Theatre Interview: Jonny Fines – An Officer And A Gentleman, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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                         Image Source: ATG

Written By: Mark Armstrong

If you had to make a list of ten memorable movies from the 1980s, there’s a good chance that one of them would be An Officer And A Gentleman. The combination of an easy-to-follow romance tale, a fantastic soundtrack and a classic ending all made for a real treat on the big screen. Now, the film has been transformed into a musical that is touring the UK, and tonight, An Officer And A Gentleman arrives in Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. Prior to the show, we spoke to Jonny Fines, who plays leading character Zack Mayo in the story, as we discussed the current production, his previous experience as Zack, and his background and future aspirations in the world of theatre.

First of all, tell us about your role as Zack Mayo in An Officer And A Gentleman.

The story revolves around my character Zack Mayo, who has had a bit of an estranged relationship with his dad, as well as losing his mum at an early age. So, he decides that he wants to enter the Navy as a Jet Fighter. He’s kinda the least likely candidate to make that happen; he doesn’t have much academic talent, and he’s got a bit of a bad attitude. Fortunately for him, he gets surrounded by the perfect combination of the perfect girl and the perfect drill instructor. They push him in all of the right ways, and they help him to achieve his dreams.

Have you previously seen the original movie?

Yes. I was in the workshop when (the production team) first came up with the concept of putting this on stage in about 2016. I was aware of all of the iconic conceptions of the film, such as the uniform and obviously the lifting scene which happens at the end, but I wasn’t really aware of anything else to do with this storyline. So, I watched it when I was asked to do the workshop, and I obviously saw why it was such a successful film.

As you alluded to, you have actually played Zack Mayo in the past. What was this like the first time around, and how has the experience been different this time?

Well, we did the first workshop in 2016, and we did another one around a year later. I was busy for that week the year after that, so I couldn’t do it again. For the first workshop that we did, it was strange; there’s a familiarity about it compared to this current run, the script is very similar and there are lots of bits that are still the same, but a lot of things are different too. I would say that 60% of the songs that we had in the original workshop are not in the current show; there are lots of new songs. There were parts of the first script where it was like “that doesn’t work” or “this doesn’t fit in”, and they take it out and replace it with a new bit. We were really fortunate to work with Douglas Day Stewart, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie. He was on hand for the whole rehearsal process and for the workshops to rewrite some bits where it was necessary to do so.

Tell us about your background in theatre; you have performed in many other stage shows in the past.

Yes, so I went to the Guildford School Of Acting from 2007-2010. I was lucky enough to get a job before I graduated; The Sound Of Music was my first job. Since then, I’ve just been doing some really exciting stuff; I’ve just finished playing Rooster in Annie on the West End, which wrapped up just before we began rehearsals for this current show. Other stuff I’ve done includes Avenue Q and Grease, some really big musicals. I’ve been to Liverpool with three shows, so this will be my fourth time in Liverpool, and I’m looking forward to getting back there.

Obviously, there is a romantic aspect to the story of this show. Do you approach your performances differently depending on the genre of the show?

Yeah. I think you have to attack every kind of job differently, because you have to think about what the audience expects to see when they come to the show. For instance, when I was doing Annie, I knew that it was a family show, so we were performing predominantly to family audiences including a lot of kids. You have to make sure that your performance is appropriate to those groups. For this job, people are aware of the film, they’ve seen it before and they’ve come to see what they’re going to expect. So with the romance and that kind of stuff, you really have to go into it straight-in, because from seeing the film, it’s quite an intense romantic role, and that’s how we attack it. We try and make it as real as possible.

Have you ever been required to perform scenes which can be difficult for you as an actor?

It really helps when you’ve got somebody to play off, who you trust and where you know what the boundaries are. Emma Williams, who plays opposite me in this show, is brilliant. We said to each other before we began rehearsals that we’ll go into this full throttle, and if anything feels wrong or doesn’t feel right, then we’ll talk to each other about it until it does feel right. That was how we did it, and I think that’s been really helpful for both of us to know that we both have each other’s trust, and that we can talk to each other about anything. I think that has helped us to get to where we are now.

What are your future ambitions in theatre?

I really like to create new work, like dreaming up original productions of things where I get to create a character. I’ve been fortunate to get to do that quite a few times, and I think that’s where my passion lies. As long as I’m creating, I’m happy, so carrying on this road is good for me.

Finally, what can the Liverpool audience expect from An Officer And A Gentleman?

Well, we’ve had some really funny audiences. It’s brilliant; we have all sorts of different reactions from up and down the country. We’ve been north and we’ve been south. Our southern audiences are brilliant as they’ll sit and watch and pay attention, but when we get to the north, they know that they’re here for a good night out, they’ve paid their money and they want to be entertained. I can guarantee you that they will be in Liverpool. It’s a good night out, it’s a laugh, you’re gonna have 80’s rock songs along with romance, heartbreak; the show ticks all of the boxes, and on top of all that, you get to have a fun night as well.

An Officer And A Gentleman performs at the Empire Theatre from Monday May 21 to Saturday May 26. To book your tickets, click here.