Oliver Nicholas on bringing his nerdy qualities to 'Back to the Future'
The Back to the Future actor shares how he mixes his love of science fiction and board games, as well as his ability to manifest his debut West End role.
The Olivier Award-winning musical Back To The Future continues to thrill audiences night after night. There’s also a new cast: Ben Joyce as Marty McFly, Amber Davies as Lorraine Baines, and soon Cory English will replace Roger Bart as Doc Brown.
Oliver Nicholas joins the new company as Marty’s adorably geeky dad, George McFly, taking over from Hugh Coles (who will reprise the role in the Broadway iteration). It’s Nicholas's first West End job, and no one is more surprised he is in the show than Nicholas himself.
"Musical theatre wasn't the plan," said Nicholas. "I trained mostly in Shakespeare… I never thought I would be singing and dancing, to be honest."
Fast forward to today, and he's enjoying how George’s awkwardness comes naturally to him, as well as surprising himself by singing (albeit in a silly voice) and dancing. We spoke with Nicholas as he settles into the role, where we discussed off-stage friendships, George as an iconic nerd, and how he copes with getting beaten up in every scene.
Back To The Future is at the Adelphi Theatre.
Book Back to the Future tickets on London Theatre.
Back To The Future is your first job out of drama school. Was musical theatre what you wanted to do?
I did a foundation course at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) in acting. I thought I’d take on the world and see how it goes. Back to the Future is my first job and what a great one — not what I expected. I trained mostly in Shakespeare.
I did musical theatre when I was younger and then I was like, “my voice isn’t good enough, I’m not good enough at dancing,” so I’m going to be an actor. Musical theatre wasn’t the plan. But my agent called me and said "there’s this job going. It’s mostly a physical comedy role, but you have to sing a bit as well.” I said I’d give it a go and here we are.
How does it feel going into such a big show with no previous professional experience?
I hadn’t had a single audition for five months before this came through, so I was at a point where I really needed it. But with this job, I remember being in the room and thinking “I’m going to get this job.”
It was so late in the process and the entire creative team was there. I got on so well with them, we worked so well and had a great time and I remember walking out and thinking, “That’s the best I’ve ever felt in an audition” and then it happened.
Was it still a shock to get the part?
It was a massive shock. The audition process was really quick. From the time I got called about the audition to when I got cast was two weeks. So I didn’t really have time to get my head around it and then suddenly I had a job in the West End in a show that had just won an Olivier, so I just thought “Oh my gosh, this all is happening very quickly.”
Were you a fan of the film or the show before you got the job?
I’d never seen the musical, but I’d seen the film about 20 times. I’m massively into science fiction. I always loved the film and George is such an iconic nerd. He's the quintessential dorky guy, so I always loved him, but I never thought I’d play him.
One of my friends was in the musical's original cast and said to me “You’d be really good as George,” but I said, “I don’t do musicals.” Then another friend said the same, so I thought, "This is weird, maybe there’s something in this." After I got cast, I saw the show and spent the whole time with such a wide smile thinking, “That’s going to be me!”
What has it been like to join the show with Ben Joyce and Amber Davies?
Lots of other people knew each other, but I rocked up on the first day and had no clue who anyone was, but everyone was so welcoming. Ben and Amber are not only phenomenal talents, but phenomenal people, who are incredible to work with and very giving, so it was easy to get straight into working with them. They were so lovely and made it so easy to feel comfortable enough in the room to just go for it.
George is an unintentionally loveable geek. How do you make sure you show the comedy in the character?
Most of the role is physical. I remember in my first week thinking, “Damn, I get beaten up in every scene.” Until the punch at the end, he gets bullied or has a fall of some kind. He’s constantly all over the place and obviously, there’s the funny voice, which everyone knows and is so iconic. I have to get that right as that’s a big thing, but it came naturally. It didn’t take long. I guess it comes easily when you’re naturally nerdy.
Do you identify with him?
We’re quite similar in being nerdy and into science fiction. When I got the text from the agent telling me I’d got a recall, I was playing a Star Wars version of "Dungeons and Dragons" with my friends, which is obviously the nerdiest thing.
What’s your relationship like with Harry Jobson, who plays Biff?
Ironically we’re really good friends. He’s such an amazing guy. In complete contrast to Biff, he’s very loving, very open, very warm, and intelligent. He spends so much time in my dressing room it might as well be his... we’re really good mates which is really nice as he beats me up a lot on stage, but we’re so comfortable together off stage that it’s fine.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
“Put Your Mind To It” is my favourite scene and song. It’s a really funny scene, but it has loads of great relationship-building moments with Marty. The song is just a banger and the audience really gets into it. I get to dance, which I never thought I would say — ever! But the dancing is very nerdy and silly, so I can do it and if I mess up. I’m meant to look bad at it, so it’s ok.
What has been your best moment so far?
Opening night was probably the one. Going out of stage door with so many people there. Friends and family, but so many fans. There was a worry originally because the roles are so iconic that people online can be a little obsessive with who gets cast in them, so we were recommended not to look. So I was wondering “are they going to like me?”. Thankfully most people did.
Photo credit: Amber Davies & Oliver Nicholas in Back to the Future the Musical (Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes)
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