The first thing that you notice about Jodie Steele – when you meet her – is that she is absolutely nothing like her onstage persona, Heather Chandler.
In fact it took me a while to adjust to the laughing, happy-go-lucky actor’s real personality, such is the sullen image she oozes in the cult show currently at the Theatre Royal Haymerket.
It was completely coincidental that Sardines was able to speak with the triple threat just one day after 100% capacity audiences returned to theatres in England. This arguably meant that the thirty-year-old was even bubblier and bouncing off the wall more than usual.
With one half of her producing team also featured in this issue [Paul Taylor-Mills], this edition is fast-becoming a Heathers Special… which is probably just how a cult hit should be treated!
How has your return to THIS HUGELY POPULAR SHOW been going?
“Oh wow! It’s been amazing! Last night [Monday, 19 July] we had our first full capacity audience who were amazing.
“I thought I was done with the show too, so when Paul [Taylor-Mills] called me up I thought do I really want to do it – when I felt I should stay at home really. But then I saw it was just a twelve-week run I also thought, ‘Why not. Let’s just do it!’ And it’s at the Haymarket again so it does feel like going back in time a little bit!”
“The only thing that’s taken a bit of the shine off it is that I have dear friends who are also performing in shows that have had to close for a few days while people self-isolate. But as soon as 16 August comes, and we can rely on not having to close a show if someone tests positive, then I really think that theatre will be back properly.
“I also find the football thing really strange. I mean I love it but it just doesn’t make any sense in my head how that can happen. I saw the video of Andrew Lloyd Webber who’s pulling his hair out and is fighting for the entire industry.”
Do you all have to test every single day?
“Yes we do; lateral flow. It’s just part of the way it is now. I just wake up, do my lateral flow and send it to my company manager. It’s just got to be done. It should be part of life for the next few months and I am an advocate now that Covid has become part of our normality, like the flu. As long as the death-rate doesn’t rise then I’m really in the camp of ‘let’s continue with life.’”
You mentioned 16 August. Why does there always seem to be a 4-week extension?
“It does feel like that doesn’t it. But the main point is that theatre is ready right now.”
We also saw you in War of the Worlds (5 years ago), although I had no idea you were in it UNTIL I turned up at the Dominion.
“Ha, ha! I know. I was in the ensemble. I think that was one of the most challeng-ing things I’ve done in my whole life… and the Dominion’s a big theatre, huge.”
I hope you didn’t need to audition AGAIN?
“No, no. The producers and the creative team asked me to come back. Mind you, considering the role they asked me to bring back, I should really take that into account. Ha, ha. What are they trying to say! Ha, ha!”
Does a different cast provide a different vibe?
“Yeah! It’s an entirely different experience to when I did it before. It feels like a different show but obviously that’s not the case. I have an entirely different journey every night and I have a completely different Veronica – Chandler relationship than I did with Carrie [Hope Fletcher]. Carrie had to be in with the dark side of Chandler even though she didn’t really want to, while Christina is completely in awe of the Heathers and looks at my character through rose-tinted glasses. She completely adores and is even a little bit obsessed with her and, the way Christina does it, is made very obvious. She’s fascinated with Chandler when she’s alive but, when Chandler’s dead, it’s like a magnet for her. So, yes. It’s an entirely different playing field for me.”
It looks like the new cast have some impressive credentials too?
“Yes, Christina was in Bat Out of Hell with Jordan (Luke Cage] – who’s now also in our show…. also my other half, Liam Doyle, will be touring as Kurt. We’ve been together for five and a half years now; we met when I was doing War of the Worlds! Ha, ha.”
You have to die in Heathers – just like in SIX – although poison might be considered a better end than getting your head chopped off!?
“Erm… yes, I think ‘head chopped off’ is probably a little bit more painful. Ha, ha, ha! But it is quicker, that’s for sure.”
Did you have any idea of the show’s cult following when you first signed on the line?
“If I’m entirely honest, I didn’t really know the show. So no! It’s weird, it was such of a flop of a film [starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater] that became really popular about twenty years after it came out… which is such a cult thing. I was off in Asia doing Elphaba in Wicked, and Liam actually did the first ever workshop at The Other Palace – which ignited the fire of the whole Heathers journey over here. We were about twelve hours apart and he’d be face-timing me saying, ‘Babes, you don’t understand, the atmosphere,’ and I was thinking, ‘Sure, sure, I am in Wicked so I do get it!’ But I didn’t and I wasn’t prepared. I’ll never forget the day that we opened at The Other Palace and hearing the roar of the audience – which is only three hundred people – when the Heathers doors opened and we were revealed. Me and the girls just couldn’t hear our music; we were saying ‘When do we turn? Ha, ha.’ Then to open at the Theatre Royal Haymarket twelve weeks later with a bigger audience was just mad! To get to live that again last night was very emotional. I knew what was coming and I was so pleased for my cast. Don’t get me wrong, the audiences of three hundred were incredible, but it was probably another step up.”
Have you received any weird posts around playing Heather Chandler?
“Most of the time it’s very positive; I think I get to redeem myself as Chandler when she’s dead. She’s kind of on Veronica’s side… ish, and at other times she’s not. But she’s kind of in Veronica’s subconscious mind to steer her essentially in the right direction to go against JD in the end.”
“Having said that, I have had a couple of posts sent to me which asked: ‘Did Jodie choose to play that part so meanly?’ I thought, ‘Surely you could see that the script is the way it is?’ It’s written like that! Blame Kevin [Murphy] and Larry [Laurence O’Keefe] who wrote it! I have a love-hate relationship with social media, like Paul [Taylor-Mills]. On the previous Heathers contract I was really into the social media. This time, I don’t have a Tik Tok account and only use Facebook to check whose birthday it is. I do like to post some things on Instagram but I don’t really look at it or scroll through stuff… unless I have a rare ten minutes which doesn’t often happen. On Twitter I sometimes tweet about my dog and the weather sometimes. I do have a lot of thoughts and opinions on things, but choose not to share them because 50% of people will agree with you and 50% will want to troll you on the Internet. I know some people revel in starting a debate but, for me, I like to have a conversation with someone rather than putting it out there in a public forum. I’m definitely less of a social media fan than I was in 2018.”
Is it worrying that you play a bitch so well? – You’re very good at scowling!
“Hang on, let me do the face for you now… [does the face!] My passion in life is performing and acting. Yes, I love to sing and dance. I wouldn’t say I’m the best at either but acting, for me; telling stories and creating characters is absolutely my passion. I think that through my little career it’s always been the characters the most removed from one’s self that are the easiest to portray. I know it’s not like that for everybody, but it is for me.
“I remember in SIX they wanted a Katherine Howard who was an extended version of Jodie and I really struggled to find that. ‘How do I do an extended version of myself onstage?’ I’m ok in one-to-ones or small groups, but big groups like press nights are a nightmare, I completely cower in the corner. So for me to play that character I just have to completely get rid of Jodie and go on as Chandler.”
Paul Taylor-Mills told of his am-dram days with great fondness before turning pro. do you have any similar stories?
“Actually, I was really late into theatre. I never knew if I would ever get a shot at acting and didn’t really know what to do. I grew up in Basingstoke on a council estate, went to quite a rough school – which I didn’t particularly enjoy – so singing was a great way of releasing that and was also probably my saviour. So I kind of started out as a singer-songwriter. I went to the Academy of Contemporary Music in London for a year, before deciding to take my place at GSA [Guildford School of Acting] that they’d already offered me.
“I was the underdog of the century and felt like the odd-pod in my year. So, I had to work so hard and have continued to take that mindset with me. I’ll never be the most talented person in the room but I’m probably the most hard-working grafter.”