movie.
Once is particularly different because there is no conductor on stage, there’s nobody who is running the show, it is just the twelve people on the stage relying on each other.
You have to have a bigger amount of concentration compared to a play or shooting; I feel like after doing this for a year there isn’t anything that I cannot do. I think I will have that kind of feeling.
- That does lead me into my next question. I was wondering what you felt you were getting out of musical theatre that perhaps don’t get from TV and film?
I don’t know what it’s like with other musicals, but when we are doing out own music each night it is almost like being a pop star. You come on the stage and you do a live concert each night; I have never had that chance before at all. When we went to Dublin, it was just crazy - it is their story.
When we had the previews, it really felt like being a Rolling Stone when you were on the stage as they just went crazy. I feel like I am more of a musician at the moment than I am an actor and that is a totally new thing for me.
- Finally, how long are you going to be with the show? And how are you enjoying working in the West End?
Our contract is until 16th March 2014, but we have just extended booking until the end of May. I think after that I am going to shoot a few movies; I will go back to my previous love (laughs).
When we opened up in the West End there was Helen Mirren playing on one theatre, Judi Dench in another and myself playing a lead; that was pretty unreal. I always respected the West End stage and actors a lot and I never saw myself standing on the stage with them. I feel really blessed and honoured.