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David Thaxton interview - 'I feel better about playing Javert in Les Mis the second time around'
After starring in the world’s longest-running musical in 2014, actor David Thaxton has had the luxury of being able to return to Les Miserables to play Javert at the Queen’s Theatre. We caught up with the actor, who has recently also starred in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and won an Olivier Award for his role in Passion at the Donmar, to see what it’s like getting back into the swing of things in one of the world’s biggest shows.
How has it been settling back into the role of Javert?
It’s like the last two and a half years didn’t happen. I’ve been straight back into it. There are a few people who I’ve acted on stage with before, like Killian Donnelly, and the crew is mostly the same. There’s a lot of continuity there. It makes it much easier than it would be if you were somewhere new. There’s a level of security and comfort.
Does anything change or feel different?
We have a new resident director who approaches things slightly differently. It’s nice to have those changes, albeit subtle, in the creative department. There’s more discussion about the show which is excellent.
How did the idea of you returning to the show come about?
I heard that there was a vacancy, so I wondered if they might have me back for a while. So I got in touch with them and put the idea forward, and fortunately it all worked out.
Some people might play the role and then say that’s that, but you’ve obviously wanted to revisit it. What is it about Javert that made you want to go back?
I had a fantastic time before, but I felt a little bit too young for it. I felt like I didn’t quite get it right, so it’s good to come back a bit later and older, having experienced more things. You can’t fake experience. There is a certain weight and gravitas you have when you see actors who have experienced life. It’s been really good to come back to it a bit older.
How does that inform your performance? Would it be noticeable to an audience?
I don’t know how noticeable it may or may not be, but I certainly feel a bit better about it all. I think there’s a natural weight that comes with being a bit older, which is good to see. If you see someone who’s been around for a long time, you feel secure as an audience member watching them.
Since you were last in the show, have you been back to see it?
If I’m honest, no. Not because I don’t love it, it’s incredible. Once you’ve been in Les Mis you have an ownership over your version of it. It becomes very difficult if you do the show for a second year. You learn so much more in your second year, but you might not necessarily have the wonderful, fun experience you have in the first year. You’re wide-eyed and excited, but then maybe your friend leaves and you have to adapt to new people coming in. We have this version in our heads that’s our version and when I have seen it in the past, it’s weird. I bet there are plenty of people who would agree with me. It’s hard to watch it as an open-minded audience member. That said, I came to see it before I started and knew I was watching a cast full of people I was going to be working with.
Do you look at the actor playing your character and think: “Well, that’s not something I’d do…”
That can be tricky, yes. Normally I wouldn’t have gone and seen the show. I don’t think there’s any value in watching someone’s performance and thinking “I’m going to steal that” or “I’m not going to do that” because that’s not how you build up a character organically. But in this case it was fine because I already had a grounding of what my Javert is.
Do you have any favourite moments as a performer and watching it back?
When I first saw Les Mis I was 12. I loved musical theatre and seeing it for the first time was magic. I mostly remember all the stuff that Enjolras did, and I remember just wanting to be him. From that moment on I knew that was what I wanted to do, so when I understudied him and first got on, that was a ‘big tick moment’ in my life. I loved performing that role so much, too. It’s very rewarding if you can connect with it and get it right.
The show is in its 33rd year now, what is it about Les Mis that gives its longevity?
My opinion on this has never changed. It’s this wonderfully creative piece of theatre. It’s so well structured and thought out. As a piece of theatre, it’s perfect. But above all, it’s the story. The book is the most amazing piece of writing and it literally has something for everyone. There’s so much going on for the three hours that you’re in there.