‘I dreamed a dream - and it came true’ says Les Mis star from Gosport

Les Miserables
Les Miserables
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Paul Wilkins, who grew up in Gosport, is appearing in the West End production of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre.

Paul graduated from The Arts Educational Schools, London in the summer of 2015.

Paul Wilkins, who grew up in Gosport and is appearing as Marius in Les Miserables in the West End

Paul Wilkins, who grew up in Gosport and is appearing as Marius in Les Miserables in the West End

While training, Paul has played the roles of Moose in Crazy for You and Lonigan in Wonderful Town. Paul also performed in Friday Night Is Music Night for BBC2 as a soloist.

After graduation, Paul went straight into the West End cast and 30th anniversary production of Les Misérables as ensemble/cover Marius and soon after was offered the role of Marius himself for Cameron Mackintosh, this time on the Asian tour. Paul is thrilled to be returning to the role in the West End.

So Paul, you’re a Gosport boy then?

I was born in St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth and grew up in Gosport, where most of my family are from. I moved away when I was about 18.

You are in the longest-running musical Les Misérables, possibly the most iconic musical ever? Can you put into words what that feels like?

It’s really hard to find the words to describe it – I’ve been lucky to be in it since I left drama school. I went in as second cover and then progressed to lead role. I kind of feel like I’ve shot myself in the foot?

Being part of a musical like this is creatively fulfilling and I feel extremely lucky to be in this position.

Why is that?

It doesn’t get better than this. It’s such a huge show and so well-known. You can mention the name to anyone and most will be able to tell you something about it, which is quite rare for musicals.

I guess you have started at the top?

Yeah, it was daunting at first, but I also found it very fulfilling after all the training I’d been through and the hardship as a student. It’s a tough profession, definitely not easy. You have to tell yourself constantly that something will come along.

You mentioned about being a student. Tell me about your career journey from Gosport to the West End? Is this what you’ve always wanted to do?

I trained for four years in total – three at Arts Education which is where I graduated from.

Most of that time I used my overdraft and it was hard, you couldn’t always see you’re way out.

But you keep going because it’s what you want. It’s not about the money, it’s more than that.

Is there anyone you would like to work with?

I’d like to work with Dame Judi Dench. To work with someone like that would be amazing.

I saw a documentary on her recently, and in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music, she just kept using different approaches. I like to improv act so it interested me.

Like Mark Rylance, I want to be able to get closer to the character, to be the character rather than just put a cloak on – feel it I guess? I’ve only recently discovered or felt comfortable enough that when you audition you should be yourself but a different version – why not try something else?

Let’s talk dream roles. Marius must be a dream role for you, but are there any others you dream of playing?

I’d like to play Quasimodo. It’s not in production yet but there is a The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack with some beautiful music written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. So yeah, that’s what I would love to do if it happened.

Can you remember a pivotal time when you realised you wanted to follow this as a career path?

Um... no! It just kind of happened. I danced from an early age and continued drama at secondary school (Bay House School, Gosport).

I knew I didn’t want to do paperwork for A-levels, and all the time I was building my knowledge of stagecraft.

So I went to South Downs College and took a musical theatre BTEC. It was a natural progression to go to drama school, but I didn’t really know much about it.

I auditioned and got into Trinity. I did a year there before I received a scholarship to Arts Ed and on graduation joined Les Mis. Everything just kind of fell into place.

You mentioned about your college South Downs. Did you also do amateur dramatics?

Yes, I was in Portsmouth Players for a time before going into drama school.

Who do you know from the Players?

Valerie Tucker, Louise Helyer and John-Paul McCrohon, who was my lecturer at South Downs. What a small world we live in!

Quirky question time - if you could go back in time to any era, when would you go back to and why?

Tudor times – they had some very stupid ways to kill people, you know, capital punishment.

So I’d like to say ‘‘what are you doing?’’ or make some silly mistake and probably break the law to stop them.

If you could be a superhero or have a superpower, what would you have and why?

I’d freeze time. I spend a lot of time in Starbucks so I could go in, freeze time and make my own coffee.

Who is the most influential person to you at the moment?

Someone whom I respect is Stephen Fry.

He fascinates me, he’s interesting, kind and does so much for LGBT rights.

Yes, and I admire that he just seems to live life to want to improve things, he’s so intelligent.

So yes, I’d say him!

Interview by Caroline Hanks-Farmer, creator of Carn’s Theatre Passion – CarnsTheatrePassion.Com – a theatre-reviewing website providing reviews, news and interviews.