As the much-loved musical comes to Brighton, soap star Bill Ward tells EDWIN GILSON what makes it so appealing

You’ve just come off stage after a matinee. How do you feel in these moments?

Elated, generally. In this show there is a big finish, and then about 10 minutes after that you fall of a cliff energy-wise. I’m still buzzing at the moment but if I start dribbling down the phone, you know what’s happened.

Is it still uplifting for you to perform Legally Blonde, months into the current run?

Yes, it is. It’s just a very infectious show – it has a real joy to it. It’s got some great jokes and the songs are terrific. It’s clever, smart, intelligent and well-written. From a performance point of view it’s always fun to do, because audiences love it.

Had you seen the show before joining the cast?

I saw the original production of it at the Savoy. Richard Fleeshman and Sheridan Smith were in it, and I absolutely loved it. It’s a heart-warming tale of love overcoming all. There are lots of morals going on beneath what is a very pink and fluffy exterior. You need a bit of that. To use a food analogy, you need the main course, not just the pudding. There are journeys that a number of characters go on.

Does your character, Professor Callahan, go on a journey?

He does, of some kind, but there is no redemption for Professor Callahan. All there is is retribution and justice. I read the original book and he’s an amalgamation of four or five characters from that book. He’s very clever, but he also happens to be the head of a billion dollar law firm, which tells you quite a lot about him. He’s ruthless and in love with his own intelligence. He’s used to being right and people being in awe of him. As the show goes on, he starts to meet his match in a few characters and he’s not used to that, so that’s fun.

Where did you look for inspiration when bringing the character to life?

One of the things was the film Wall Street. Gordon Gecko is quite an interesting touchstone for this kind of character. On the outside he’s quite charming and clever but on the inside he’s absolutely ruthless and does whatever he can do to win. Wall Street is of the same period as Legally Blonde, too.

Is Professor Callahan quite judgemental towards Elle at first, does he judge her on her looks?

He’s interested in Elle because she’s unlike anything he’s ever come across. She has a fashion background and says things that to his ears are wildly inappropriate. He can see early on that she has a really good brain – she’s just used to applying it in a different subject field. He’s intrigued by her because she clearly has aptitude. he is smart enough to see that and he promotes her on that basis.

At one point the professor hits on Elle. Has that moment taken on new relevance in light of the “Me Too” movement?

I know where you’re going with that, and I try not to talk about that scene in interviews because that’s the pivot of the show. I take your point entirely, though – I do think that has contemporary relevance with the “Me Too” movement. It’s very much a show of the present.

Do you think anyone could have foreseen how much the Legally Blonde film would resonate with people 20 years later?

I’m not going to compare Legally Blonde with Shakespeare, but Shakespeare’s work remains relevant because there are fundamental human truths in it. It’s the same with this. There are things about the human soul and spirit that the show picks up on.

Have you had much experience in singing on stage?

I like doing musicals because I like how uplifting they are. When I first came out of driving school I did quite a few Christmas shows, not pantos, where there was a lot of singing. I’ve done lots of acting jobs with music in them, too. I did Spamalot at the West End, too, playing Lancelot. And the Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever.

What’s your criteria for choosing roles these days?

First and foremost I’m just a jobbing actor so I tend to go where the work goes. Work breeds work. I like the full range you get as an actor. My basic territory is solid drama, but musicals are a nice counterpoint to that serious emoting you can do in drama.

How do you shift from Sophocles to the Spice Girls?

[Laughs heartily] It’s just what comes up, really. Good, solid drama like Sophocles is my heartland, but The Spice Girls was really good fun. You just use different parts of yourself. I was talking to my sister about acting, and why I do it, and I came to the conclusion that I use most of myself doing this. I also enjoy the physicality of it – you feel really fit doing this. My dancing is dreadful but I put in the hours.

Are you looking forward to coming to Brighton?

I did used to live in Brighton, just so you know, round the back of the Duke Of York’s cinema. I lived there for about five years in the early 2000s. I just fancied a move and it was one of the few places I could afford to buy a basement flat in. I know prices have gone through the roof now. I love the sea, too.

Lots of actors live down there these days. When I was there, there was a West End train at 11pm train which all the actors used to get down from London. I’ve got a soft spot for Brighton.

Legally Blonde 
Theatre Royal Brighton, 
June 11 to 16,