NICOLE SCHERZINGER went to BBC this morning (September 29) to promote Sunset Boulevard. She gave an interview to Anita Rani on “Women’s Hour” and discussed taking on the iconic role of Norma Desmond on the reimagined version of Sunset Boulevard by Jamie Lloyd, currently on previews on London’s West End. Check the transcripted interview below or listen it on Soundcloud.
Anita Rani: Nicole Scherzinger came to international attention as the lead singer with one of the most successful girl groups of all time and the sexiest, the pussycat dolls. She’s since carved out a successful solo career with two albums, winning Dancing with the Stars, serving as a judge on television talent shows including The X Factor as a panelist on The Masked Singer and starring in the Disney animated film Moana. Now, eight years after she was nominated for an Olivier Award for her portrayal of Grizabella in Cats, Nicole has returned to the West End stage where she stars as the immortal Norma Desmond in a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary musical Sunset Boulevard. Nicole Scherzinger, welcome to Woman’s Hour. Good morning. How are you feeling? Because my producer went to see you last night and said it was absolutely incredible. She said she hasn’t felt an atmosphere like that in the theatre that was so electric in a long time.
Nicole Scherzinger: Oh, well, we’ve been in previews for just a week now and the audiences have been so amazing and so giving and the reception by the grace of God has been, it’s going down a storm. Yes. We’re getting standing ovations in the middle of the show.
Anita: Yeah. Huge rounds of applause after every number apparently when you’re on stage singing.
Nicole: But hopefully, I mean, we’re really leaving it all out there and it’s quite, I think, revolutionary, what we’re doing up there is something very cutting edge, something really different. Your producer said: ‘wow, I didn’t expect it’. I said ‘exactly, expect the unexpected’.
Anita: So let’s start for people who don’t know anything about Sunset Boulevard. Tell me about your character. Who’s Norma Desmond?
Nicole: Norma Desmond. She was a very well-known film star back in the day and then talkies came along and she kind of got discarded because she was a silent film star. And yeah, I think it’s been very difficult for her. Something that obviously she was very passionate about and she sparked her career at a young age and it was kind of all she knew. And she was the IT girl for silent films and then talkies came along, movies came along and she didn’t have the best speaking voice. And like I said, they discarded her, they threw her away and so she cut too many, many, many years up in her mansion off of Sunset Boulevard. She’s just trying to find a way to make her place again, to find her place to be seen, to be heard and to get back to that place where she was adored and loved.
Anita: What attracted you to the role?
Nicole: To be honest with you, Jamie Lloyd is the mastermind behind all of this. I mean obviously, Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s his music and I think it’s one of his best – I mean all of his music I’m in love with but one of his best pieces. But Jamie had this vision and he came to me with it and I obviously grew up doing musical theater, love musical theater and I thought ‘okay, well, I, there’s many roles that I would love to play and this is not one of them, Jamie’.
Anita: Why? Did you not know the story? Did you not see the, had you not known that?
Nicole: I think I kind of knew the film, the Gloria Swanson version, which is just like this kind of bewildered kind of out there, older star, just longing to be seen again, longing for fame again. And I was like ‘yo, this chick is crazy, Jamie, like, and how old is she? Come on, dude, I still look good under bright light’. And he was like ‘no, no, no, don’t pay attention to any of that. He said, strip it all back’. I just, he said, just read the script, read the words, the story on the page and listen to the music. And when I listened to the music, I fell madly in love with her. I felt like I had written those songs myself. And so the rest was history. We had talked for a long time about it because I was still scared. I still had my reservations of, and how people would perceive it, you know, and he just kept going back to telling a truthful human story.
Anita: So what were your reservations?
Nicole: Well just what they would think, it’s like, oh my gosh, like is my career over? Am I just, you know, I always wanted to be like growing up. I wanted to be Lea Salonga and Miss Saigon, not seeing this.
Anita: So you think people would think, oh, that’s Nicole playing a role that she’s, that people would have judged you playing that?
Nicole: I think, I think to be honest, initially I thought the role was a lot older because Norma Desmond’s character is set to be in the 50s. But really when Patti LaPone and Glenn Close played it, they were about my age. And it’s crazy how we progressed because back then when they played it, it’s like, that’s ancient. But now it’s like 40s are the new 30s. You know what I’m saying? Look around. This skin is glowing. [She laughs] It’s early. I had a late show last night.
Anita: But how much sympathy did you find that you had for her once you read the script?
Nicole: I didn’t feel sympathy. I felt empathy. I felt I could relate in so many ways. And I, I really loved looking at the script and reading the story from my point of view, from my personal experience. I didn’t think – I mean, obviously it’s scary when you, when, when change happens, it’s hard for us to accept change sometimes. It’s really hard when sometimes, especially in this industry, if you go out of fashion, or if you’re discarded or dismissed. And I’ve definitely felt like that in my life. I’ve written about it.
Anita: When did, when have you felt it?
Nicole: I mean, I think it’s, it’s difficult. You know, when we were at the height of our career with the Pussycat Dolls, you’re in it and you’re working so hard, you’re not able to really enjoy it, to be in the moment and then you don’t realize till after it’s not always going to be like that. You know, everybody, everything has its cycles and new generations and new music and timing comes along, right?
Anita: Yeah, it’s interesting you should say that because when I was thinking about you, because obviously I knew you were coming in today, you are someone I, I’ve watched you from a far thought that is someone who really grafts, that is someone who’s worked hard to get to work like on every level, Nicole, the way you look, the way you present just the, the programs I’ve seen you do, the way you kind of reinvent yourself, you can just see that you are just so focused. So it’s interesting to think of you leaving The Pussycat Dolls. And I wonder at what point you realized, okay, I need to now really kind of focus on what I need to do next and how you decide and how you even go for me to be.
Nicole: Well, first of all, I appreciate that because I think nothing great comes in life without very hard work. And I always say, let the work speak for itself. And I come from absolutely nothing. By the grace of God and his strength and me having the willpower, it’s just, it’s all about the work. So let your work speak for itself. As far as The Pussycat Dolls go, I never left The Pussycat Dolls. I think that it was a difficult time for us. People don’t realize how our schedules were. There was never sleep or eating or anything in our schedule. It’s a very different time now where it’s woken. It’s all about mental health and caring about people and managing hours and things. Back then we were just like, it was very unhealthy how hard we were working. And so it’s natural, I think, for five women put under that amount of pressure for so long to just eventually want to go off and do their own thing. And that’s what ended up happening with the Dolls. But I was really excited to be able, after that, to do my music as I know what the other girls wanted to do, their own projects. And we all did that. And I have nothing but love for all of my girls and so happy for all of their success, especially here [in the UK].
Anita: Yeah, absolutely. When you think back to that time, it wasn’t even that long ago. You know what we were talking 15 years ago?
Nicole: I mean, I think 15 years when we started, but we were together. So maybe 10 years now because we were trying to do the reunion before the pandemic happened.
Anita: And so much, like you say, has changed or has it? I don’t know. This is a conversation that, you know, have things changed that much. Do you, when you think back to how you were treated, do you sort of, how do you feel about the amount of work and pressure that you were put under, you know, as women in the music industry?
Nicole: It’s okay. My name, Nicole, means victory. I never played the victim card, always the victor card. I came from very tough background, very humble beginnings. So I’m grateful for everything that I was ever put under and anything that happened. And I’m grateful for those times because it prepared me and it made me who I am today.
Anita: Where does your drive come from?
Nicole: I think God, He is the source of my life. I’m nothing without Him. He gives me so much strength. Honestly, like Jamie always says ‘be brave’. And then he’s like ‘now you’re brave, be braver’. So I think definitely God is everything in my life. And my family, I have a very strong family. I have a very big family.
Anita: Who’s in it? Tell us about the family. Tell us about your beginning.
Nicole: Well, I have my mom and my dad and then I have only one sister, but my mother comes from 10 brothers and sisters and her mother comes from 18.
Anita: And are you still close?
Nicole: Extremely. And that’s one side of the family. It’s crazy. I don’t know. My grandparents have 98 grandchildren and great grandchildren. I don’t know how they remember everything. And that’s only my mom’s side of a beautiful family on both sides, a big family. I’m so grateful to come from a family of extremely strong women. My tutu, which means grandma in Hawaiian, they’re just, they’re just badass. They are warriors. We have warrior blood in us, literally. We actually do.
Anitta: Tell me more about that. What have you seen these women go through? How have they, how have you seen their, their warrior powers shine?
Nicole: There’s just selfless. They just, they have, we have very big families and they just work. They eat, breathe and sleep to care for, to take care of, whatever it takes for their, their families. You know, we have a very big family. They just are, they’re just selfless women. They don’t think about themselves. My mother is a selfless woman. She got pregnant with me when she was 17 years old. She’s done everything in her life she could for me. You know, we grew up, like I said, with humble beginnings, no money and just did whatever it takes, working however many jobs, doesn’t sleep, you know, dealing with not the best circumstances, no money, but making it work and, and doing it out of love. And yeah, they’re just amazing. I mean, just for example, my cousin the other day just gave birth in her home, literally pulled the baby out. Like they’re warrior women. I’m going to be like, y’all need to give me some drugs. Please, Jesus. That’s why you created these drugs.
Anita: There’s something for everybody now available. And it was your mum that nurtured and supported your obvious talent from a varying age. And musical theatre is where you wanted to be, right, always?
Nicole: Always. Yeah. I mean, when I was six years old, I heard the voice of God for me, which was Whitney Houston. And the Greatest Love of All changed my life. I felt really awkward and shy as a child. I felt like I truly didn’t fill in from, I think, the day I was born. It’s when I heard her everything kind of made sense and aligned. And so I wanted to do music. And we didn’t have the means to put me in school or take classes or anything, certain schools. So we had mapped out for me to end up going to a magnet school in the projects. A magnet school. It’s just the type of school, math and science school. It’s focused on those academics. But if I went to a magnet middle school that would ensure me to go to this magnet high school, which was connected to the youth performing arts school. For somebody, such a young age, we just knew. Okay. This is the plan. Get me to that youth performing arts school where I can meet my kind, my tribe, hopefully fit in and then be able to get the education that I needed. And so I went to a youth performing arts school and that’s where I studied voice. I was a first soprano.
Anita: I re-watched your audition for the US pop stars, which is, I re-watched it in preparation for this. And they come to your home, your family’s sitting there to tell you whether you’ve made it. And I mean, first of all, yeah, you look incredibly polished already. And it was really emotional watching the family because you all just wept this moment. That was happening in your life. And it’s just very interesting to think how far you’ve come, watching it.
Nicole: I think when you like talking about grafting and hustling, I think when you work so hard and when you have a lot of struggles in life, so when good things happen, it’s a real blessing. It really means so much more. That’s why I’m grateful that I had the upbringing that I did. That appreciation, it’s made me who I am. It’s made me the workhorse who I am, everyone I mean is like, you’re the hardest worker we’ve ever met. And I have a real, a true appreciation everywhere I go, even if I stand a beautiful hotel. Like for me, it’s like I’ll never take anything, a moment for granted. And I’m truly grateful because of it.
Anita: Do you sometimes feel you’re on the outside looking in, Nicole? Like an outsider in the end, like, do you feel like you’ve had to really fight harder because of your background to get to where you are?
Nicole: Yeah, I know I’ve had to fight harder and I continue to fight hard. But that’s why I’m so grateful for this role because it’s a real opportunity to show all the many facets of me that people still haven’t even seen yet after all these years.
Anita: And you’ve moved to London?
Nicole: I’ve moved to London and oh my gosh, the weather has been gorgeous. Yes. I didn’t know that you don’t wear a bikini, a leopard bikini out in the middle of a park.[Laughs]
Anita: No, it’s changing. There are some parks where you can wear leopard bikinis. Also, just wear your leopard bikini, bring it.
Nicole: I was like, look, I got one hour. I am stuck in a rehearsal studio all day. I’m going to make this hour. I’m going to squeeze the marrow out of this hour.
Anita: Yeah, make the most of the weather. And also you’re engaged. Congratulations. To Scottish rugby player Tom Evans. Wedding plans?
Nicole: Thank you! Hm… Not yet. I think that he, you know, obviously we want to get married in Hawaii where my family is and my papa is a bishop, so he’ll marry us. But I can’t even think that far right now because I’m still trying to, we haven’t opened the show officially so I’m still wrapped up in my mind in the Norma Desmond term that’s around my head.
Anita: Norma Desmond, this woman who’s sort of at the end of her career, but is only in her 40s and here you are, I feel like, you said we’ve not even seen what you really capable of.
Nicole: And look, look how the times have changed. You know, you see some women and their career is happening later on in life. So I feel like I’m just at the cuff. I feel like one of her lines is “It’s just the beginning”. I really do. And I’m excited. It’s just a bold new reimagination of the musical like never before for a new generation.
Anita: But what do you do to relax? Because you work so hard, you’ve talked a lot about the graft and the drive. What do you do to just switch off? Because it’s really important, isn’t it? Especially when you’re working at such high intensity, you’re on stage every night, you’re going to be belting out those numbers. It must be incredibly draining. What do you do just to get in?
Nicole: It is Anita. I’m not lying. It’s, I’m very tired right now. No, I’m just joking. It’s a bit crazy now getting this show up and then the previews rehearsing all day and doing the things, but relaxing. Do you want to know what I’m doing now? For real. I get one day off. Yep. That is a Sunday and I do not miss a Sunday roast. So I would actually love it if anyone could like message me or tell you where, for me to go. I’m looking for just great Sunday Roast.
Anita: Come to, come to East London. I’ve got you. I don’t even worry about it. Do you like a pint?
Nicole: I can do a pint. I usually have a glass of red wine because I always do chicken or pork. But I love a Sunday roast with extra, extra gravy and that relaxes me because I know I’m just going to get like a really, makes me feel like Thanksgiving for us.
Anita: I have got you girl. Don’t worry about it. It’s pubs on my specialist subject. We’ll sort that out. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you. I want to wish you all the best with the show. Come and see us again.
Nicole: Thank you. Thank you so much. Can’t wait for you to see it. I can’t wait for everyone to come and see it.
Anita: It’s, you can see Nicole in Sunset Boulevard. It runs at the Savoy Theatre until the 6th of January 2024. Thank you, Nicole.
Nicole: Wow, next year. Thank you.