A Chat With Christen O’Leary

A quick chat with the gorgeous and very talented Christen O’Leary, currently embodying Judy Garland in


End of the Rainbow


the first co-pro of the year from QTC & QPAC



Christen O'Leary


You were Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz. How different is it to take on the persona for End of the Rainbow?

It was quite different preparing for EOTR compared to BFO. In BFO Judy really is a supporting role. A strong force in the piece but with only a handful of scenes and songs. This really was Peter Allen’s story. Quite rightly. Of course I did a lot of research but 2 things struck me. When you’re not onstage all night…you have to hit the ground running from the first moment. I had to hit the audience immediately with my impression of Garland. In some ways I had to be bolder in my interpretation. In EOTR I have all night to play with her. I can let her unfold gradually, steadily…and allow the audience to see further and further into every aspect of this human being.

The second issue was the singing. In BFO Judy sings only Peter Allen songs. No songs she was actually famous for in her career. Gotta say…this is easier on the one hand…because no one can say…”well she didn’t sing that song like that”. BUT you can’t find footage/recordings to study. To sing Garland songs as Garland is very a daunting…and complicated task. Everyone who knows/loves her has an opinion on her sound/style…

but as I studied her more and more I found she shifted as she aged. Her interpretations evolved…her keys dropped. Her voice really did change. I tried to play with that.


Can you talk about the challenges of performing a one-woman show?

Ah! The one person show! That beast! I did my first last year with Bombshells and I’ve got to say it was probably the most frightening thing I’ve faced in my career. Jacki Weaver said to me “Oh yes Darling. It’s so lonely.” And it is. If I’m honest…I think I imagined that my ego would soar to new heights…as I tackled it and mastered it! Ha! It became a lesson in humility. I existed in an overwhelmingly vulnerable state throughout. You feel immense pressure to succeed because you appreciate that the company has invested hugely in you making this piece work. They have put their faith and money behind you. I realised after 25 yrs in this industry just how comforting it is to be on a stage…turn your head…and look into the eyes of another actor. Another actor who sees your fear…can hold it…and help carry you thru.


I know you feel strongly, as most creatives do, about too-early reviews of productions that are still in preview. Can you talk about why the best time to form an opinion that will be shared with the public is from opening night onwards?

Oh yes. The Previews. I do have strong opinions about them yes. Previews are a vital part of the process in forming a production. But they are part of the process…not the final product. We rehearse for 4 weeks in the room…then hit the theatre where/when all the technical elements of a production are created around the actors and the play. This is a very tricky part of the process for all involved. The Creatives are working round the clock and AGAINST the clock to finally hone their elements for the work. For the actor of course this can be very off putting because you feel like you lose the play as all these outside elements…costumes, set, lighting, sound, music, darkness, revolves…get thrown at you. But that is part of the process. THEN you bring an audience into this mix in previews. These tickets are cheaper for a reason. The production is still being formed. It is not a final product. Audiences are watching a work trying to emerge as a cohesive piece. Through these preview days and nights the production is changing constantly. The audience teaches us so much about what is landing and what is not. Every person involved in the production is changing/honing/modifying the work everyday and every night. I believe preview audiences understand this. They relish the terror and electricity this creates in the theatre. They know they are watching a production flying by the seat of it’s pants. If the piece was really ready to open it would open at full price at this point. The reality is that when the production actually DOES open…it settles. Major changes stop emerging…unless something is really wrong….and that is rare. The written word is a powerful thing. Critics have power and they know it. They believe their opinion matters or they wouldn’t write. I think they should therefore take that responsibility very seriously and let a production open before they offer their opinion on it.


To what extent have you trained to prepare physically and vocally for End of the Rainbow?

I of course did a lot of research of Garland when I played her in BFO but for EOTR I studied everything I could get my hands on. Watched, read, listened over and over again. I suppose for about the last year I have just drowned myself in her. I had to build stamina vocally and physically gradually in the months prior to beginning rehearsals. Probably about 6 months out I started to learn the piece…slowly getting it into the voice and body.


What are your hot tips for vocal health?

Vocal tips? Mmm everyone who knows me knows I am paranoid about my voice! So I’m probably not a good/sane person to ask! Having said that….


Rest/Steam/Water/Never push!


How do you get through a demanding season and what do you try to do in your down time?

What do I do in my down time? Ha Nothing!! I don’t speak. At All! I write notes! I live in my pyjamas!


With the Academy Award for Best Actor going to Daniel Day Lewis (for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln), and so much focus swinging back again to Method Acting, can you talk about how important is it to be able to step outside of the character and take a break from what you’re doing in the show?

I believe Daniel Day Lewis is very picky about the work he chooses and takes long periods of respite from work. When you see his performances that’s completely understandable to me! I am not a method actor…but….I do feel that I balance a very technical/pragmatic worker with a willingness to plummet the depths of the work. That can take it’s toll if you’re not careful. I have a husband who knows me deeply and draws me home….and 2 children who don’t give a damn about Judy Garland or any other character for that matter!


Children remind you that being a brilliant performer is not the most important thing in your life.

Being a brilliant wife and mother is!


Which acting methods or approaches have you trained in and what is your default approach to creating (becoming) a character?

Default position when approaching a character? Work!!! Lots of work!! Research. Preparation. Know that play. Better than anyone. Be open to the Director to your other actors. Someone will always think of something you haven’t. Try anything. Aubrey Mellor said to me many years ago…” Any character is capable of doing anything. The important question is…Would she do it in this moment?” Gold! I’ve never forgotten it. We can easily fall into the trap of  “Oh…My character wouldn’t do that.” Be Brave. Go there. Plummet the depths that expose themselves. Be ugly. Be true. You must seek the truth. And find it. You’ll fool no one if you’re faking. It’s Acting! Look into the eyes of another actor….and play with them.


Tell us what it’s been like to work so closely with your (husband) MD and musicians on this piece?

Short answer… I could not have got thru this show without my husband Andrew McNaughton (MD). No way in hell. He knows me better than anyone. He knows my terrors and insecurities and he has done everything he can to nurture me thru this. He is always honest…”you know you’re flat there?”…but always supportive and encouraging. Gotta say…it’s been like a 2nd honeymoon. Don’t know if he would say that though! The band? Well…Live musicians bring something to a production and a performance that is magical and intangible. They lift you to a thrilling place. Andrew has assembled a very kind bunch. They know they’re not dealing with a musician in me…but they back me…follow me…save me…always with kindness.


What is it about Judy Garland that we love so much? What do you love about her music and the roles she has played in some of our best-loved films?

Why do we love Judy? Talent!! Heart! Vulnerability! Resilience! TALENT! At her best she was breathtaking. At her worst…heartbreaking.


What’s your favourite film of all time?

Favourite movie? Sophie’s Choice! Still!


What’s on your playlist?

Playlist? Terrible…I don’t have one! I’m banned from playing Judy in the house anymore! My husband is a bit of a music Nazi at the best of times…so….when I’m in the car….alone….I secretly listen to crap pop radio! Clears my head from the absolute terror of going to work every night!


Catch Christen in End of the Rainbow at QPAC until March 24th



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