Interviews with James Monroe Iglehart
Read on to find out about his thoughts about a West End debut with Aladdin, the late great Robin Williams, his dream Disney characters to play on stage, Batman tattoos, and find out who his British crush is...
Hayden Thomas: There are a lot of rumours floating around about a West End premiere of Disney's Aladdin next year. Have you heard anything along the grapevine and would you consider a West End debut and transferring with the show yourself?
James Monroe Iglehart: Yes, I have heard the rumours that the show will have a West End premiere, but I don't know much about it – just rumours I hear, like everbody else. If it ever got to go, I would love to be able to go with it and perform it in the West End. Since I was in college, I've heard great things about London Theatre.
HT: Well, I'm sure they would love to have you over there. If it does get green lit, what can the London audiences expect from Aladdin?
JMI: I think they can expect a great night of amazing story-telling, great theatre and a lot of Disney magic. If there's one thing that Aladdin does, it provides Disney magic. They will also see that there's two different entities. There's Aladdin the animated feature and Aladdin the musical. Aladdin the musical is just as alive and just as vibrant and has a whole lot more. We have new songs, we have new twists and turns, and you also get to see someone up there doing it for real. You're not watching a cartoon – it's us up there, really sweating and making it happen.
HT: Speaking of the differences between the film and the stage musical, what are the main differences between your interpretation of the Genie and Robin Williams' original Genie (besides the fact that one is animated and one is live)?
JMI: I think the main difference is the two actors who portray them. Robin Williams is a legend. The late great Robin Williams - he can't be touched - so you don't want to try and immitate what a legend does. You have to take the 'genie-esque' from the animated film and put yourself into it. I have followed Robin's career for so long - when I first noticed him on 'Mork & Mindy' up to 'Aladdin' and other stuff. I thought to myself – I'm a funny person. What do I think is funny? And what can I do differently that won't be copying this man and would be doing my own thing? It was cool that our Director let me do that. But the main difference is Robin's Genie is the genius of Robin Williams and my Genie is James Monroe Iglehart.
HT: And are you also glad you don't have to paint yourself blue eight times a week?
JMI: (Laughs) Oh, you have no idea! I have a couple of friends who have played Elphaba in 'Wicked' and I have heard horror stories! But the fun part is that the others don't get to put glitter on every day, so they're jealous of me because I'm glittering all the time!
HT: I think the Blue Man Group probably go through enough blue paint on their own for one city! On a sadder note, after Robin Williams' tragic passing, do you feel any responsibility to honour his memory through the Genie?
JMI: I think as a Disney fan, myself personally, I needed to keep the 'Genie-esque' from the animated film. But it's also honourable to do your own thing. One of Robin's great gifts was that he had his own style. He didn't sound like anybody else. I wanted to do the same thing with me. But I do think it is my responsibility that the Disney fans still see the Genie that they love. But why would you pay a certain amount of money to watch the show, when you can watch the DVD at home? It's because you want to see something different. So when you pay your hard-earned money to see the show, you'll say: “Oh my gosh! That was worth the money I paid!” and not think this was just a carbon copy of what the cartoon was.
HT: So as a self-confessed Disney fan, James, if you could star in or direct any other Disney musical from the company's huge back catelogue of animated classics, movies, and all the other franchises it owns, what would it be and why?
JMI: When I was a kid, I was a huge 'Jungle Book' fan. If they ever decided to bring 'The Jungle Book' to Broadway, I would love to tackle Baloo. The other character I would love to try and tackle, if they ever decided to do 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' I would love to have a go at Oogie Boogie because I think that would be so much fun to play!
HT: I can really see that, James! I'll have a word with Mr. Burton when I next see him and see if we can make that happen!
JMI: (Laughs) Yes, if anyone knows Tim Burton, tell him to have a think about it and come and see 'Aladdin' and let me know. I think I'd be a great Oogie Boogie!
HT: I'm also a big comic book fan and I was following the DC Comics TV series 'Gotham,' and all of a sudden, I see your good self on the screen as the Ringmaster in one of the episodes. How does it work with branching out into TV work, when you're contracted to a Broadway show and how do you find the time to fit it all in?
JMI: What's cool about Broadway and life here is that once a show has run a certain amount of time, you have these things called 'outs.' You can take a couple of days out to film a TV series. I got this one shot to do 'Gotham' and they knew that I was a huge comic book fan. I do actually have the bat symbol on my arm and left shoulder, so Batman is a huge thing for me. I got that tattoo as a 30th Birthday present to myself. I've been walking around with the bat symbol on for a couple of years!
HT: So if Batman is your favourite superhero, who are your favourite Broadway actors (besides Adam Jacobs [Aladdin] and Courtney Reed [Princess Jasmine])?
JMI: My favourite Broadway actors are a guy called Chuck Cooper. He's one of my heroes and he's about to star in 'Amazing Grace' across the street. I also really love Brian Stokes Mitchell, who is a legend on Broadway doing 'Ragtime,' 'Kiss Me, Kate,' and 'Man of La Mancha,' and then there are guys like Norbert Leo Butz – when I see him on stage, his energy gets me every time. He's such a fun person to watch! When I first watched him, I thought that's how I've got to get my energy through. There are a couple of ladies too, like LaChanze and one of my favourites is Whoopi Goldberg. Watching Whoopi Goldberg on stage was like wow! Those are the kinda people I look up to... Ooh I'm forgetting one! The guy who started me off doing this whole thing was a guy called Ted Ross. He was the original Lion in 'The Wiz.'
HT: I was lucky enough to see Whoopi Goldberg star in 'Sister Act' at the London Palladium. I sat second row, James, and just looked up in awe for two and a half hours!
JMI: Ooh yes, I heard she was great! During this whole process with 'Aladdin,' she's been so wonderful to me. I was literally in awe of her too. She was so down-to-earth and so nice. Both Whoopi Goldberg and Chuck Cooper have been the sweetest people to me, when I met them.
HT: Lastly, do you have any favourite British actors of stage or screen?
JMI: Do you know who I love? I love Dame Helen Mirren! I had a crush on her. And a guy who's killing me now and I watch him in everything he's in is Benedict Cumberbatch. Besides 'Sherlock,' and 'Star Trek,' now he's about to be 'Doctor Strange' in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I could watch this guy forever just doing his thing!
HT: Yes, he's everywhere at the moment!
JMI: And I heard he's great on stage, so I can't wait to see him live.
HT: He was very good in 'Frankenstein' at the National Theatre and he's doing 'Hamlet' at the Barbican Theatre this Summer.
JMI: That's the trouble if I got to play the Genie in London. If I got to go over there, I'd just want to see everyone else in their shows rather than to do mine.
HT: Well, that about wraps us up, James. So, thank you for your time and we'll keep our fingers crossed for that West End debut with 'Aladdin.'
JMI: Hopefully so! Thank you very much.
Disney's Aladdin is currently booking at Broadway's Amsterdam Theatre through to 20 December 2015.