Jemma Rix has played the lead role of Wicked for over six years and is returning to Melbourne in May to bring the musical back to the city. She spoke to Catalyst’s Jasmin Ashton about developing characters, living her dream role and performing in the city where she lives.
Would you consider yourself firstly to be a singer or an actor?
Firstly a singer because I did a lot of acting when I was a little kid, and a lot of modelling, but I think singing was my first love and so that’s probably the first thing for me.
I’ve always loved acting but never really thought of myself as a musical theatre performer. When I was doing amateur theatre, I was in the ensemble, dancing and singing and never really thought myself as much of an actress.
I definitely was quite nervous when I first took on the role as a standby back in 2008, it was my first big role and I really wanted to do justice to it.
Obviously my Elphaba has grown over the years and I’ve developed her, plus I’ve done a lot of acting classes and courses throughout that time as well to make sure I deliver a fresh, natural and truthful performance.
As the show goes on do you feel like you’re constantly developing your performance?
I feel that if you’re gonna do a show for such a long time, if you think that you’re going to get to a certain point and then you don’t have to try anymore or grow anymore, that your character will not be truthful or the audience won’t connect with the role.
I’m always thinking how can I make Elphaba detailed and truthful, so it’s always something that I’m working on, and we have resident directors and musical directors who throughout that time can actually give you notes and work with you… on something that might have evolved. When you’re working on a show everyday you think and evolve and don’t know that you have. You’ve got people working with you to make sure that the show is fresh and throughout that time that you’re always gonna be a very truthful character in that moment.
What has always been your dream role?
I think for most people it’s one of those roles, Glinda as well, you’re either a Glinda or an Elphaba…
I don’t have that beautiful soprano voice so I could definitely not play Glinda but both roles are very iconic roles and dream roles for a lot of women out there. I’ve been very lucky in that I started with the show so early and I’ve been growing up with this role so I’ve been very fortunate but this is the ultimate for me.
After eight years in this role, how have you found a balance between your personal life and performing around the world?
I think that when I first started playing the role full-time that was hard for me to have balance, because I was so exhausted by the pressure… I did a lot of sleeping and a lot of worrying and it got to a point where it was like, “I can’t live like this, this is my job and I need to somehow find that balance.” I started to feel comfortable with my shows and figured out how to sustain so many shows in a week and still have it as high a level as I
could possibly make it.
But obviously when you travel and do the show it’s really hard to have balance because you’re literally in that place just for work. Sometimes my husband’s able to come with me; but I don’t get to have him with me all the time so that’s why I think Melbourne will be really exciting because I get to come home, I’ve got my dogs, I can feel a bit more balanced and enjoy it and have two separate worlds.
How do you feel about the fact that your role as Elphaba has so far been the core of your career development?
For me, I feel really fortunate. There are so many talented people in Australia that aren’t working, and it’s got so much to do with talent but also to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time, which shows are auditioning, things like that, so I feel incredibly lucky and never take it for granted.
Even though it’s the one show the whole time it’s an amazing show and opportunity to be working consistently in doing something that you love. Being able to do the one thing, enjoy it, love it, being pushed as an actress and singer everyday, I’m growing as a performer. I never take it for granted, that’s for sure.
By Jasmin Ashton