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Fox Jackson-Keen On ... Phillip Pullman's I Was a Rat

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Fox Jackson-Keen starred in the title role of Billy Elliot in the West End and learned a great deal from the experience, playing to packed audiences night after night. He now stars in Phillip Pullman's I Was a Rat produced by Birmingham Repertory Company. The production is headed for Salford on tour.

How did you get into acting?
One of the things that my dad got me to try was gymnastics. I became the best gymnast in London at age 9, 10 and 11. More importantly doing well in that gave me a massive confidence boost and I had a go at street dance,  that led to some adverts,  which I really enjoyed, which led to a desire to attend stage school. I wasn’t there very long and had already been bitten by the performing bug, when the chance to audition for Billy Elliot came up, I pestered my dad to let me go, which he did and I was off, acting
Do you mind people referring to Billy Elliot all of the time?
No, absolutely not, I loved Billy Elliot, I did over 200 performances. I still have great friends I met there and still chat to the creative and production staff. It was a very big part of my education.  I went in as a 12 year old and came out age 14 ½. It was the most amazing experience and I learnt so, so much
The schedule for that show must be quite punishing but at the same time rewarding?
The daily acting classes, the daily ballet, tap, and contemporary dance classes, and most importantly for me the performing. I loved and still love performing. Billy is in a huge theatre and having 1200 people stand up to give you an ovation there is nothing like it. As I said, my debut was as a 12 year old and you get through it with energy and enthusiasm but as one gets to understand Billy’s journey you realise that for all the actors that play Billy, it’s actually our journey and it becomes very personal and very powerful. It’s a brilliant role and I am very honoured to have had the chance to share it with the audience   
What are your favourite moments of being in the show?
I can’t go further than my final performance of "Electricity" in my last show as Billy Elliot., it’s the key dance in the show and is always a high point. Doing that in front of a packed audience that contained all my friends and family. Hearing the roar that went up as I completed my back somersault was totally amazing. Funniest moment performing with my best friend Tom Holland (he’s currently in The Impossible with Ewan MacGregor) in Billy. The guy that played Michael was sick and Tom stood in, we had such fun all the way through.     
What attracted you to the part in I Was A Rat! and the piece itself?
The big draw for me was first Philip Pullman, I know his work and knew the book of I Was A Rat! very well, and then as soon as I met her – the director Teresa Ludovico. Her vision for this play was, and is fantastic. It is a remarkable piece of work     
Pullman creates dark worlds that both children and adults enjoy. Was that a draw for you?

It’s a fairy story, a fairy story with a great heart. Like all good fairy stories, there are some fun bits, some dark bits but we all end up in a very happy place. My character Roger can’t understand why things are happening to him, after all he used to be rat!
Is there a scene in the play that you particularly enjoy doing and why?
My dance for Mr Tapscew is great and really good fun.  But for emotion, I love the scene when my mother the rat comes to reassure me that everything is going to be OK. Roger has been on a terrible journey everyone has tried to take advantage of him/ me, they beat me, and my real mother arrives to support me, love me and literally lift me up. It’s a really powerful scene.

With so many shows touring, what makes this one stand out do you think?
This is the show to see this year, the vision of Teresa is unique, the cast is multi-talented and it’s got everything, it will make you laugh and cry and there is even a chance to clap along. What else does one need?
What is your favourite book and why?
The Hungry Caterpillar, no not really although I do love that book, but I have so many favourites,  Darren Shan, some Harry Potter and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
What was the last thing you saw on stage and loved?
I love the work of Matthew Bourne, I've seen Cinderella, the Nutcracker and Edward Scissorhands. Such great storytelling.
Are there any parts you hanker after and would love to play?
Do you know what? I'm 17 now and have been acting solidly since I was 9, I'd love to do some Shakespeare professionally but really, I just want to keeping getting better as an actor and be able to bring characters to life.
How do you keep yourself entertained during a long runner or a long tour?
There is always loads to do, rehearsals, notes, conditioning, Even just chatting to the guys in the cast, it’s always full on.

Many audience members ask how performers keep a part and production fresh night after night. What's your secret?
Well, when I was in Billy they used to say, this might be your 100th performance, (or whatever the number was) but for the audience it’s their first time and you've got to make it as special as your first time. That's what I focus on, making it special every time.   
Are there any actors you admire and why?
Wow! There are loads, Kevin Spacey, Hugh Jackman and I suppose my favourite at the moment is James McAvoy, would love to get time to see Macbeth.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
That's a very tricky question, still acting of course but in major parts like Macbeth.   
How is it performing in front of so many children?

It’s great, I love it, the kids bring and energy to just sitting in the audience, the theatre crackles when kids are in, we can feel it on stage.   
Lastly, what plans have you got following this tour?
I think we are a bit too early into the run, we've only done three weeks, and we have a long way to go, to have plans for after.  I'm really focused on I Was A Rat! but I'll be ready for the next challenge whatever that is.

Phillip Pullman's I Was a Rat plays at the Lowry from 7 - 11 May.


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