Kieran Jae graduated from Doreen Bird College in 2001. Since then he has appeared in shows such as Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre), Gypsy (West End / Chichester Festival Theatre), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Billy Elliot, All the Fun of the Fair, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia, The Witches of Eastwick, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Fame (UK tour), Dick Whittington (Hull New Theatre) and Cinderella (Liverpool Empire). His Television credits include Teachers, The Four Parts of Johnny Vegas, Saturday Night Take Away, Comic Relief, Children in Need, The X-Factor and The Royal Variety Performance. He also supported Elton John in concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
Lets start with how you got into theatre. Did you alway want to be on stage? When did you start dancing?
Well, I started performing at an early age in school plays and music concerts. I always had a passion for singing but didn’t really have any direction as I didn’t come from a musical or performing background. My mum and Nan (who I was brought up by) were hugely supportive and encouraged my passion and love for all things performing, plus I think it gave me an outlet to disburse all my excess energy as a child.
I always wanted to be on stage. I don’t know where I got the bug or how I became so addicted to performing but it is something that has been a driving force for along as I can remember.
I started dancing at the age of 12 which is when I first met my dance teacher Julie Bromage who was choreographing my first ever amateur production of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. We were partnered together (unfortunately for her) and I attempted to polka but I spent most of the dance treading on her toes. Luckily for me she saw potential in this hyper active teenager who danced like a labrador puppy that needed taming and training.
The rest they say is history. She was and still is my first inspiration and outlet to the world of theatre that wasn’t just on the television or a dream job. She trained me intensively for 4 years and then put me on the road to professional training. Which is when I got into world-renowned performing arts college Doreen Birds. The dream was starting to seem more reachable and possible.
Kieran in Mamma Mia
You’ve been in various shows over the years. Out of the roles you played, which ones have been your favourites and why?
My first would have to be the brother Tony in Billy Elliot. This show was more like a representation of my heritage and families history. Coming from a Geordie mining family and knowing what struggles the play spoke about and represented struck such a chord in me because I was playing out my grandfather’s and his friends’ and siblings’ life and troubles every night.
This was a show that I always wanted to be a part of and to get to play this part in particular I think has made me a better actor and ticked a huge professional goal for me.
Second would have to be performing the role of Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys in front of the real Bob Gaudio and him coming to see me after the show and telling me ‘How proud he was of himself tonight and also how he never knew he could sing that well’. This was a real honour.
Thirdly has to be working with and alongside the phenomenal Imelda Staunton. I’m not sure I can beat that one. Working with Imelda was like a daily acting master class. She taught me so much and so gracefully and kindly helped me make the role into my own with some wonderful tips on the way. Looking across at her during a scene and seeing how immersed in the role she was and the dedication she put into every show was HUGELY inspiring and something I will never forget and carry with me through the rest of my career.
What has been your most memorable moment on stage so far (good or bad – but hopefully the good ones are more memorable than the bad ones!)?
I think every opening night is a memory that I will photograph in my mind and keep in a special place. There is a feeling of unity and achievement on opening night that all the work you have all put in together over the rehearsal period has paid off and gets to be appreciated by an audience.
If I was to pin point a few I think definitely my opening night in my first job and West End debut Witches of Eastwick. Not only did it have an amazing theatrical end to the opening, it gave you a moment to look out front and stand still to the applause and I will never forget taking that in and thinking ‘It’s not a dream anymore’.
I think opening Gypsy in Chichester and watching Imelda do ‘Rose’s turn’ in front of an audience for the first time and seeing the audience’s reaction will be something I never forget, and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride and emotion on that first ever curtain call.
Lastly I think again my first time playing Tony in front of my Nan (who I sadly lost last year) was a night I will never forget as my granddad died when I was young so he never got to see me standing up their and representing him. But my Nan did and she said ‘it was one of the proudest moments of her life’ and I will NEVER forget her face smiling up at me with tears in her eyes on my bow.
A funny moment on stage was when I was in Jersey Boys playing Bob Gaudio I once slipped up on a line and instead of saying ‘The day after we were on American bandstand’ I said ‘The day after we were on American …. IDOL’. Oops!! The other 3 boys were facing upstage and all I could hear was them giggling at me. My heart jumped into my throat and it felt like hours had passed in the space on seconds. Forgetting your lines or fluffing them is always so disconcerting but looking back on it, it was funny.
Kieran as Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys
Are there any dream roles you would love to play?
Yes lots of roles I would still love to play but a couple in particular. As a student I remember seeing an actor called Simon Grieff who also trained at my performing arts college Doreen Birds. He was playing Bobby C in Saturday Night Fever at the London Palladium and I remember thinking I HAVE to play this role. He sang the song Tragedy which was then given to me as a solo in my end of year show in my 2nd year and I remember thinking that could be me. I saw it 10 times!!
Another role is Chris in Miss Saigon. It is such a strong male role and the show is such a piece of musical theatre history that to be part of its legacy at some point would be great.
Something else that I would love to be part of at some point in my career is the television prigramme Coronation Street. I have been a fan of this Northern soap since I was a kid. Back then it was a bit of a ritual to sit down at 7.30 to tune in. So to be part of something that is part of so many people’s lives would be great, especially as a Northerner.
Is there anyone you would love to work with at some point?
I would love the opportunity to work with Imelda again. I learnt so much from her work ethic and her pure class act both on and off stage.
Tim Minchin is someone else I would love to work with again. I have the privilege of now calling him a friend and someone I respect both professionally and personally and he is someone who has shown me so much support. He is a genius.
As a choreographer I would love to work with Susan Stroman. I’m a real admirer of her work especially her 1998 production of Oklahoma at the National Theatre. It’s just a masterpiece, so true to the original, yet so original.
Lastly I would love to work with British Director Jamie Lloyd one day. He is such a clever and innovative director with a great vision.
Kieran as Tony in Billy Elliot
Do you go to the theatre in your spare time? If so, what shows have you seen lately? Any recommendations?
Of course, watching theatre is one of my favourite things to do in any spare time when I get some. Whether it be socially with friends or to just be inspired for work. It’s what I love. I’ve always loved being in a theatre. Seeing things live is so exciting.
Things that inspired me: Definitely Denise Gough in People, Places and Things is up there for recent inspiring performances. She was incredible.
Amber Riley in Dreamgirls is like a vocal master class. I LOVED the show. The cast were so strong but in particular her performance was SO powerful.
Things I want to see: Ruth Wilson in Hedda Gabler and Angels in America at the National Theatre. Then, of course, Imelda in Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. I love the play anyway but I can’t wait to see what she does with the role. And lastly Stepping Out. I grew up with the film and have always wanted to see the stage production.
You were in the London cast of Groundhog Day at the Old Vic Theatre recently which is opening on Broadway soon. What was it like to be part of the show? Do you think it will do well with the Broadway audience?
This show was possibly one of the hardest to rehearse and to piece together just because of the complexity of it. Trying to bring all factors together, to make essentially the same day repeat on stage lots of times but with slight changes each day, this was a mine field. Equally it was one of the most rewarding. It is a masterpiece of new innovative theatre. Something fresh and modern with beautiful songs and very clever set design and magic tricks up its sleeves. Tim Minchin, Peter Darling and Matthew Warchus did an incredible job and I have no doubt it is going to be a huge hit on Broadway. The piece is very American, it has American values, it celebrates normal American people, so people relate to the characters. They know and love the film and Andy Karl who is playing the Bill Murray role Phil did a phenomenal job here, and I have no doubt he will do an even better job over there. So in answer to your question, yes I think it will be a hit on Broadway.
Kieran (right) in Groundhog Day
Talking about Broadway, do you think New York holds more opportunities for performers than London these days?
I don’t think it holds more or less opportunities. I think both places are special and give different opportunities. I do love how Americans are so fearless though. They have such belief in their abilities whereas here we are a little more reserved in that respect. I also like that Americans don’t pigeonhole actors whereas I think a lot of the time here we are put into boxes. If you do musical theatre it’s harder to move into straight theatre or television. Over there if you can act, you can act in what ever form or genre. Equally though I love the heritage we have here, I love the calibre of work we have here and our British sense of pride in our work and craft. I think New York and London are both such special places for an actor. It is true what they say it really is where dreams are made.
What are your plans for 2017 so far? Anything you can share? Can we catch you on stage again sometime soon maybe?
Last year was quite life changing for me personally losing someone so close to me but I think it has taught me to make braver decisions about my life, to not let life pass me by and to live every day to the most. So this year so far is turning out to be new and exciting for me and I’m excited about what the rest of the year holds. For once I haven’t committed to a long running contract with a show and it has given me other incredible opportunities. I have just finished recording vocals for the new Mary Poppins movie, under the creative genius of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, and then recorded some vocals for Adele’s new Australian tour which was also very exciting. I continue to teach my students which I truly love. I love inspiring students who are training to work in this amazing industry. Passing on the knowledge and tools I have learnt in my own career on to the next generation of performers is something I feel incredibly passionate about.
Last not least lets look into the future: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I see myself hopefully married with someone wonderful to share my life with. I would like to try and live in another country to explore what another country has to offer. I would like to see a lot more of the world. I would like to hope and think I will still be acting, and honing my craft and I would like to still be teaching and inspiring students at the same time.
I feel very lucky in what I have achieved in my life and career so far and if I can spend the next 10 years similar to the last 10, I will be a very happy man.
Thank you Kieran for taking the time for this interview. Here’s to a successful and inspiring 2017.