Adam J. Bernard Interview
On Winning Awards, His Star Wars Role & James Brown

adam j. bernard olivier awards INTERVIEW
Adam J. Bernard wears shirt and jacket CHESTER BARRIE

Adam J. Bernard Interview.

Berkshire-born Adam J. Bernard once harboured plans for a career on the football pitch; he caught the stage bug following his 2010 audition for talent contest X-Factor. Much to West End audiences’ luck, Adam changed paths and appeared in his debut role shortly after, taking to the world stages of the touring Michael Jackson production Thriller Live! in 2011. Since then, Adam has collected a number of show business credits, appearing on stage, TV and the cinema screen – including 2015’s Star Wars reboot. Earlier this month, he celebrated his biggest success yet as his performance in Motown inspired hit show Dreamgirls was awarded an Olivier Award. Something About met with Adam J. Lambert at Aquavit London to discuss Dreamgirls, Michael Jackson and getting dressed on Savile Row.

Since taking on the role of Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls, you perform to sold-out audiences every night. What is that like, and what is a regular working day for you?

It’s amazing. A lot of people train to be able to do a job like this and to do something you love and enjoy. It’s something that is not available to everyone; it’s not so easy to get into the industry. So it’s a privilege, it’s very honourable, it makes me proud that I’ve been able to get here. Rehearsals are the most intense. Once the show is up and running, you usually come in around 6pm, do warm up, go through show notes for that evening and then everyone goes to their rooms, gets ready and has a bit of down time. Then they have a half an hour call; you have 30 minutes to get ready and then it’s beginners and you just get ready to do the show. But on a rehearsal day, it’s normal hours, so like 9:30 or 10 until 6 or 6:30. Then, when you get into tech, sometimes you do the mornings or you start doing the afternoons. Sometimes you have really long tech days – 10, 12 hour days. And then you have a preview period, which is basically when we’re doing shows but it’s a preview to see what people’s reactions are. So it’s a lot, but then once press night comes the show is sort of locked, which means there is no more changes and you just kind of come in and do the show from then.

Can you tell us more about your 2017 Olivier Award winning role in Dreamgirls?

His name is Jimmy Early. In the film, he was played by Eddie Murphy. He’s the showman in the show. The three girls kind of start career being my backing singers. He’s going around performing, and his first song is ‘Fake your way to the Top’. He’s based on James Brown, but he is kind of crazy – [it’s] a high energy comedic role, so it’s a lot of fun. I was raised on James Brown and Michael Jackson so in terms of going out there and doing the music, I get to embody the influences I grew up on which is really nice. It’s a lot of energy and the comedy is another element. I grew up on Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx – so those elements of comedy.

On the night of the awards at the Royal Albert Hall, did you have any premonition you may win?

I had no idea, this was actually the first year I’ve been nominated for two things. Dream Girls is a big part of my life because I have never been nominated for anything before that, and I had never been to any Award Ceremonies. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen any of the other performers or nominees and I was already trying to not get my hopes up. I wanted to just really enjoy the event, because it’s the Olivier’s. I really had no idea yeah. I was wearing Chester Barrie. They were the official menswear sponsor for the Olivier’s and they really made me feel like I was a million pounds. I had two fittings before [the event]. I went in and they gave me a few items to select and we found something that I really liked and that they really felt I looked good in and fitted me. I came back and they made sure it all fit really nicely and yeah I just felt on Cloud Nine – specially after I won. It was absolutely amazing.

How did you experience the night? 

Oh my gosh, my heart was beating. Actually, I was sitting with my girlfriend and funny enough even though I’m the actor and I play the comedy role, I’m quite introvert sometimes so a lot of people don’t know how I’m feeling, I’m quiet, still and grounded. We were sitting there and for the whole ceremony up until my award my hands were freezing cold and I just could not sit still. I was constantly looking at the brochures thinking ‘when’s mine, when’s mine’. I’d made a speech; I didn’t want to fluff up the lines or anything, so I kept going through this speech. I have no idea, I said to my girlfriend, imagine the possibility of me practising, practising and practising and then you don’t win. It was absolutely surreal.

adam j. bernard olivier awards INTERVIEW
Adam J. Bernard wears shirt and jacket CHESTER BARRIE

You never went to stage school; how did you break into this very competitive industry?

Yeah, I was very fortunate. I got into the industry via one agent. I put together a CV and I had been on X-factor in 2010. I got to bootcamp, but I just missed out on Judges Houses. It was the year they made One Direction, so they called the boys back and said ‘We’re gonna make a group’.  I was in that little group but it didn’t happen. Obviously it wasn’t supposed to! I put a CV together and mentioned that I was on X-factor and one agent gave me an opportunity. My first audition that she put me up for, I was fortunate enough to get it. That was in 2011, and I’ve been in the industry ever since.

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Did appearing on the X Factor prepare you in any way for your current work?

Well, there were similarities, and in an indirect way it was actually quite a nice prep. It was good preparation for me going into this industry, because there were things like interviews or a little bit of press calls and having to perform on the spot. That year, they made the audience public – before it was always in a room with the judges and you’d just sing to them – but then they introduced  the audience so that was the first time I sung in front of like 5000 people. I’d never done it before, it was another added layer on top of already feeling nervous to do something. It was a great preparation, because when you’re doing theatre and musical theatre you’re performing in front of thousands of people every day, eight shows a week.

And do you still get nervous before hitting the stage now?

It’s a different; I was nervous because I’d never experienced anything like it before. I didn’t know what to expect. Now, doing a show without an audience is a bit weird. You do it for the audience, you do it to get an energy, get a response from the audience. To provoke emotions and have them enjoy themselves. Now, when we do rehearsals once we get to the period where we were doing previews and run throughs without an audience you get to a point where everyone is just like  ‘We need an audience’! Without it,  it’s like an element of the show, an element of the energy that’s not there, that’s not present and you need it. You need it to be able to gage what work,s what doesn’t. It’s what I love; I love going to the stage door and hearing people say that they were laughing, that they were crying and that they really enjoyed. Before, it used to make me nervous; now, not so much. When something is new you always have those butterflies because you don’t want to get the words wrong, but once you get into a bit of a routine you just go out and try and tell the story and enjoy yourself and make it feel new every time.

You mentioned you grew up to a soundtrack of James Brown and Michael Jackson. Has this influenced what you do now? Are your parents very musical?

Yeah, definitely. Especially the first show that I was in, which was Thriller Live!, the Michael Jackson musical. It really gave me a sense of home, of feeling comfortable at least. I grew up with them, I sang all my life. My parents love music. Neither of them sing, funnily enough my older brother sings. I don’t know where he learnt it,  but I obviously got it from him because I grew up with him, Michael Jackson and James Brown. But yeah, they influence me every day, especially away from the music and away from the dancing, the relentless hard work and determination to just be the best and work on the craft because they love it and they want to express themselves. That’s something I try and take away and put in my life as a general rule, just to work hard and love what you do and never take it for granted.

You also starred in the 2015 reboot of Star Wars!

I did. That was surreal, especially because my older brother – he’s eleven years older than me – he grew up with Star Wars. He’s a major fan and he took me to the films. I’ve seen all Star Wars, so to then work on them was surreal. I was John Boyega’s stunt double, so I was wearing his costumes and there were times when there was a Chewbacca next to me and a Millennium Falcon behind me, and we were in the sand dunes of Abu Dhabi. So surreal.

What is next for Adam J. Bernard?

Well I’m a supporting lead role in this show, so if I did another musical I would love to get that lead role. Also hopefully the door is open for tv and film. I’ve got a manager in LA.  I kind of try to see what way the wind blows and I try and go with it rather than resist. Whatever I’m doing, whatever opportunities come up, I try to accept them and see what happens.

adam j. bernard olivier awards INTERVIEW
Adam J. Bernard wears his own T-shirt

PHOTOGRAPHER: Caroline Quinn for Something About

Adam J. Bernard Interview at Aquavit London




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