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20 Questions: Katie Brayben - 'Playing Carole King is my biggest challenge yet'

The Beautiful star recently tipped as one of our 15 faces to watch in 2015 talks meditating at the piano, playing Princess Di and fighting over naked actors

'I've always loved being in a fantasy world' - Katie Brayben
© Craig Sugden

1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in South East London. Born and raised in the borough of Lewisham.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
I watched an unhealthy amount of TV as a kid. I've always loved being in a fantasy world rather than reality.

3. If you hadn't become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I write songs too so I always had a parallel desire to be a successful singer-songwriter. But other than that? I really have no other life skills!

4. First big break?
I'd say my first big break was probably a musical I did at the Lyric Hammersmith called Some Girls are Bigger than Others using the music of The Smiths. I got the audition through a friend I'd met during theatre workshops in Poland; she was assistant directing and recommended me to meet the creative team. I'm very grateful to her for that.

5. What's been your most challenging role to date?
Definitely Carole King! Each role has it's own specific challenges but in Beautiful I hardly leave the stage.

6. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I have two memorable shows. One was Hair at the Old Vic. I was really young and me and my friends all sat right at the back and I happened to have the binoculars when everyone got naked. It was thrilling. There was a real fight between us for the binoculars because everyone was desperate to get a look. I know that sounds creepy but actually it was liberating to see all these wonderful performers singing their lungs out completely starkers. And the other was Trevor Nunn's Cherry Orchard at The National. I wanted to be Eve Best. I thought her Varya was extraordinary.

In Mike Bartlett's King Charles III at the Almeida
© Johan Persson

7. And the last?
I just saw Merchant of Venice at the Almeida. Rupert Goold has this gift of predicting the relevance of a piece. Even though it's a revival of a production from a few years ago, I think it's is perfectly timed. We haven't moved on from the prejudices in the play, despite the fact it was written over 400 years ago.

8. How long did it take you to perfect Princess Diana's voice in King Charles III?
Well, I'd been offered the role without ever having to do it, so during the first read through I was like, 'oh no! I've got to do her voice?!' So after that disaster I just listened to her famous Panorama interview on repeat - much to the annoyance of the dressing room, as I used to play it every show before I went on stage. So in summary, it took me a while!

9. Who are your acting idols?
There are so many but here are a few: Julie Walters, Tim Piggot Smith (I learnt so much from working with him), Alison Steadman and the whole cast of The West Wing. I think for me it's specific performances that I get excited by, rather than certain actors.

10. What's your worst habit?
Erm, my boyfriend would probably say that I'm habitually forgetful. I'm not sure how the lines stay in...

11. Proudest moment?
I don't have one proudest moment but every time I see my parents or my sister perform (they're songwriters and musicians) I feel immensely proud. Also, when I see any of my friends on stage.

12. How much did you know about Carole King before getting cast?
I was a huge fan of her album Tapestry. I grew up listening to it. So I loved her already. But what I didn't know was how much of her and Gerry's music I knew and adored already and hadn't realised they'd written.

13. What did you have to do at audition?
My first audition I decided to sing "Natural Woman", and accompanied myself on the piano. Then the second round I performed three songs and four scenes. I then had three more auditions to an ever increasing panel and a camera.

Natural Woman: Katie Brayben as Carole King

14. Describe the show, in a nutshell?
The show covers Carole's life from 16 to 29 starting with her upbringing in Brooklyn, meeting and falling in love with Gerry and their subsequent prolific work relationship and their heartbreaking personal relationship. We also see the flourishing of Carole's solo career. In amongst all that you'll find The Drifters, The Shirelles and of course Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Their amazing songs and their personal relationship.

15. What's your favourite Carole King song?
It changes every day. At the moment it's "You've Got A Friend" - the chord changes are so clever and gospel-y and it's such a supportive wonderful song. And very Carole. She's a generous, loving soul. And this song really shows her heart.

16. Have you met her?
I haven't met her. I feel like I have with the research I've been doing! I'd love to meet her. It would be a dream.

17. How do you unwind?
Seeing friends. I unwind mostly on a Sunday so big breakfasts, the newspaper, books, walks and music. My meditation is playing the piano.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I'd swap places with the Prime Minister and put in place 100 percent renewable energy now before we don't have a planet anymore.

19. Favourite theatre joke?
Oh, I don't think I know any theatre jokes... I'll make one up... Why did the actor cross the road? Because she wanted to get some ginger lozenges from the independent organic shop.

20. Dream roles?
Masha in Three Sisters, Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Hamlet are a few that have been on my list for a while, but actually I love new writing and I didn't ever dream I'd be playing Carole King, so perhaps my other dream roles haven't been written yet.

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical opens at the Aldwych Theatre on 24 February 2015 (previews from 10 February). For more information and tickets, click here.