Starting her career in commercials and still photography, Izzy Billingham has also performed on stage and had screen roles including The Halcyon on ITV and feature film Hampstead alongside Diane Keaton. Theatre work for Izzy started with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang before joining the cast of the Mary Poppins UK and International Tour as Jane Banks, which saw her perform at both press nights in Zurich and Dubai. Answering our questions, Izzy tells us about filming commercials, playing the role of Jane Banks and her screen work.
Later this month, you will be shooting upcoming short film Beyond Sight, is there anything you can tell us about this?
Yes, it’s about a 12-year-old girl called Hannah, who I play. Hannah is a creative child with a love of drawing, however, she develops a pain and irritation in her eyes which causes her to lose her sight. Hannah lost her mother when she was a baby and her father has become successful as a novelist and therefore has less time to spend with Hannah. The film is about her frustration and sense of being powerless as a result of her blindness and how she hates the world for making her blind and taking away her love of drawing and her father for not being able to save her.
I am really excited to be playing Hannah, it is quite a challenging role and the film explores different emotions between Hannah and her father, which are quite intense and powerful. It will be very exciting to see the final cut.
You’ve previously worked on screen with TV series The Halcyon and feature film Hampstead, how did you find the experience filming for both of these projects?
Both of these were filmed on location – The Halcyon in London, and Hampstead in a little village called Hambledon. I always enjoy being on location as you are in real situations rather than being on set. The Halcyon was set in Victorian times and I had a really lovely costume, a Victorian-style dress. In Hampstead, I was really lucky as I got to work with Diane Keaton, who was lovely. She was happy to chat to the kids and on one bit she had to ride down a big hill on a bike. I think Hampstead was the first feature film that I worked on and I just loved the whole experience.
On stage, you played Jane Banks in the International Tour of Mary Poppins, can you tell us about your time with the musical?
Jane Banks was an amazing role to play. I was performing in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang UK Tour at Wimbledon when I heard about the auditions for Jane Banks and persuaded my mum to apply. It was a really long audition process with the final round auditioning in front of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, so when I heard that I had got the role I just couldn’t believe it, it was a dream come true.
I remember when the script came through… wow! So many lines! Someone had said that Jane has the most lines in the show and it certainly was a lot. We rehearsed for the role initially alongside the current cast on the UK Tour, in Bradford and Cardiff, for six days at a time then home for two nights before going back again. I was ten and don’t think I’d been away on my own for more than one night so I was nervous at first, but it was so much fun. We worked really hard but being all together in the hotel meant that we were totally immersed in the show.
Once the UK Tour had finished, we flew out to Zurich for a week of tech rehearsals in the theatre before the show opened and I was really lucky to perform on both the opening night and press night. After Zurich, we had a few weeks off before flying out to Dubai for a month. I had never been to either Zurich or Dubai and they were both amazing. There was snow in Zurich and, as well as performing, we got to tour a chocolate factory and go up a mountain as well as visit other local attractions. Dubai was the other extreme – so hot! Performing at the Dubai Opera House was just incredible, it is the most amazing theatre that seats 2000 people. In Dubai, I was also lucky enough to perform at the press night.
I am so excited that the show is coming back to London, we may have a Jane and Michael Banks reunion to go and watch the show! I performed with Zizi Strallen in Dubai and she is a fantastic Mary Poppins, you have to see it!
What are some of your favourite memories from touring with Mary Poppins?
Definitely going to Dubai and staying there for a month with the chaperones and the other kids in an amazing hotel with a rooftop pool!! I loved visiting the mall when we had a free day, my favourite part of the mall was when we went on a glass bottom boat and we saw amazing animals like stingrays and sharks and even mermaids! We also went to the top of the Burj Kalifa and saw the most amazing view and had fun on days out at the water parks. During the month in Dubai, we each created a scrapbook with photos that the chaperones took for us so that we had memories of everything that we did. I still can’t believe that I lived in Dubai for a month when I was only ten! I have a big memory box from working on Mary Poppins with so many things that I collected and, when the show finished, the wardrobe department gave us snippets from our costumes to keep. I also made such incredible friendships, definitely friends for life.
How was it making your professional debut on the UK Tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Wimbledon?
This was my first professional musical theatre role and I was so excited to get cast. I remember the rehearsals and the first time doing the tech rehearsal at Wimbledon Theatre, it was just amazing. Carrie Hope Fletcher played Truly Scrumptious and she was so lovely and someone who I really admire in musical theatre. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang really did give me the taste of performing on stage and I was definitely hooked, the whole experience just made me want more and it was during that show that I decided that I wanted to audition for the role of Jane Banks.
What was it like performing at Kids of the West End?
Kids of the West End was great because it was a one-off Christmas show in Leicester Square. I knew a lot of the other performers and some of the other Mary Poppins kids were also in the show, so it was like one big family performing together, which was especially fun at Christmas time. I had also worked with the director before as he had been the Children’s Director on the Mary Poppins Tour.
Do you remember how you felt winning a Young Performers Scholarship to attend Redroofs School of Performing Arts?
That was just the most incredible day! I went for a taster day at the school when I was eight years old, towards the end of January, and had the most amazing time. I remember my mum picking me up and I said to her then, “I have to come to school here”, I knew then that Redroofs was where I wanted to be. The scholarship auditions were the next month and I was so nervous, we had to do a dance and drama workshop and then perform a monologue, song and dance on our own in front of a panel of judges. I think it was the next day that we got an email inviting me to a recall audition where I had to perform a Shakespeare piece! After that we just had to wait… for about three weeks!
I remember the day I found out that I had won the Young Performers Scholarship, I got home from a tap exam and there was a big brown envelope that had come in the post addressed to me. I didn’t realise what it was at first but when I opened it and read the letter I was screaming and jumping up and down! I was just so excited to know that I would be starting at the school full-time that September into Year 5. I have been at the school for four years now and it has flown by. We study all styles of dance, drama, play production and, of course, singing and musical theatre. In the last year I have achieved 99% for my LAMDA Grade 3 Acting, 93% for my Grade 6 ISTD Modern and 98% for my IDTA Gold Bar 3 Street Dance exam, along with an IDTA Award given by the examiner.
Where did your love of acting and dance come from and how did you start in each?
I just remember always wanting to dance and started ballet classes as soon as I could, just before my fourth birthday, quickly followed by modern and tap lessons. I was lucky enough to go and watch my first West End musical, The Wizard of Oz, when I was six, which I think was the start of my passion for musical theatre as I was then badgering my parents to start both musical theatre and singing lessons. I attended a Redroofs summer holiday course that was based on Annie the Musical, learning all the song and dance routines and putting on a show at the end of the week, which I absolutely loved and it was after that I started attending the Redroofs part time musical theatre classes on a Saturday. Around that age, I was also lucky enough to do a few modelling and filming jobs with my family, which was fun. We did a promotional video for PC World/Dixons and a great shoot for the Hoseasons holiday park brochure. I just loved performing!
As a model, you were part of the Royal Family promotion for Madame Tussauds, can you tell us about this?
We were at Madame Tussauds for the shoot after it had closed for the day, which was a bizarre experience seeing the wax figures in rooms that were usually full of tourists. It was so much fun as the shoot was with my mum, dad and older brother, and we had to pose with the waxworks of the Queen, Prince William and Kate. The promotion was about five years ago now, but they are still using the main photo on banners at the front of Madame Tussauds and I look really young!
We understand you became a Junior Black Belt in kickboxing at the age of nine, how long did it take to achieve and is it something you still enjoy doing?
Kickboxing is actually our family business. My dad started Blaze Martial Arts before I was born, in 2002, teaching kickboxing to children and adults, so I was only three when I started joining in the classes and five when I started taking the belt grades. It took about four years of training two or three times a week to work through all the grades before I could take my Black Belt. The grading was six hours long and probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I was so proud to be awarded my Junior Black Belt at the age of nine.
I still really enjoy kickboxing and, now I am 13, I can start to take my adult belt grades, hopefully then I can work through and get my Adult Black Belt.
I’d love to be able to use my martial arts skills in front of the camera, maybe as a younger Lara Croft or a remake of Karate Girl? My brother, who is also a Black Belt, and I did get cast in a TV commercial for Legoland’s Ninjago Ride when it was launched, as they wanted kids with martial arts experience, however, when it came to the actual shoot we were sat down on the ride, so didn’t actually do any martial arts!
Do you have any career plans for the upcoming months that you can say about?
Other than the short film, I have my LAMDA Grade 4 acting exam and some dance exams that are next term. During the summer, I will be focusing on my training – I have an acting week with Dominique Moore booked and a dance week at Pineapple in Covent Garden as well as some intense dance and acro days with amazing people which I am really looking forward to. It’s so important to always keep learning and developing as there are so many talented people in this industry, you have to keep on top of the game. Hopefully some auditions and self-tapes will also come my way, you just never know what the next email will bring!
Izzy Billingham is represented by Redroofs Agency http://www.redroofs.co.uk/Agency
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