Interviewed by Sue Leonard
Published in The Irish Examiner on 3rd January, 2013.
Bonnie Langford is coming to Dublin. Star of numerous musicals, and one time child star, she’s appearing at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, in ‘9 to 5,’ a musical comedy based on the 1980 film starring Dolly Parton. Parton also wrote the lyrics.
Langford is excited to be bringing the show here, for its Irish premiere.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “Audiences seem to embrace it. In England, we’ve had a lot of women having a girl’s night out, and they love the show. We’ve also had a few men,” she says. “And some of them were dressed as Dolly Parton.”
The show is set in an office the seventies.
“And that gives it a nice period flavour,” she says. “There’s a chauvinist boss who likes to keep his girls at bay; it highlights the glass ceiling that is there.”
Langford is playing the part of Roz Keith
“She’s the office manager, and the only character in the show who likes the boss. She has a thing for him – but its unrequited. He doesn’t see it.”
Langford has never met Dolly Parton; but she’s admires her hugely.
“She’s this great person who everybody loves. She’s creative and a great business woman, worth an estimated 400 million dollars. She’s created a persona, and embraces who she is. She brings joy to people.”
Bonnie Langford has had an extraordinary varied career since she appeared on Opportunity Knocks, aged six. A child megastar – appearing in films, on stage, and on TV – she has since performed in comedy, and has starred in numerous hit musicals from Cats to Chicago. She played Mel in two series of Dr Who, and has served her term in pantomime. What genre feels most comfortable?
“I like paying the mortgage,” she says, with a husky laugh. “I love all the different elements, and that there is always something new. You think, gosh, I should know it all by now, but you are constantly learning. And you have to keep your performance fresh and alive. I love performing with different people. It’s like being part of another family.”
Langford first appeared on the stage aged four months. Her mother owned a dance school, so performing became second nature to her daughter.
“I performed The Good Ship Lollipop on Opportunity Knocks, because I was playing Shirley Temple for our end of year show – a Hollywood Tribute. I found being on TV really comfortable. I loved it. I couldn’t understand why the people around me were suffering with nerves.
“I was a dull child thought,” she says. “If I was asked to do something in a professional environment, I’d get up and do it; but I wouldn’t dance in the living room for my aunties. I’d refuse and hide in the toilet.”
From the start, Langford watched other actresses, to learn her craft. At eight, she played the part of Baby June in Gypsy, alongside Angela Lansbury on Broadway.
“I watched her give the most incredible performance. I watched her as an actor, and a person, and she is exemplary. She has this wonderful charisma and aura on and off the stage. I’ve always had the greatest admiration for her, and she remains a friend.”
There’s a lot of misinformation about Langford on the web. Click on her ‘first TV appearance’ on YouTube, and she’s a parody in pink frills.
“That was not my first performance,” she says. “That clip is me on Russell Harty when I was eight years old. The frilly dress was my costume from Gypsy, and that was my dance routine, ‘Let me Entertain You.’ I was promoting it at the time.”
Such mistakes irritate Langford. As does the perception that her own persona mirrored the parts she played – including that of the lisping Violet Elizabeth in the TV series, Just William.
“I had become this persona I didn’t really want to be. I had always played the role, and I knew what was expected of me, but I got to a point that I didn’t want to be the person I was supposed to be. I wasn’t comfortable.
“I went through a period in my twenties when my work life balance was out of kilter, and I wasn’t happy. I was embarrassed about my persona and was searching for different things. I was feeling vulnerable.”
Would she have preferred a normal childhood?
“Not at all,” she says. “I was useless at sport. I still am. If someone throws me a ball I shut my eyes, so I created the childhood I wanted.”
If she was so bad at sport – how come she performed in the first series of Dancing on Ice?
“I’d never been to an ice rink before. I hadn’t a clue, and that’s why I loved it. All my life I’d been professional in everything I did. In skating I had permission to make mistakes. It was ‘tell me what to do because I don’t know how,’ and that was refreshing.”
Originally the reserve for the show, Langford participated when another contender broke her wrist. Avoiding that fate – though she did cut her head open twice, and still lives with a few war wounds, Langford made it to the final, and the following year toured with Torvill and Dean.
Living between New York and Surrey, Langford has a stepdaughter, and a daughter, Biana, 12, with her husband actor, Paul Grunert. Does she act?
“She’s had little dabbles. It’s somewhere in the blood. All I can do is support and encourage. The only thing I have said to her, is, ‘if you do it, you must do it well.’ She doesn’t have that freedom of anonymity.”
Of all Langford’s roles, the murderess, Roxie Hart in Chicago is, perhaps, her favourite.
“Chicago was a great show to be part of,” she says. “I dabble in it in America still, sometimes. And I did it in London. I also loved being in ‘Cats.’ And in Spamalot – which I’ve just done, touring Britain. That was a fabulous company and I made lifelong friends.”
At 48, has she experienced any ageism?
“Not really. Except when I do this energetic routine in the middle of ‘9 to 5,’ the other actors go, ‘oh my God – and you’re 48!’ And I go, ‘well I’m not getting my bus pass.’ At the moment I feel positive about ageing. It’s too easy to moan.”
Life, right now, is frenetic. Langford had her first St Stephen’s day off in years – but she spent it watching her husband playing in Kiss Me Kate.
“We’ve been in other ends of the country. We cope with it, but it’s becoming difficult. I’m getting sick of touring. I’m leaving ‘9 to 5,’ at the end of February, and going home to be more of an attentive mother. I have some work lined up – but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”
Does she have any regrets?
“No. There are things that didn’t work out the way I planned, but you are meant to learn from them, so they don’t come and hit you in the face again. You get on with it, and keep learning and listening.”
9 to 5 comes to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre on 21st January.
© Sue Leonard. 2013.