‘Downton Abbey’ star Lesley Nicol has a new adventure – an autobiographical musical titled ‘How the Hell Did I Get Here?’ – and she brings it to the McKittrick Hotel in New York. Nicol took the time to speak with Gay City News about his latest work.
Christopher Byrne: So let’s start by asking how the hell did you get here?
Lesley Nicol: well [laugh], very good question, Chris. I met my friend, Mark Mueller, who is a great songwriter in Los Angeles. We met socially and we were friends, and then one day I said to him: “I have this bug of doing a show”, but it will not be a cabaret because I am not a cabaret. I’m an actor who sings and it’s different, you know? So I just have this feeling. I want to do something that I can do. And he said, “Well, that’s vague, isn’t it?” I said yes [laugh], very,” and so he said, “I think I better come to your house and we better talk about it. I said, “Yes, please. If you don’t mind.”
And originally, because I know he’s a really good songwriter, I thought that would be sweet. Once we started, none of us could stop. So I would tell him a story and they would say, “Well, it’s a song.” And then it would become a song maybe the next day. He is so fast. That’s how we got here. That’s how it happened.
Byrne: And it’s an incredible sight. It really covers your life from childhood to your turns in “Downton Abbey”.
Nicholas: It does. And let me just try to explain – it’s hard to explain this because unless you’ve seen the show you probably don’t really know what I’m talking about but I just want people know that it’s not exclusively about me. It’s not meant to be exclusively about me. Of course it is. I tell you things that happened, but we always wanted it to be something that anyone would come and see and say “Oh my God, yes, I remember what happened to me” or a version of, and I’m going to tell you one of the love stories that happened in Chicago. Because we just spent three weeks in Chicago, and five drag queens came to see the show, not in drag unfortunately, but they did, they were drag queens. And one told my producer afterwards, “I sat for the last hour and kinda laughed and cried with Leslie and saw my whole life in front of me.” Yeah. And you kinda go, “Oh good. It’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s not the Leslie Nichol show. It really isn’t.
Byrne: I read a lot about you, and another thing that you and I have in common is that we both went on a diet when we were kids and created a whole kind of compositional complexity around body and image bodily. Tell a little about yourself and how you overcame it.
Nicholas: I love that. That’s so good, isn’t it? Because people assume it’s a feminine thing and it’s not. My mom put me on a diet because she had her own weight issues. It’s all in the show. We even wrote a song about it. It took me years to figure out that it wasn’t really about “I don’t like you because you’re gaining weight” it was that she was so fucked up by the weight herself that She wasn’t balanced about it. . So that caused her to behave irrationally and blame me for it.
Byrne: Any other funny stories about people you’ve met [in your work]?”
Nicholas: Well, the saddest thing is that we weren’t allowed to meet people after, of course, because of COVID. However, we have a board we put up at the end that says we’re really sorry, we can’t say hello, because it’s just me and Mark. There is a real fear that we have COVID and the show is over.
It’s everything I hoped it would be… but there’s a moment at the end of the show when I’m at the premiere in London’s Lester Square, and I’m sobbing when the movie starts because my mum and my dad aren’t here now…and, you know, it’s a time when you’re like, “Oh, that’s too bad. But that’s the kind of stuff people will relate to.
Byrne: Yeah. And the fact that your parents left, I mean, I had the same experience for me. It’s like, wow. I just wrote a book. My mom always dreamed that, you know, I would actually have a book. And, you know, it’s like she would, she would have appreciated that.
Nicholas: Totally. And that’s what I say about my two. I mean, my dad gets a round of applause because I talk about him a lot throughout the story – because he was very important and he was so loyal to me. And actually, if it’s a good night, I get a round of applause for having my first boyfriend, because people are so with me on this terrible journey of squinting and being a little tall and you know, not very confident.
Byrne: In the United States, there are more young people interested in performing and pursuing a career in the performing arts than ever before. And that’s a lot more possible than, say, when I was a kid, when, you know, boys didn’t tap dance. And now you see all of this. What would you say to a young person starting out who wants to pursue a career in the performing arts?
Nicholas: Don’t do it unless you’re desperate to do it. And the thing is, if you’re desperate to do it, then no one is going to stop you. That’s the truth. But you have to have that hunger because the problem is that in this day and age, because of social media and the internet, people and kids can sometimes think that it’s just glamorous and well paid and easy and that everyone everyone can do it. It’s none of that, actually. It can be very miserable and very hard and discouraging. And then sometimes it’s glorious, but you have to really want to do it to put up with it all because no one just has a wonderful ride, you know, day in and day out. It’s a tricky old thing to talk about.
“How the hell did I get here? » | Hotel McKittrick | Until May 8 | Buy your tickets at mckittrickhotel.com