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An American in Paris’ Leanne Cope: ‘You may be surprised that you do, in fact, like ballet.’

Leanne Cope

Leanne Cope

Leanne Cope created the role of Lise Dassin (Christopher Wheeldon’s award-winning An American in Paris) for Théâtre du Châtelet and on Broadway. A major North American tour continues now and a new production will open in Tokyo in January 2019.

An American in Paris is being beamed into cinemas worldwide on May 16 and so I thought it would be good to talk to Leanne, a couple of days after the Olivier Awards, about the impending cinema release.

Here’s how the chat went…

Hi Leanne, how are you?

I’m very well thank you.

Being the ruthless ‘journalist’ that I am, I DM’d your former co-star Ashley Day asking him for help to terrorise you and he replied: “Oh you can’t! She’s the loveliest, kindest, delicate, talented, understated, beautiful women alive.” That’s nice isn’t it.

Ha! I remember when I first met Ashley at An American in Paris audition, I happened to be in London. I recall him walking in the room and him being the most handsome man that I had ever seen; we did the Liza scene together and I turned to the audition panel and asked: ‘Can he dance?’ they said yes and I said: I don’t think we should see anyone else today. A couple of weeks later I got the message that he was to be my Jerry Mulligan and we went to dinner at Joe Allen’s in New York. We were there for five hours. It is nice to do that before you step in the rehearsal room; with Robbie, I didn’t know him at all but we spent months in a rehearsal room. I knew with Ashley that it would be wham-bam-thank you, mam and straight into show mode; I learnt so much from Ashley Day. He’s truly amazing.

Ashley Day and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Ashley Day and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

An American in Paris will be screening in cinemas around the world this month to tens of millions of people. How did you feel about the process of filming the show for film?

It was nerve wracking, if I’m honest. When I was in the Royal Ballet we did do live cinema relays. But what was nice about this process was knowing that we had three takes. We also had two pick-up shot days where they could do close-ups on stage. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work but it all came together. The film is beautiful and they have captured the dance so well. I think that’s down to the genius of our director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. I was worried about how the scenery would look on film but when you see the glorious design by the Olivier Award winning 59 Productions, it almost looks like we are walking through Paris. I attended a screening recently with the cast and creatives. Seriously, I watched a lot of it through my own fingers – like when you watch a horror movie – however they’ve done a brilliant job and I am very proud of it.

Were there any major alterations in the filming of the show for film?

The blueprint of the show pretty much stayed the same. Christopher changed minimal things; he gets bored very quickly. So, every time he would come to the show he would make minor changes. It was nice for him to address all those little details niggling away I guess. The biggest adjustment for myself and Robbie Fairchild and to learn so much from them during the filming. It was a remarkable process.

Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris

Great! What are you up to at the moment?

I’m taking a bit of a rest, doing eight shows a week of An American in Paris was quite gruelling on the body. I’ve had a couple of auditions and I have some meetings coming up. I’m hoping to stay in the musical theatre world. I did 12 years at Royal Ballet too. An American in Paris kept me employed for nearly four years, which was ideal. I am excited about the future.

Why do you think people should come and see An American in Paris in cinemas then?

If you have a love for Gershwin’s music, classical ballet or breath-taking design then this is the show for you. There is so much in there at such a high standard. I’d come along anyway because you may be surprised that you do, in fact, like ballet. That’s what we found so amazing on the journey with this show; it’s a new interpretation and if you love the movie or the show in town then this is also a worthy companion.

Who or what are your musical influences?

John Travolta in Grease! I think I saw Saturday Night Fever and Grease way too young – things like Flashdance and Dirty Dancing made me want to be a dancer. The first musical I saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the London Palladium made me want to do musicals. I didn’t see a ballet until I got older.

An American in Paris is quite prescient in its representation of a gloomy Europe and a world in chaos. It feels fresh. Do you agree?

I think that theatre should always reflect what is going on in the world. Now has huge parallels to what was going on during World War 2. The fact we can rebuild ourselves, that cities can regenerate themselves to blossoming and into a city of light again. Each of these characters going through the effects of war, love and loss. Lise losing her parents, Milo Davenport trying to bring culture back to Paris. If we dressed ourselves in modern costume and changed the city this could have been written now. I don’t think it has a time span in it. What she learns from them and what they learn from her changes them all and for the better. It is a story of love and hope. I mean, what more can you want from a movie musical?

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

I went to the Olivier Awards recently and I personally feel that dance is not represented very well at all. It is not seen as equal to acting and singing and the fact that Clare Halse was not nominated for her performance in 42nd Street or similarly Robbie Fairchild for An American in Paris, them not being nominated is a crime. Perhaps they could create a different category. Triple threat, maybe?  Not many people can do what Robbie did in An American in Paris. It doesn’t have to be a male or female category, someone who can do all those things in a show and to that standard, should be recognised and celebrated. That’s all.

Tickets for An American in Paris are on sale at AnAmericanInParisCinema.com.