Grilling Frank-n-Furter: Interview with Duncan James

Grilling Frank-n-Furter: Interview with Duncan James

Ahead of the Rocky Horror Show’s run at The Bristol Hippodrome, I:M Theatre sits down with Duncan James, who will play Frank-n-Furter.

What made you say yes to playing Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show?

It’s been a dream role of mine for a long time. I heard they were doing The Rocky Horror Show and I think Frank-N-Furter is one of the best roles you can play in musical theatre. It’s such an iconic role and the show has such a loyal following. It’s such a wonderfully-written show and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great to play Frank?’ I rang my agent and said ‘I hear they’re casting The Rocky Horror Show, can you get me an audition?’ He did and so I went in, did the audition and got a recall. When I went back I said to myself ‘I’m gonna get this’ and I did. I was really lucky because I fought off lots of competition from other well-known actors who were up for the part. I was like ‘No, no, no, this is my part!’ so when I got it I was really proud of myself.


What are most enjoying about playing Frank?

Everything! And of course he has one of the best entrances in musical theatre. The reaction you get from his opening number Sweet Transvestite is amazing because it’s such a great song and you come out in a cloak, then take the cloak off to reveal his really out-there outfit. It’s a great moment.


Can you relate to him in any way?

For me it’s more about having fun rather than relatability. The part of Frank-N-Furter is so twisted and so dark and that’s such fun to play. I mean, he’s essentially a psychopathic doctor who wants to create a man for his own pleasure and he’ll kill whoever gets in his way. Coming from Hollyoaks where I got to play a serial killer I thought it’d be great to then go and play Frank - to explore that dark, twisted mind again of someone who is living on the edge, someone who isn’t afraid to do what he has to do to get what he wants. That kind of character is really fun to play.


Presumably with this role you’re very comfortable in heels?

I am, yes, and I love getting dressed up every night, putting on the corset, the fishnets and heels. It’s such an empowering moment because when I walk out on that stage I feel huge compared to the other cast members. I feel like I’m towering above everybody and instantly I get that sense of command that Frank has. [Laughs] And of course I’m not shy so I love strutting round. I’m really embracing it. Also, I have a bit of a fascination with drag queens and drag artists. I’ve become a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s like my number one guilty pleasure. I cannot miss an episode of any of RuPaul’s stuff.


Do you do much ad-libbing in response to the audience shout-outs?

There’s none of that from me. The only person who’s allowed to do that is The Narrator. They are the only ones who get to heckle back. I can do an eyebrow raise or a little smirk because, apart from The Narrator, Frank is the only one who’s allowed to acknowledge the audience.


What sort of shout-outs have you had so far?

There’s a lot of rude stuff and I get to do a scene in bed with Ben Adams from A1. So it’s two boyband members in a bed, which is quite funny and prompts quite a few amusing shout-outs.


Why do you think The Rocky Horror Show has endured?

I think it’s down to the genius of Richard O’Brien. He created The Rocky Horror Show back in the 70s when it was really taboo to talk about certain subjects and having a man dressed up as a transvestite was unheard of. It was like ‘What on earth is this Tim Curry guy doing?’ It was banned in some countries because they thought it was completely wrong and it had a tough start because a lot of people didn’t know how to take it. A lot of people found it in bad taste but that was a sign of the times, of course. As attitudes towards sexuality, sex and transgender issues have changed we’ve become a lot more open-minded and liberal, haven’t we? It’s fantastic that we now embrace shows like The Rocky Horror Show. It’s great that this show in particular has stood the test of time. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger, with more and more people getting dressed up to come see it as well as knowing the story and shout-outs. The show gains more and more fans every time it goes out on tour.


When it comes to musical theatre, what have been your favourite roles?

I’m really lucky that I’ve gotten to do so many great shows. I loved playing Billy Flynn in Chicago. That’s a great role and I was lucky enough to play him again in the West End revival last year. I got to work with Alexandra Burke, who I adore, and we had great chemistry together. I loved playing Tick in Priscilla because it’s one of the most incredible, most liberating roles. Me having a child and being a gay man, I really related to the character. And The Rocky Horror Show is really good fun. It’s one of those shows where you get on stage every night and just have a really good time. It doesn’t feel like having to go to work and the audiences love it. The music is great, Frank’s words are so delicious and the way the story is told is just brilliant. I’m living my best life right now.


Do you have any plans to work with Blue again?

Definitely. As long as people want to come see us there’ll always be Blue. We’re very lucky that we get to travel all over the world. We get to play sold-out arenas wherever we go and we get to have these amazing trips away. We were in Bahrain recently then we went to Singapore and Malaysia, which was wonderful - to be able to travel to these countries with my friends and get up on stage and sing songs that everybody knows.


When it comes to theatre, do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

This show consumes quite a lot of preparation with the make-up, the wig and everything. I have my little routine of doing my make-up, getting the wig put on, getting into the costume and then I’m on stage. There’s not a lot of time to think or prepare. After a show I take it all off then spend up to an hour at the stage door signing stuff and having pictures with everybody. There are always so many people at the stage door, which is lovely and I always want to make sure to give time to everybody. By the time I get home after that it’s like 11.30pm and I’m knackered.


What’s the one thing you couldn’t be on tour without?

My pillow goes everywhere with me. I cannot sleep in a hotel room without it because I can’t stand those horrible synthetic pillows you usually get. I have a proper old-school, feathered, heavy pillow which goes with me everywhere.


You’re bringing the show to the Bristol Hippodrome. Does it have any significance for you?

Bristol is the one place I was meant to perform in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert but didn’t actually get to do the show there. That’s when I slipped a disc in my back and I was in hospital. So getting to go back to Bristol and actually do a show is really exciting. It’s a wonderful theatre and it was frustrating that last time I was there but didn’t get to go on stage.

The Rocky Horror Show will be at The Bristol Hippodrome 17th-22nd June, you can purchase tickets here.

Simon Button