Interview with Sunset Boulevard star Michael Xavier
Two-time Olivier Award nominee Michael Xavier is currently making his Broadway debut in the leading male role of Joe Gillis in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at Broadway's Palace Theatre until June 25, 2017.
Michael will also appear in the Manhattan Theatre Club's upcoming Broadway premiere of Prince of Broadway: A Musical Celebration Of The Career Of Harold Prince at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from August 3, 2017.
His many UK theatre credits include The Secret Garden, Assassins, The Pajama Game, The Sound of Music, Love Story, Into The Woods, Oklahoma!, The Phantom of the Opera and My Fair Lady, among many others.
We caught up with Michael to talk about Sunset's journey from the West End to Broadway, nights out with Glenn Close, and roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood today...
Thomas Hayden Millward: When you were starring in the London production, was a Broadway transfer always on the cards? If not, how did you first find out about it?
Michael Xavier: No, it wasn’t always on the cards. We did the Sitzprobe – which is the first time we get chance to sing with the orchestra. We finished the Sitzprobe and we had the whole team there. We had 70 people in the orchestra playing on that day because we had a 20-piece extra strings section that were going to be vetting in and out. We had this incredible sound and we ran the whole show and at the end of it, Glenn [Close] was standing next to me and the producers came up to Glenn and said that the New York audiences would love this show and that we should really take it to New York. And she put her arm around me and said: “Well, I’m not doing it without him!” I thought “Wow! That was cool!” But you take these sort of things with a pinch of salt in this business. People love to talk and get excited about projects. I did think that would be wonderful - to go to Broadway. But in the back of my mind I was thinking: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Then there was more talk about it throughout the run and there were hopes it might happen. Then they found the Palace Theatre and we thought that was the best theatre for it and that it would be great. Then they were trying to negotiate timings. There’s all sort of different things that have to go together when transferring a show. There is so much involved. The cast is one of the last things you have to worry about really (laughs).
THM: And you must have felt ecstatic when you finally got the phone call.
MX: Well, this is quite a funny story. I eventually got a phone call from Glenn and I was in LA at the time. I had gone with a group of friends and one of them had organised one of those bus tours where you go around various celebrities’ houses. I had no idea that this sort of thing existed and I wasn’t sure whether it was a really uncool thing to do until I saw The Oscars. What was nice about it actually was that it was a good way to get driven around and see LA and its different suburbs, so we were quite pleased with it. So we’re driving around on this bus and I’m sitting at the front next to the tour guide and he’s sat there, chatting away. My phone is then buzzing away in my pocket. I pulled my phone out and it’s Glenn ringing me! I was like: “I can’t answer the phone now to Glenn Close! There’s no way this tour guide is going to believe me!” - “Just a minute. Glenn Close is calling me.” - “Yeah, right!” So I didn’t answer the call and then I got a text from Glenn saying to call her as soon as I could. So, as soon as we finished the tour, I called her back and she screamed down the phone: “We’re going to Broadway!!!”
THM: I thought Glenn was going to say: “Was that you I just spotted driving past my LA mansion and pointing into my windows?”
MX: (Laughs) “I’ve just put the kettle on!”
THM: So, Glenn made her West End debut with this production and you’re making your Broadway debut with it now. Have you been looking after each other in each other’s respective cities?
MX: We’ve become great friends actually, which is really lovely. When I first met Glenn I thought: “I’m working with a big Hollywood star. I’m just gonna go in and do the best job I can. I will bring my a-game and hopefully we’ll have a nice working relationship and I won’t upset her too much.” She has exceeded that expectation tenfold. She has become a really great friend. She took me out for dinner after the show last night. She said: “You know we haven’t hung out for a while. Let me take you out to dinner.” So she just took me down to a restaurant near where she lives in the West Village in New York and we just sat and chewed the fat. It was lovely. So, to answer your question, we have been looking after each other. I took her out in London because she didn’t know that many people in London. We went out and saw a couple of other shows and went for dinners. She was in a foreign land and obviously she knows people within the industry and lots of people visited her in London, but it was nice to feel that she had a support network in London, when she was working there. She has returned the favour in that way. She’s such a lovely human being, aside from being an amazing actress. It’s just been a joy from start to finish to work with her.
THM: Glenn is, of course, playing Norma Desmond, who is now roughly 20 years younger than her. Sunset Boulevard explores the idea of women of a certain age becoming overlooked or forgotten in Hollywood and still there aren’t a great deal of film roles for older ladies today. Would you say there are more opportunities for women of a certain age on Broadway or in the West End than in Hollywood?
MX: Hmmmm that’s a good question. I suppose there are more plays out there for older women. I feel that, certainly in musical theatre, it seems geared towards younger performers. I’m not sure really why that is. Glenn has proven that you don’t have to be young to be fit and healthy. She’s got it all. She’s bouncing up and down the staircase every day. She hasn’t gone off sick – touching wood right now – and she’s done every single show. Yes, I think there is still the stigma in Hollywood of the ageing star. The good thing is that back in the 50s in the story we tell in Sunset Boulevard of the Hollywood industry, Norma Desmond hits fifty and she was practically over-the-hill. There were no roles for women at fifty. Now, there are more roles for women of that age, but, essentially, there could always be more.
THM: There’s no rest for the Wicked, Michael, because you were also just cast in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s upcoming Broadway premiere of ‘Prince of Broadway.’ Is there anything you can tell us yet about your character, the script or the production itself?
MX: Well, I can’t tell you about the script because I haven’t received one yet (laughs). All I know is that this show is essentially going to be like a musical revue of all of Hal Prince’s greatest hits, if you like. Hal Prince is one of the most prolific Broadway directors, who is now in his 80s and nearing his 90s and he’s incredible for his age. He has directed some of the greatest shows over the years – West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, loads of Stephen Sondheim shows – and so it’ll be a conglomeration of all his fabulous work. I’m playing lots of different characters from his different shows like Company and Evita, which he originally directed. It is such an amazing team to work with and I would have been stupid to turn it down. It’s Hal Prince and Susan Stroman is choreographing it. Jason Robert Brown is the musical supervisor. He’s also written some new arrangements. The team is incredible. It would be crazy for me having come to Broadway and then land my second Broadway show only to turn it down.