Nicole Scherzinger on playing the role of a lifetime in 'Sunset Boulevard'

The actress, best known as lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, shares how it feels to become "a modern-day Norma Desmond" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

When Jamie Lloyd called Nicole Scherzinger and asked her to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, she was initially offended. "I was uneducated about the show," Scherzinger says. "I just thought the role was actually a lot older. I think originally she was supposed to be in her 50s. I should probably just read the script, and I did and I could immediately relate to Norma in so many ways. And the music’s what really made me fall in love with her."

Now Scherzinger is the toast of London bringing down the house at the Savoy Theatre every night with her reinvented take on the classic role. London Theatre Magazine spoke with her before a performance about how she’s made the role her own.

How do you relate to Norma?

It’s kind of crazy. Sometimes I feel like a modern-day Norma Desmond because here’s a story about this woman who lives in this house up in the hills off of Sunset Boulevard. And I actually live in a big house up in the hills off of Sunset Boulevard. I experienced having my pop star status in my heyday a decade ago, and now times have changed so much. She’s the movie star, and I’m the pop star. In the human, emotional aspect of it, the feeling of abandonment, loneliness, emptiness, insecurities, fear, overthinking, overanalysing – I tend to do that. I think she does too. And that’s our way of attempting to try to have control over things that we feel like we don’t have control over.

There’s also a lot of nods to your own career in the show. How did you go about creating those moments?

When you think of this role originally, I thought the role was written for her to be in her 50s, but Glenn Close actually played this role when she was 47. So when you think of the role initially, you think like, "Oh, I’ve got to play her older or more dramatic, or whatever." And Jamie was like, "Absolutely not. This is modern day – play her as you." And so he really just gave me the freedom and the permission to just bring me to the table. So you see some of the dancing is kind of a nod to my pop star career. Some of the tongue and cheek playing with the cameras is a nod to my pop career.

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You mentioned that you fell in love with the music, and this is your second Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. What do you love about his music?

Andrew’s music just takes me into a whole other world and it just feels so cinematic, which is so beautiful, that they’ve been able to translate that life of a film star to theatre and Jamie’s modern interpretation combined with cinematography as well in this production. And then I think that Don Black and Chris Hampton did such a brilliant job with the lyrics. I feel like it’s written for me, I just love it. My favourite line is: "We’ll give the world new ways to dream." Everyone needs new ways to dream. Everything in my life – all the struggles, all the good things, everything I’ve gone through – it’s coming full circle and it’s all coming together in this show, and I’m bringing the most real, truthful, honest, authentic performance that I can.

Did you ever worry that audiences wouldn’t understand this new take on the musical?

I always say let your work speak for itself. I was really proud of the work that we’re doing and it felt scary because it was so new. It was so revealing. It was so exposing. There were no smoke and mirrors. But at the same time, it felt so special because we were doing something that people don’t usually do. And just really honing in on the story and the human emotion aspect of it. And I think when I focused so deeply on that, I wasn’t thinking about what other people would think.

With that said, I’m not going to lie. After our first preview, I went back into the room and I cried because I didn’t know if they liked this or not. I was scared because it’s your baby and you put everything on the line. You put yourself on the line in the most vulnerable way and showing the most vulnerable parts of you. And you just want people to be able to connect, and to get it and to really receive it.

Is there anything else you want to share?

This is the role of a lifetime. I’ve never been more exhausted in my life. I’ve never been more fulfilled doing something. I feel like finally, I’m back where I’m born to be, and it’s just really, really wonderful. I feel like I am at my prime. This is the most fit I’ve ever been. This is the wisest I’ve ever been. Through all my life experience and everything, this is the best time for me to do my most meaningful work. So I think the tragedy is, why is Norma dismissed and discarded? Why is she a has-been? Why is she not relevant? And that’s the tragedy of this industry we live in now, too.

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Photo credits: Nicole Scherzinger backstage in Sunset Boulevard. (Photo by Marc Brenner)

This interview first appeared in the December 2023 issue of London Theatre Magazine.

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