Miss Saigon: Interview with Natalie Mendoza

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Image © Johan Persson

Natalie Mendoza is currently playing Gigi in Miss Saigon in the West End, so London Calling chatted to her about musical theatre

Natalie Mendoza is an Australian actress with a host of credits in film, television and theatre across the world. London Calling caught up with her as she takes on the role of Gigi in Miss Saigon in the West End...

London Calling: Were you a fan of Miss Saigon before landing the role?

Natalie Mendoza: I first came across Miss Saigon when I watched the documentary years ago. I was in the production when it first came to Australia as Mimi, and I understudied Kim. It’s always been incredibly dear to my heart. When you join Miss Saigon, you join a family. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, there’s always a Saigon family there. It was really lovely to come back and be surrounded by a whole new family.

LC: What drew you to the role of Gigi?

NM: I was so blown away by the new production. When you’ve been in the show, it’s hard to be surprised by a production, because you know what’s coming next. But literally, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. This production is more visceral. The story really touched me. The role of Gigi had developed there was more of an arc to her story line. They’ve really fleshed out that character, and I could see what I could bring to it.

LC: It’s a very intense and moving storyline! How did you absorb yourself in the story and the role?

NM: I watched documentaries, just to get my head around these women’s lives and what they were subjected to, and why they took the decisions they had to make. Peppered in that is also finding things I personally relate to on an emotional level and weaving that in to the character. It’s wonderful because it means every performer has the opportunity to play it differently. It gives the character an emotional truth. Every night, I do think I play it differently, because everyone’s energy is slightly different on stage. That’s fun, to react and bounce off everyone else.

LC: There are some huge and complex scenes, with lots of actors and even a helicopter. How long does it take to rehearse those?

NM: It’s a highly technical show. It was probably 5 or 6 weeks rehearsal. Luckily for the new cast, the original cast did the lengthy tech period. It was more a safety issue, learning what to avoid. It’s different to the original show, it does feel updated, and has more of an edge. I’d encourage people who have seen the show before to come again. New audiences should come too! I found it really edgy and in my face, which I liked!

LC: You were part of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway. You must be used to complex and physically demanding productions?

NM: This is not as physically demanding, and it’s a lot safer! The tech period was done quite thoroughly, and this is a well-oiled machine!

LC: Do you enjoy doing musicals more than stage acting and TV?

NM: I don’t think the emotional truth of a character changes in theatre compared to film. I do love musicals because we hear the film soundtrack as we’re performing. When you shoot a film, you have very static scenes, and there’s a lighting guy and cameraman inches from your nose, and it doesn’t feel particularly intimate. The beauty of theatre, and especially musical theatre is that it’s a magical bubble. You have this ability to completely believe in this world you step foot in to, and at the same time you hear the movie soundtrack. It allows you to trigger emotions a lot more easily. I get very moved when I do a musical quite easily, and it’s not even conscious. If you allow yourself to be carried by the music, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s an amazing ride that’s different every night.

LC: You were in Moulin Rouge. How fun was that, with the costumes and dances and huge sets?

NM: It was great! I auditioned originally for Nicole Kidman’s role. Then at the very last minute, they decided to go with Nicole, which was a great choice! It was basically the entire musical theatre industry of Australia on set. It was bizarre to find yourself on set with all these people from all these different shows. It was a cast of thousands! Working with someone like Baz is a wonderful opportunity. Coming from that ultra creative place, you don’t even know what he’s thinking, but you just have to trust him.

LC: You’ve lived in the UK on and off for a while. What’s your favourite thing about living in London?

NM: I live in Soho and I love being able to walk everywhere, and discovering little alleyways with great coffee shops. I think London is the greatest city in the world, I really do. In London you can always escape to a magnificent park. I walk through Regents Park everyday for an hour and a half to two hours, it’s kind of like meditation for me. That’s where my creative thinking happens. I think London is exceptional in that way.

To book tickets to Miss Saigon, please see their website.