I love all my roles – Interview with Norman Bowman

Norman Bowman (c) Faye Thomas

German translation

Norman Bowman, West End star, well-known from several different roles, such as Marius in Les Miserables, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls or Sam Carmichel in Mamma Mia was born and raised in Arbroath (Scotland). With a scholarship, he attended London Academy of Performing Arts, where he graduated in Musical Theatre. His latest roles include Michael in Murder Ballad and Cornwall in King Lear as well as Nym/Williams in Henry V in which he starred alongside Jude Law. During the last year, the father of twins has been on stage in 42 Street as Pat Denning as well as covering the lead role Julian Marsh.

Lena Gronewold: Let’s start of easy: What needs to be in your dressing room in each theatre you are?

Norman Bowman: A picture of my kids for sure. Otherwise, I often start with very little and by the end of the year, it looks like I have been there for my whole life. In the past, I used to have more pictures with me but somewhere on the way that stopped, I am not sure why to be honest. Maybe I feel like I don’t need the support I took from the pictures no longer. I am more practical nowadays. I always have a pencil, a book, a puzzle, things that can keep me entertained during times I am not on stage. I am not a big make-up person. I used to wear it as an amateur dramatic actor, but we totally went over the top back then. And that may have put me of it for life unless it’s specified for the role I am playing.

What recently moved into my dressing room is this wonderful Buddha, which a friend brought back from Bali for me. It’s just beautifully carved from wood. His smile face enlightens my mood whenever I see it or touch it. That only came into my life a couple of months ago, but I think it will stay with me for a while. I am just giving it a little rub and I feel much better.

Lena Gronewold: Some reports claim that you have done “almost every leading role”. Do you have a favourite among your jobs? Or maybe a Top 3?

Norman Bowman: I don’t know which was the source for this quote, but I think there are certainly some leading roles I haven’t done. I have done quite a few, but there are for sure also a lot that went by, which I didn’t get. However, what I have been lucky to do is playing leading roles in shows that I have wanted to do, which is great. Whenever someone wants to know what my favourite is, it is impossible for me to say. They all serve such different purposes. I had such fun with all the roles I have played. Although a part like Danny Zuko in Grease is possible the role I had the most fun with but equally if you play someone like Sky Masterson (A.d.R.: in Guys and Dolls) it’s just something different. I mean not very, very different. Maybe Danny Zuko is Sky Masterson in the 60s. However, I love all my roles. They all helped me to become a better actor and develop me further. Some parts just led to other. There are possible some roles which I would not have played if I hadn’t done the other part before.

Some of my favourite jobs were when I did not play the leading role. Like playing Ross in Macbeth. That was one of my best jobs ever. I was just happy to be in the show. I don’t have to be the lead role if the character I’m playing still challenges me.

42ndStreet therefor was very challenging for me. I knew Pat Denning as a part, who didn’t do very much and I got by with that most of the year, but I have gone a little mad during the last months of my year there because I am not getting to do what I want to do. When I played Julian Marsh for six shows, I have been reminded of what I love about it and why I do it.

I have been very lucky in the past and I am very grateful about the jobs I have done. I am hoping this luck continues in the future. As I said, it doesn’t have to be the lead role if the part is interesting and challenging.

Lena Gronewold: Is there still a role that you’d like to play?

Norman Bowman: Well, I am getting to old for the ones I used to want to do. I always wanted to be Claude in Hair, because of the wonderful songs he got to sing. Too old for Jesus now…I mean in he lived into his 30s and that means I am like 15 years too old for that part. I think the philosophy I have adopted over the years is: You can have your aspirations but if you hold on to tight then you might end up being quite disappointed. Therefore, I have been very happy to just see what comes into my live and then see if that’s something I want to do. I didn’t ever think I’d be in 42ndStreet or Mamma Mia or Cats. But when they come along you take the chance. I am not holding onto anything, anymore. I am just waiting for whatever should happen to happen. And be happy to know that it’s enough to be working, because there are so many unemployed actors, especially in a town like London. So, I am very grateful. But therefor it also feels very weird that I have taken myself out of work in March, but I hope my CV speaks for itself and something interesting will be coming along. You need confidence in yourself, your skills and your job, even though the fear is very real.

Kerry Ellis, Ramin Karimloo und Norman Bowman in Murder Ballas (c) Marc Brenner

Lena Gronewold: After playing roles in Macbeth and Henry V, you are now back with musical theatre. What brought you back?

Norman Bowman: Again, it’s back to seeing what comes along. It really is a question of who wants me first. It’s not a concise decision. People I know do a job and ask me to be part of it. Then following that, you get another job on your own because people saw you in that play in Macbeth and because of that, you do Henry V. It’s majorly one job leading to another. The downside of this straight acting jobs is that you are normally out of work every three months. That exhausting and scary. With musical theatre, you normally got contracts that run a year, which means you are fine for a while.

But I love both, doing Shakespeare and musical. Musicals are my first love. But I also think that both kinds of show, require the same thing. It’s a live performance and you really need to capture the audience attention with what you are doing. I wouldn’t like to cut myself off by saying that I only love one. I love both Shakespeare and musicals and hope to do both in the future.

Lena Gronewold: If it was by you to choose, would we see you in more theatre roles in the future?

Norman Bowman: I’d love to do a bit of everything: musical, theatre and also TV and films. But of course, I don’t have much say in the way my career goes. It’s not like doing what you want, it’s more like: Do they want you? Over the years, I have learned to loosen my grip and not to expect everything at once. You have to go with the flow because we have so little control anyway. All you can do is going to a casting and do the best you can. Everything else is out of your control until you get the part.

Lena Gronewold: You also appeared in different films. Is a career off stage in films something that you’d like to pursue?

Norman Bowman: Oh yes, I love films. It’s one of my favourite escapes. You can turn on a projector and lose yourself in the films. You can forget everything else for a couple of hours. I don’t know if I’d enjoy making a film as much as being a viewer, but I’d love to try. I have done a couple of jobs in film but not enough to get a real taste of it. I would like to have a real go to see if I enjoy it or not.

Theatre has to work a little harder than a film to take you away. In a theatre, you are in an environment where you are aware that you are going to be entertained so the expectations are higher from the start. You can lose yourself, but it’s not quite the same as sitting in a dark room and being sucked away into a story.

Norman Bowman und Sheena Easton in 42nd Street (c)Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Lena Gronewold: Back to the present. Lately you have been in 42nd Street, playing Pat Denning, ex-boyfriend of the show’s star Dorothy Brock as well as covering the shows leading male role as Julian Marsh. What’s the thing about 42nd Street? Why is it such a successful show?

Norman Bowman: Whenever you go and watch it, you will see why it is so successful. It is sheer spectacular, its sheer sparkle. It’s glamour, it’s seeing something you don’t get to see in the West End anymore. A cast of 58 on the biggest stage in the West End. And a budget that’s just of the charts. Each costume is handmade and they are beautiful and stunning. Even if you are used to working in the back of the theatre its unmistakable what attention to detail has gone into this show. And the tap dancing is just incredible. To see people showing us such skilled dancing. Everybody leaves feeling elated. Everybody who is leaving the show feels like they either can or want to tap. There is just nothing like 42ndStreet. It’s just pure entertainment. It doesn’t try to change the world, it transports you back in time and keeps you entertained for the evening. You dance home at the end. That’s the magic of theatre.

Lena Gronewold: Before 42nd Street you appeared in Murder Ballad, which is slightly different to “normal” musicals. I was smashed away by the performance. What do you think makes Murder Ballad so unique and stunning?

Norman Bowman: It’s possible because people don’t know it, they go to see the show and did not expect anything. And it’s rare to come across a not heard of piece that does have the ability to take your breath away. It hits you and then piles up to the end and you are left speechless. Murder Ballad is quite simple in its story. We have all heard of marriage, boredom, maybe not murder, that’s not a normal part of every one’s life. But there are parts everyone can connect to throughout the show. The show is really concentrated. You have just four actors who play four very well defined characters and each of them still has a journey to go on during the course of the show.

I also didn’t know this show existed before I was invited to be a part of it. And I love that. I mean any actor will tell you: When you get invited rather than auditioning for a part, it’s always a yes until you have figured out if that’s something for you. But I decided to give it a go, when I knew Kerry Ellis was a part of it. We didn’t know by then that Ramin (A.d.R.: Ramin Karimloo) would be a part of the show. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt was on board as well. And I knew when these girls are part of a show, it’s something I have to do. Then I read it and I knew that was a part I could do. And then we heard Ramin would play the other male role and I was sure this was something I had to do. I always wanted to work with him. I am well aware of his work and that was something I wanted to do. Each of them was so different to work with and it was just an amazing experience. The show has amazing songs and in the hands of our musical director, the entire team build up a phenomenal show, which I was really happy to be a part of.

Lena Gronewold: In Murder Ballad you played the good guy. Good or bad guy, what’s your favourite role to play?

Norman Bowman: Everybody who plays the good guy wants to be the bad guy. And everybody who plays the bad guy wants to be the good guy. It’s because it’s a challenge to be mad. You don’t want to be the good guy all the time. Sometimes they are the boring parts. For example, I love Tony in West Side Story, but Bernardo has a bit more to him, a bit more bite. Sometimes to be in love is the smother journey. If you take Romeo and Juliet, okay their journey is not that smooth, but if you get to play Tybalt…I love being bad guys. But it doesn’t really matter as long as the story to be told is exiting.

Lena Gronewold: Ok, so before we finish, we need to talk about the photo bombing thing. We found several fan photos, for example during your time in Murder Ballad, where you appear in the photos people took with Ramin Karimloo. Your favourite hobby to appear in your co-star’s fan photos?

Norman Bowman: Not exactly. But somebody famous does it. I don’t know why I started it, but sometimes we take ourselves too serious and it’s a good way to make people laugh.

Lena Gronewold: And now your time: What did you always wanted to say during an interview and never had the chance to say?

Norman Bowman: Good question…I tend to be kind of an open book. What I believe in is that you need stay yourself in this industry. You need to be kind; you need to be good to everybody. You need to have compassion about what you are doing and you just need to be a good human being. That helps in every profession. If you are good to work with, people will remember you and bring you back in.