If you only glean one thing about Jodie Prenger at the interview, let it be that she’s a cracker. The Blackpool-born singer and actress made headlines in 2008 when she beat off thousands to win BBC1’s I’d Do Anything to become Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new Nancy in the West End production of Oliver!. Far from a one hit wonder, she’s gone on to play various other leading roles on stage, appeared in TV programmes, guest radio presented for Elaine Paige and Paul O’Grady, toured with John Barrowman, released a weight loss DVD and now she’s the titular role in a touring production of Calamity Jane. I caught up with Jodie while she was settling down for a nice cuppa.
Right, the kettle is on, so first up, some quick fire questions. What’s your favourite musical?
How very dare you – oh gosh, oh wow – I do love Gypsy. But then there’s Barbra Streisand and Funny Girl. And Calamity Jane, of course. But, I’ve got to go with Gypsy.
The Notebook [said without a pause]. It’s amazing. I read somewhere that Nicholas Sparks based it on his wife’s parents. I don’t cry at human films; I’m in tears over animal films, but this one makes me go.
It’s going to sound morbid and awful, but The Book of Human Skin. There is a horrible baddie but a really beautiful love story.
Off the Wall by Michael Jackson. No question.
Lots! That’s why I have a backside like a house [guffaws!]. But chocolate; it makes me very happy.
I’m a secret Disneyworld person. I worship Mickey. But I get too excited, more than a three or four year old would. Forget Santa; I still believe in Snow White.
Way to Spend an Afternoon?
A lazy Sunday with a proper Sunday dinner, an abundance of films, snuggling up to the person you love, with the rain beating on the windows, the fire roaring and nothing to do, no emails to answer and you can switch off from the world.
Now on to the harder stuff… When you were competing for Nancy one of the producers criticised you for being too big for the role; do you think body image is as big an issue in theatre as it is in TV and film?
A tough one. Ironically, I always remember the photoshoot when I won the role, and I was trying on the costume for the previous actress, and they were the same size – a size 14 – so I thought, ‘back off!’. There’s always that size issue, and there will be while it’s at the forefront of media. However, you notice more on TV and theatre, the realness of casting. There is every shape and size and there’s a role and part for everyone. I can’t say when I was ten stone I was right for Nancy.
Do you ever have to defend your weight today?
No. I don’t. Thankfully. I mean, of course, there are some dresses I’d like to drop a stone for, but I’ve decided buckskins [which Jodie wears as Calamity] are the way forward. They’re so comfy. There should be a National Buckskin Wearing Day; just as long as they’re not real!
If your dream was to play Nancy, what’s it now?
I’ve been so lucky, and have played some polar-opposite roles. Calamity is a total dream to play, when I was in a meeting and asked to do it, outside I was calm and cool, inside I was thinking ‘this is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened!’. And it’s such a talented cast; it makes you sick. My dream for when I retire though is to open an animal sanctuary and become feral: let the roots grow out and the fake tan wear off.
Do you still feel like ‘just Jodie from Blackpool’?
Oh god, yes. I mean, I like the odd taste of champagne but I never let it go to my head where I’m demanding 12 bottles of Oyster Bay and M&Ms. I don’t think so. You see people like that, demanding everything and getting away with it. They’re like naughty kids; I am a devil backstage, I love to have fun, but people want more and more. It’s sad to watch, and when you get the inside info that someone’s like that, you don’t really enjoy watching them perform anymore. My nan always said, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice’.
Did you really wet yourself after winning the role of Nancy?
I actually can’t remember after winning. I was in a total daze. You scream that hard, and jump that hard, and you lose every sort of bodily control. I wasn’t expecting to win. It was genuinely the only out of body experience I’ve had.
What’s your most embarrassing moment to date?
‘Footitis’. I’m always putting my foot in my mouth. It’s that northern thing where you speak as you find. I don’t think I’ll change; sometimes it works for the better, sometimes not.
Will you be making any New Year’s Resolutions?
Probably to send more Christmas cards. The intention is there; I always buy them, and then I never send them. Maybe I should just send a photo of me writing them as proof of the effort. Maybe I should start sending them in January?
How do you tackle the ‘January Blues’?
I don’t really get them. I don’t have the time for them to be honest. I work on an even keel – unless I go to Disneyworld and then come back, and then I’m rocking back and forth hugging a Goofy teddy as I comedown!
Calamity Jane is known as a tomboy; can you relate or are you more feminine?
I do like going and getting my hair done, and putting the fake tan and Spanx on, but I actually read on Wikipedia – apart from being an alcoholic and smoking – I kind of cover every trait the real Calamity, Martha Jane Canary, has. I just think she was an amazing person, this entity from the Wild West: sharp in her tongue and quick in the gun. The role was written for Doris Day, who is beautiful and gorgeous and the rough and ready Martha; this is a happy medium between the both. I read as well that she actually worked in a brothel. Nancy was a prostitute too. What does it say about me?…
Do you prefer Nancy or Calamity Jane?
Another tough one. With Calamity I get to live at the end and I get married, so her.
How do you fill Doris Day’s boots?
That is such a scary thing. I grew up loving Doris Day, and Vera Lynn, and all the old stuff. I never wanted to mimic her. I think that’s actually quite an insult so I hope I’ve done her proud. I didn’t know but she opened an animal sanctuary herself as well, so I hope I can do her proud in that as well.
Without spoiling anything, what can audiences expect?
It used to break my heart to see kids come to Oliver! and get upset when Nancy died, but in this, you’ve got four year olds dressed up in cowboy outfits, and adults in their 90s, then the music starts, and people start humming along. It’s so well know, and it’s fun, with a beautiful love story. The cast is so strong. If I had enough money, I’d pay for everyone to see it! And I can’t wait to bring it to York. I bloody love York. The shopping and the area is lovely. And the people are really nice. People actually talk to you in the shops. It’s not that there aren’t lovely shops down South, you just have to find the right little pocket, but there are more pockets in the North!