After several years playing 60’s icon, Frankie Valli in London’s West End production of Jersey Boys, Michael Watson is back in the leading role, taking the multi-award-winning musical on the road in a new UK tour. He chats to Carmel Thomason about confidence, playing a rock star, and doubling for Tom Cruise.
You’ve a long history with Jersey Boys, how did it all begin?
My story with the show actually began when I was 21 and I went in to read for the role of Frankie Valli. I remember there being a lot of excitement towards my audition and I felt good. I ultimately got cut after a singing round and I believe it may have been the lack of maturity in my voice.
Three years later I was able to audition again, and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by. I went for a singing lesson with the vocal coach of the company and went in fully prepared. I made it to the finals!
To make some money at the time, I had taken a job to be a body double for Tom Cruise, shooting a running scene he couldn’t do himself. On the morning of my final audition I was on set and had to meet Tom to be signed off. I was so excited. Though, due to an earlier scene going wrong, I had to wait longer. I eventually had to tell them I had to leave to go to my final audition for Jersey Boys and, as much as I wanted to do the scene and meet Tom, Jersey Boys was my dream. So, they got me a taxi to London I did my final and got first cover Frankie! I also got to be a double for Tom so win-win. Ha!
After a year I got offered the opportunity to do the role full-time and flew to the US to work with Bob Gaudio and the American team. That was amazing and went well and I finally got the role. The rest is history
How did it feel to return to the role?
I had unfinished business with this role and more I wanted to do with it. It felt great! When I do leave I can leave knowing I did all I could with the role.
How has the experience of playing Frankie Valli changed for you over time?
It is a very intense role that takes true mastery of one’s mindset. Vocally, and mentally it’s like being a tennis player or a professional athlete. I am so much stronger in so many ways because of this role.
How close is Valli’s voice to your own?
Well, fortunately, it sits well in my range and there are some strong similarities. I am not an impressionist, I just lean toward his iconic style. My tenor voice is very similar, although I add a bit more twang in places like the falsetto notes and some vowels, so I would say that is the only difference.
Do you have a favourite number in the show?
It changes nightly! I do truly love those songs. At the moment I am loving Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You. Those are the points I feel most like a rock star.
You met Frankie Valli – how was that?
He is amazing! A true legend. I remember being warned he says how he feels. If he likes you or doesn’t, he will say. Luckily, he was very complimentary and invited me to watch him perform at the Royal Albert Hall the following night. To be complimented by the man you’re portraying is everything. He walked the steps and I am only playing them. Truly an icon!
During Jersey Boys you recreate a concert feel on stage, has the experience inspired you to develop as a solo singer?
I have always loved being a frontman and it felt like my calling, so whether it’s changed me or not I don’t know. I play Frankie’s style of frontman for this, with just a sprinkle of me in it. I think I definitely am more grounded with the experience and growing older.
How do you look after your health and your voice when you’re on tour?
Hydration and a strong vocal warm up. A positive mindset and as much fun at work as I can get away with.
Singing is all about expression and I believe when you sing from a state of joy you are in the perfect form to express and inevitably sing better.
You’ve recently launched a YouTube channel Confidence Coach. What is the idea behind that?
I believe, in every one of us is a power and a state that leads us to live our best life. I use the word confidence because it has a strong message of personal power. The whole channel is about helping as many people as possible find that inner self love and worth that allows us to be happy. It’s not confidence from the point of view of who is the loudest in the room. It’s from the view that you don’t have to be anything but you. You are good enough. You don’t have to compare yourself to others. You have an inner respect for yourself.
It’s feels like my next life mission is to help as many people as possible break down their own barriers and feel brave enough and strong enough to live their version of a happy life.
We are all different and want different things. These tools that I want to share will be coming from years of study of myself the highs and lows of being an actor and facing rejection and self-doubts. Ultimately arriving at a conclusion that the power to change lies with us. With daily practice we can change old limiting habits to new uplifting positive ones. Creating a life that we thought we could only dream of.
Have you always been confident?
I did have a natural sort of confidence when younger and through the years it has gone up and down. Being an actor, you are faced with rejection a lot more often than in other work.
As actors, we are our work, so this rejection can be felt strongly. I used to be able to deal with that ok, but it had its tough times.
I went through some anxiety in my first run playing Frankie Valli actually. I had a lot of fans of the show unhappy that the original actor that played the role was leaving and I took it to heart. Eventually in my second year I had a slight burn out and took a few weeks off. I stopped trusting myself to do my work. It was a very low tone for me. Through sheer determination I came back and finished my final year.
I think we all sometimes just need to take the first step to start or finish something and just keep going.
When I came back to the show a lot had changed for me. I decided to talk to myself differently. I said how easy and fun the show is. I honestly can say I have had the most joyous time on stage with this show after the simple changes of mindset.
It’s daily work. Keep an eye out for videos and also I offer private coaching.
This is the simple version. I may address the story in a video one day.
What is your best tip for a small change someone can make to increase confidence?
I have two things I’d like anyone wanting to feel more confident to do
- Find a mirror. Look yourself in the eyes and say (your name) I love and approve of you. You are good enough.
This can be harder than it seems, and you have to use a mirror. The eyes are the window to our soul. This will make profound change.
- When walking around. Pick your eyes up. Shoulders back and smile. This physicality has a huge effect on our emotional state. Leading to feeling more confident. Add another level. Catch someone’s eye and smile at them. That connection is strong for our emotional freedom
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Come watch the show. It’s a truly wonderful experience and in such good shape. Some of the most talented actors in the UK doing their best work and I get to work with them.
As for my coaching. Small steps lead to great change. I have taken the first step in this journey of mine to also try to be an example to others. I love connections and love to help people. Follow the channel and let’s see what we can learn together. Even helping one person make lasting change is enough.
Michael Watson plays Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys UK tour at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 29 January to 16 February 2019. See website for full tour details.
Read our review of Jersey Boys UK Tour.
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