Monday, 11 July 2016

INTERVIEW - Lee Mead in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Lee Mead as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Credit Alastair Muir

LEE Mead became a household name in 2007 when he won the BBC TV show, Any Dream Will Do. It secured him the title role in the West End revival of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice classic, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat winning critical acclaim for his performance and an army of fans along the way.
Since then the 35-year-old's star has been in the ascendant - he's had lead roles in several West End musicals including Wicked, has released four solo albums and has won legions of fans as Lofty in the BBC's long running medical drama Casualty.
He's currently on a year-long sabbatical from the show to take on what he describes as his "dream job" of Caractacus Potts in the musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The production is coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre next week and in a chat between shows he tells me he can't wait.
"It's also so much fun and to work with such a brilliant cast and go to some great places on the tour is fantastic," he says.
"I love the theatre in Wimbledon - it's such a great venue and the town and the Common are lovely so I'm really pleased to be back here.
"Caractacus is such a great part and by far the biggest role I've ever done," he adds enthusiastically.
"I saw the film as a kid and loved it and so to be playing Potts, well it's just a dream, although it's exhausting - every night I come off stage absolutely soaked!
"It's a real work out and I've lost over a stone in weight."
Despite these assertions, Lee positively brims with enthusiasm for the role and if he's tired, he certainly doesn't sound it.
It's also second time lucky for him in getting the role after missing out in 2002 to be cover for one Michael Ball.
"It was an open audition and I really wanted it but I am not a dancer," he explains. "To be the cover and understudy you have to able to dance and although I could act and sing, I couldn't pick up the dance routine so I didn't get through.
"But now after three hours a day of practice over four weeks with choreographer Stephen Mear, I've managed to do it and can now do The Old Bamboo which is incredibly intricate so a real personal achievement for me. "
It's not just the dancing that Lee is enthusiastic about though. The whole story is one he loves and he says he feels an affinity to his alter ego.
"When it was offered to me it was a no brainer," he says. "The story is brilliant, the set is stunning, the songs are beautiful with a real mix from ballads to up tempo ones and the characters are fantastic.
"Caractacus is a joy to play so to have a chance to play him at this time in my career is wonderful. I'm 35, a single dad with a six year old daughter so I can relate to him on so many levels.
"This is a man who is a grafter and the relationship he has with his kids is the most important thing to him.
"But then he meets Truly and although there is a class difference and it starts of as quite a fiery relationship, you see them find common ground and their relationship grow.
"One of my favourite songs in the show is Hushabye Mountain - it's ultimately about the relationship with his kids but it's also the point at which he decides at that moment to move forward and allow himself a chance at finding happiness."
The role was made famous in the film by Dick Van Dyke and although there may be comparisons, Lee says he's making the part his own.
"I've definitely put my own stamp on him," he says. "Dick Van Dyke was of course terrific as Potts and although I'm sure some people will compare us, I've made him completely me and tried not to think about how and what he did.
"I've made Potts sincere, a man who loves his family but who is guarded because he's a widow - there is clearly a lot of pain there."
Lee speaks with genuine affection for the role and throughout our chat he is honest, open, friendly and down to earth. In fact, one of the nicest men you could possibly speak to.
And his down to earth attitude is no fa├žade as he tells me he has kept his feet very firmly on the ground since he won Any Dream Will Do. In fact he remains very humble and modest.
"I take my job really seriously and try and have fun in each job I do, but I don't take the business seriously," he says. "It's not saving lives or brain surgery - that's pressure!
"I'm just a normal lad who was out of work for a long time before I got this break. I wanted to play football for Chelsea but realised quite quickly I wasn't very good as I was always the substitute.
"I was 18 when I started out, after having done school productions. I started out at the bottom, working on a cruise ship for £150 a week. I had the best time, got paid and kept going, working hard and trying to improve. It made me appreciate what came next for me."
And happily since his break he's been in regular work and has a schedule for the next year that would make lesser mortals weep - with the long Chitty tour, panto at Christmas at the Palladium, plus working on a fifth album and going back to Casualty.
"It appears as though I'm busy but it's like this for most dads," he laughs. "My dad did 80 hours a week and most of my friends do 12 hour days as very few of us are able to do less.
"I'm lucky though as I get time off between jobs so I can spend time with my daughter. However although it's been an amazing 10 years, I will and can never take it for granted.
"The whole glamour of the business isn't real - what's real is going home to my kid, having a cup of tea and being with family and friends - just like Potts."


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from Wednesday July 20 until Saturday, July 30. Visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for full listings.

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