Actor Ben Richards has worked his way up the ranks in British musical theatre. After starting in shows like Radio Times, Up on the Roof, Hot Mikado and Smokey Joe's Café, he secured the part of Kenickie in Grease.
Richards later joined the stage musical adaptation of disco classic Saturday Night Fever, taking over from Adam Garcia as leading man Tony Manero, the role immortalised on screen by John Travolta. He followed this up last year with the lead in another West End screen-to-stage hit, The Full Monty.
Now returned to Grease in the West End, Richards has graduated to playing lead T-bird Danny Zucco, for a second time filling the shoes of Travolta, who starred in the 1979 film after appearing in the stage show on Broadway.
Also like Travolta, Richards' talents beyond the musical theatre arena. After a few short films, his feature film credits have included Julie and the Cadillacs and Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis, with Rik Mayall and Jane Horrocks, while on television, he's appeared in Doctors and Holby City, amongst others.
Grease renews Richards' partnership with actress Joanna Farrell, the latest Sandy to his Danny. The pair have previously appeared on stage together in Saturday Night Fever and Smokey Joe's Café. Offstage, newlywed Richards took a fortnight's break from Grease for his honeymoon last month.
Date & place of birth
Born 27 March 1972 in West Sussex.
Lives now in...
Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom in Surrey.
Career highlights to date
Definitely playing Tony Manero. Also my first feature film - not so much doing it but going to my premiere. The film was called June and the Cadillacs, and though it was not the greatest movie, it was a big achievement just going to the opening and doing the paparazzi thing. I suppose another big one for me was playing Jerry in The Full Monty. That was such a great part.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Saturday Night Fever because of the sheer buzz value of playing this character that everyone wants to be, and the noise from the audience - they were very loud - and also The Full Monty for the experience of taking my clothes off in front of a thousand people every night!
Joanne Farrell has got to be up there. She's currently playing Sandy and we've worked together eight times in total: she played opposite me in Fever and Smoky Joe's Café, and we've done an advert and a film together. I've worked with some other really great actresses, too, like Julie-Alanah Brighten, who played my ex-wife in The Full Monty.
I had a chance to work with James Cellan Jones on Holby City. He was great. He's a very well-known director - he worked with Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson, before they were really big, on a TV series called Fortunes of War. He has only directed six episodes of Holby City - luckily mine was one of them. As for the stage, I only had a day with Jack O'Brien, the original director of The Full Monty, so there wasn't much chance to get to know him, but he was good, too.
Favourite song writers
With regard to lyricists, I like Wayne Hector, who wrote some of the earlier Boyzone hits and I think he did "Flying Without Wings". There's a song I recorded by him, some of his songs are lovely. As lyrics go, my favourite are probably Lionel Richie's, especially the Commodores stuff, and of course, Marvin Gaye.
I think Alan Bennett is one of the finest because his work still has such pathos.
What roles would you most like to play still?
In a musical, I would have to say the Ewan McGregor character in Moulin Rouge. Straight parts, well, I'd love to do Bond and, second to that, I'd really like to do any roles working with Dame Judi Dench, Al Pacino and Ed Norton, and I think it would be a crack to work with George Clooney.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Our House. It's a great piece, with great songs that take me back to my childhood. It's also well directed and very clever. A lot of thought has gone into how it's done, and they have a great, energetic cast. I especially like Matt Cross, who plays one of the baddies. He has the perfect combination of a natural acting style and believable characterisation. Michael Jibson, who plays the lead, is also very good. The annoying part is I went to a mid-week matinee, and it was only half full, which really depressed me. A lot of shows have to have an angle and a famous person in them to get audiences these days.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of theatre?
We need to sit down with all the theatre managers and producers and talk about modernising theatre. Too few people see it because it is too expensive, so we need to work out a way of getting prices down because theatre can be life-changing. We need to make it available to your average guy without it costing the same as a week in Spain. I don't think that the responsibility lies with the taxpayer, though. We need to sort it out or we are going to have a problem with a generation who's never been to the theatre.
If you could swap places with someone, who would it be?
Frank Sinatra in the heyday of the Rat Pack, definitely. I'd have loved to be him. It would have been so interesting.
River God by Wilbur Smith.
Favourite holiday destination
The Caribbean. I went to Turks and Caicos and that was incredible.
Favourite after-show haunts
My stage door pub in Victoria or, if I'm in town, Teatros or Souk.
If you hadn't been an actor, what would you have done professionally?
A fireman - to do something that makes a difference and also for the adrenaline rush. I'd like the active, physical side of it.
It's such a well-known part thanks to the film. How did you feel about stepping into Travolta's shoes?
I've had to step into his shoes before with Saturday Night Fever so I'm used to that. I watched the film again to see I'd got the essence right, but there's no point trying to do a carbon copy - I'm me! So there's a flavour of John Travolta, but I try and keep it honest to myself as well.
How difficult is it to keep the part fresh after a long run?
It's very difficult and it's a constant battle to do that every night. I go on and try to have different thoughts and really listen to the other actors, which helps a lot because no one says everything the same each night. I did a class in the Meisner technique at the Actors Centre, which helps keep it fresh because it's about listening.
What's the funniest thing that's happened in your run to date?
We had the guy singing "Those Magic Changes" blank his words, which was interesting. But things happen on a nightly basis - me and Jo are dreadful gigglers, anything sets us off.
What are your plans for the future?
I've been putting a lot of time and effort into my studies on the acting side of things and am looking to push more on the TV and film front. I'm also releasing my first single. It's a double-A side - "On My Own" and "Tempted". It'll be available on my website, www.benrichards.com. I'm also looking into other possible methods of distribution.
- Ben Richards was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
Grease continues its run at the West End's Victoria Palace Theatre, where it's currently booking up to 6 September 2003.