American Jarrod Emick may not be a big name in the West End (yet), but his place in the illustrious musical firmament of Broadway is undisputed.

That status comes down more than anything to one show - Damn Yankees, the classic Faust-meets-baseball musical which was revived, in 1994, to great acclaim under the direction of Jack O'Brien. Much of the acclaim was down to Emick's starring performance as Joe Hardy, which won him no fewer than three Best Actor in a Musical Awards - a Drama Desk Award, Theatre World Award and a Tony.

Emick's other stage credits include: on Broadway, Miss Saigon and The Rocky Horror Show; on US tours, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables; and elsewhere, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, South Pacific, Grease, Death of a Salesman and Bus Stop.

He has also appeared on American television in LA Firefighters, Andersonville, It's True and Pacific Palisades.

Emick is currently making his West End debut of the musical The Full Monty, directed by Damn Yankees' O'Brien, which opened earlier this month at the West End's Prince of Wales Theatre.

Date & place of birth
Born 2 July 1969 in Fort Eustas, Virginia, USA.

Lives now in...
Right now I'm living in Manhattan, but I'm from a little town called Oral in South Dakota. My father owns a farm there; that's home.

Trained at...
I did two years at South Dakota State University where I took all the music and theatre classes they had to offer. I don't think I took one core class, much to my dismay of parents, and I didn't graduate. A friend of mine had an extra room in New York City so I seized the opportunity to go.

First big break
I was put on a tour of Les Miserables. I did one-week stops all over the States. That was my first professional job. I was 21 and it was like a paid vacation - and it got me into the union.

Career highlights to date
From the Les Mis tour, I moved to Miss Saigon, I was one of the covers for Chris and eventually I got to go on. Then they had me open the show in Chicago where we played ten months, before going to Boston for two months and then back to New York. That was a great thing - it was the first time I got my picture up front. My big year came in 1994 when I played Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, which was directed by Jack O'Brien who has also directed The Full Monty. The folks back home saw me on TV and that was the stamp of approval as far as they were concerned. South Dakota is not exactly a theatre arts mecca but they've been incredibly supportive. After Damn Yankees and The Tonys, I made a trip home and my whole town was waiting for me down at the fire hall. They all came down and made a lot of food. It was quite moving.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
I had a ton of fun doing Damn Yankees. I love to play baseball so that went right down my power alley. I also had a ton of fun doing The Rocky Horror Show, which I left to do The Full Monty. That's a whole 'nother ball game, it's unlike any other theatre experience. We didn't play the movie, we did a fresh new version of it under the supervision of Richard O'Brien and Chris Malcolm. You know that audience response thing is something - you either really groove on it or it throws you right off. As Brad, I really grooved on it. Everybody was having so much fun.

Favourite co-stars
Victor Garber who I worked with on Damn Yankees. I think everyone should have the pleasure and honour of working with that man - he's such a professional, such a gentleman. And from Rocky Horror, Alice Ripley - I think the world of her. But I've liked so many of the people I've worked with; as you get older, you only want to work with people you like.

Favourite directors
Jack O'Brien is one of the most intelligent, well-read, well-spoken directors you're going to find. Period. He leaves you alone if you're on the right track, but if you're veering off a bit, he coaxes you back in and makes you feel as if you've discovered it, as if you're in control. And this is a guy who turns down literally hundreds of offers. He doesn't want to do the same thing all the time, he's totally into the new stuff. There's a whole breed of great directors coming up in New York. I also liked Chris Ashley, the young guy who did Rocky Horror - he's super smart, one of these Ivy League boys.

Favourite playwrights
I'm a big William Inge - Picnic, Bus Stop. It's such powerful material, much like Tennessee Williams. I also like Terrence McNally, who wrote the book for The Full Monty. These writers understand the power of a word - they know about saying as much as possible with as little as possible.

Favourite musical writers
You've got to love the old stuff. Rodgers and Hammerstein are still fantastic. Those were the days when musicals were winning Oscars for Best Picture. I'd love to see that come back. Maybe Baz Luhrmann will start it with Moulin Rouge. He's a genius.

Favourite choreographers
I'm not much of a dancer so anybody who can get me to move is good. Jerry Mitchell, who's choreographed The Full Monty is great. His positive energy never stops, I don't know where he gets it from. Also, Robbie Marshall who did Damn Yankees. People like Jerry and Robbie, they take the artist, whoever it is, whatever their level of ability, and make them look their best. They don't leave you out to dry.

What roles would you most like to play still?
I'd like to work at the Old Globe in San Diego where Jack O'Brien is the artistic director. I think I've got him talked into Inge's Bus Stop - I so want to do that. I really like the new stuff too. To do a play in New York would also be fantastic. But you find people say a lot, oh, he's a musical theatre actor, he can't do plays. I can't do anything with that attitude. I think that will change over time. With acting, you get much better with age, full maturity comes with life experiences. And I think you should be versatile - the techniques might change but the craft of acting doesn't.

What does performing in the West End mean to you? What do you think are the main differences between here & the US?
I never thought it (working in the West End) would ever happen. The theatre in London is so fantastic. The worst part of working here is that I don't have a chance to see more. I'm hoping to stick around at the end of my contract and see more plays. The emphasis on theatre in this country is so profound. For me, seeing the British in their element is fantastic. They have a way about them that Americans will never be able to copy. I can't explain it. It means a lot to me to be a part of it. I'm very proud and very honoured.

What advice would you give the government (American or British) to secure the future of theatre?
How about a lot more theatre scholarships? I remember at South Dakota State when I found out that all the proceeds from the Pepsi machines in the theatre department went to the football team. That made me really angry. I put signs on every machine informing people about where their money was going and nearly got thrown out of the university. How is it right that an athlete, a guy who barely made it thru high school, has got the full ride at college when actors get nothing? You need funding early on in kids' lives. I mean, football's a great thing, but you can really get hurt, careers end young and then you're limping around for the rest of your life. Theatre you can do forever.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I'd like to be in Harrison Ford's shoes, sitting up on my Montana ranch. You never see him in The Enquirer or The Sun. I like to do the job and then get away. I don't want to rabble on with other actors; I'd rather go home and go fix something or ride my bike. Lead a simple life.

Favourite book
I'm not much of a reader, which didn't help me at all in school. In fact, that's the quickest way I can fall asleep - just start reading and I'm out. I did enjoy Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air about the expedition up Mount Everest.

Favourite holiday destination
Hawaii - it's paradise and I don't mean Honolulu. That's the opposite of what Hawaii is to me. I like to go up north or down to the Big Island. I'm a big scuba diver. I'd love to get down to do some diving in Pulau in the Indonesian islands. Anywhere where life's very simple and I don't have to wear shoes.

What did you want to accept your part in The Full Monty?
It's important to be comfortable with who you are as an actor and to find the stuff closest to you when you can. Jerry's very close to me. He's this macho guy who's always been a leader and then, all of a sudden, the rug's pulled out from under him and he doesn't know how to react. The relationship between him and his friend Dave is amazing, too, and similar to me and my best friend Brian who I've known since fifth grade. Brian didn't have weight problem like Dave, but he was kind of a geek when he was younger - he blossomed later, though. I also think Jerry is a great character study, I dig the journey that Terrence McNally has created for him. It's hard to make a good guy interesting, but Terrence has done that.

What's your favourite number from The Full Monty?
"Big-Ass Rock". When I first saw the show, that's the one I left humming. It's also the epitome of Jerry and Dave's relationship.

What's your favourite line from The Full Monty?
"I don't know what they're screaming about, they've got the real thing waiting for them at home."

What did you think of the original film?
It's fantastic, such a great story. And Robert Carlyle is a favourite of mine - I loved him in Trainspotting too. I really enjoyed it. I had to get the DVD so I could hit replay a lot because I couldn't understand any of what they were saying at first.

How do you think the Americanisation of The Full Monty story goes down with British audiences?
I really hope they'll take this show as a big compliment to the movie. We're not trying to duplicate or diminish the original. This is an American musical, but the issues that it tackles are so universal. The thing could be set in Zimbabwe.

- Jarrod Emick was speaking to Terri Paddock

The Full Monty is playing at the Prince of Wales Theatre.