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The Guardian: Q&A with Nicole Scherzinger
Oct 07 2023

Nicole Scherzinger, 45, was born in Honolulu and raised in Kentucky. She started acting age 14 and studied musical theatre at university. She has sold more than 60m records worldwide as lead singer of girl band Pussycat Dolls and as a solo artist. She voiced the character Sina in Disney’s Moana, starred in ABC’s remake of Dirty Dancing and is a judge on the US edition of The Masked Singer. She now stars as Norma Desmond in the West End revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

The Guardian: What convinced you to return to theatre after a decade away?
Nicole Scherzinger: I grew up loving musical theatre and went to a performing arts school, so it’s always been in me. Music is the best way that I know to communicate. Why not do it through theatre, where you have the liberty to communicate the fullest way possible? Jamie [Lloyd, the director] knew I’d been itching to come back, and asked to meet in London 18 months ago. He said: “I’ve got this vision of you as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.” I was like “What?” So I read the script, listened to the music and there was no looking back. Jamie was bold enough to see me in this daring, iconic role. I grew up wanting to be Miss Saigon. I never dreamed I’d be playing someone like this, but in a batshit crazy way it makes complete sense.

Were you already familiar with the story?
I knew that Glenn Close had won a Tony for it. I listened to her recording of it and also Patti LuPone’s, because I’m a massive fan of hers too. And then I watched the film and was like: “Yo Jamie, we’ve got to have a talk because I don’t know if I can do this!” He said: “Don’t watch the film! It has nothing to do with what we’re doing!” This is our interpretation of the story. We’re telling it anew. It’s a modern-day setting not a period piece. I’m working my ass off. I have bruises on my body in places I’ve never had them before.

How come you’re bruised?
This Norma’s dancing, darling. I’m bringing Scherzinger to the table. We’re going full Scherzy on this.

Is the story relevant today?
100%. There are songs about how to make it in Hollywood which remain completely true. This industry is a harsh, savage beast. I know what it’s like to be the hot new thing on the block. You blink your eye, time goes by and you’re like: “Woah, where did it all go?” The younger generation comes in and suddenly you’re fighting to be seen and have a voice. I’m still doing that. So it speaks to the ageism of Hollywood but it’s also about how hard it is to get and keep any job. In the past, Norma’s been misunderstood. If anybody’s got passions and dreams, then it’s taken away from them, it leaves an emptiness inside. I think most people can relate to that.

Do you go to the theatre much?
I’m so inspired by it and try to see as many shows as I can. I recently saw my dear friend JoJo in Moulin Rouge! on Broadway. Here in London I’ve seen Six, which was genius, and Cabaret blew my frickin mind. I cried at the end. But I cry at everything. I cried at Finding Nemo. It’s probably why Jamie cast me, because I’m an emotional basket case.

You’ve stepped down temporarily from your judging role on The Masked Singer. Was that a tough decision?
Because of the Hollywood strikes they moved the production dates, which meant I had to choose between The Masked Singer and Sunset Boulevard. I chose this. When Jamie Lloyd and Andrew Lloyd Webber come knocking, it’s an opportunity you have to take.

Was it heartbreaking to watch the Hawaiian wildfires from afar?
I saw it on the news, but it wasn’t until I spoke to my family that the reality sank in. I cried myself to sleep every night. It’s a catastrophe. We lost 97 people and dozens more are still missing, which is devastating. But it’s also infuriating to see companies trying to buy the land the day after, having no respect for humanity. So there are mixed emotions. This job is full-on, six days a week, but my heart is there. Every night I stay informed, keep connected with my family and do what I can back home.

You performed at the Coronation Concert this summer. How was that?
One of the greatest experiences of my life. In Hawaii we used to have our own monarchy, which I loved. I also loved your Queen, so singing at her son’s coronation was a dream come true. I had the honour of sharing the stage at Windsor Castle with Lang Lang, the greatest pianist of our generation, and the Household Division orchestra. That gave me goosebumps because I’m from a military family. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I gave it my all.

Is it true that will.i.am asked you to be the lead female vocalist of Black Eyed Peas?
Yeah, I was on the same radio show as Black Eyed Peas and was a huge fan, so I walked past their dressing room singing one of their songs. They came and found me and said they wanted me in their group. My fiance at the time was like: “No, she’s going solo.” But everything happens for a reason, because Fergie became the perfect Pea and I met my girls, the Pussycat Dolls.

Is it true that will.i.am asked you to be the lead female vocalist of Black Eyed Peas?
Yeah, I was on the same radio show as Black Eyed Peas and was a huge fan, so I walked past their dressing room singing one of their songs. They came and found me and said they wanted me in their group. My fiance at the time was like: “No, she’s going solo.” But everything happens for a reason, because Fergie became the perfect Pea and I met my girls, the Pussycat Dolls.

You were a judge on The X Factor for four series. Are they happy memories?
Always! I miss it. Simon [Cowell] and his fiance, Lauren, are like family to me. My favourite season was when I mentored James Arthur, who went on to win, Jahméne Douglas and Rylan Clark. To see Rylan as a big-time presenter now makes me so so proud. I still get sent the meme of when I told Rylan he was through to the live shows and he wept. It’s the funniest thing ever. It was at the Judges’ Houses in Dubai. I went out, rode a camel and when I came back he was still crying. I also played a huge part in the formation of One Direction when I was a guest judge, which I sometimes have to remind Simon about! I’m so happy for the success of all those boys and wish them the best.

Does your work ethic come from your humble upbringing?
I think so. Growing up poor is embarrassing. My mum bought my clothes from yard sales. Your parents drive beat-up, crappy cars and you’re like: “Can you drop me off a couple of blocks away from school?” Later you realise it’s the roots of who you are. It gave me the core, the teeth, the balls that I have today. I don’t take anything for granted. When you come from nothing you have to earn everything, so you appreciate what it truly means.

Has your fiance, former Scotland rugby player Thom Evans, got you into rugby?
He has, actually. I probably shouldn’t say this but I was really proud of Fiji when they beat England for the first time ever this summer. The Polynesian Islands don’t have the same resources, so that was monumental for us.

Do you tease Thom about how you won Dancing With the Stars but he came 10th on Strictly?
Not often but he knows. Partly because I have the huge trophy on display in my house as a reminder.

You’ve spent a lot of time living in the UK. Are there still things you find strange here?
Your toilets! Can’t stand them. Each one seems to have a different flush mechanism. It shouldn’t be that difficult. I also get confused by the roads. It’s like driving in a bowl of spaghetti. But one of my favourite things is the Sunday roasts. Last Sunday I had two.

Were both roasts the same?
Yep. I only ever have chicken, with enough gravy for an entire family. I had it for lunch, then went somewhere else and had it for dinner too. Why not? It feels like home to me, comforting and warm.

You turned 45 this summer. How do you feel about ageing?
I’m super blessed. I’m doing stuff on this show that I would’ve done when I was 25. The only difference is, I have to do extra warm-ups every morning. The great thing that comes with age is life experience and wisdom. At the same time, you still have no idea what’s going on.

Finally, I’ve got to ask. Are you ready for your closeup?
I’m getting there! Every day in rehearsal I was learning new things, which gives me such a rush. On day one, Jamie said: “I just ask you to do one thing, and that’s to be open. Every day you have to be fearless enough to be completely vulnerable.” It’s a lot easier said than done. But I promise you, I will be ready for my closeup.

Sunset Boulevard is at the Savoy theatre, London, until 6 January 2024

Luis Felipe X 161 72
2023 Interviews sunset boulevard west end
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