In 2013, Zac Gabriel Werb was cast in the West End production of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical as Nigel, and rejoined the show five years later on their international tour as Michael Wormwood and Tommy. Towards the end of his contract, Zac was asked to return to the role of Nigel, which he continued in until the tour was suspended due to the global pandemic. Starting his career on screen, Zac played Tidy Ted in Horrid Henry: The Movie and more recently, he appeared in episodes of The Reluctant Landlord and Doctors. Answering our questions, Zac chats about touring internationally with Matilda the Musical, playing the role of Nigel and his screen roles.
You have played Nigel in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical over a number of years, what do you love about playing this role and how is it returning to the character?
Matilda has been such a big part of my life so far. I began my Matilda journey back in 2013 playing Nigel in the West End. I was never meant to play the role as an adult. I was originally cast in 2018 as Michael Wormwood and Tommy, and toured with the show for a year and a half. As I was coming to the end of the contract, I was offered the option to play Nigel again. It was definitely a full circle moment returning to him. What I love about playing the role is he’s slightly off the wall and has this crazy energy which a lot of the time he is unsure how to control. It usually ends up with him throwing a massive tantrum or screaming his lungs out which is always creatively exciting to play.
What were the songs and choreography like to learn and how is it performing to an audience across different countries on the International Tour?
We rehearsed intensively for eight weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. Tim Minchin’s lyrics and music are incredible. The lyrics are very wordy, require lots of diction and have many repetitive patterns, and when it came to learning them we were drilled. The majority of dance I do in the show requires an attack motion and sharpness. It’s all very fast movement and we were drilled and drilled in rehearsals. Dancing this type of style is definitely an enjoyment for me.
I’ve been lucky to be a part of bringing this show to South Africa, Singapore and all over China. It’s been fascinating performing to different cultures and seeing how they react to our show, especially in China. Every city is so different and brings a complete new energy. What’s special about Matilda is anyone from any culture can relate and take something away from the story. It’s always a special moment in my favourite number When I Grow Up, as we swing over the audience, you get this wave of applause. The whole atmosphere is magical and is definitely the number which makes you pinch yourself – ‘Is this really my job?!’.
How do you find the experience travelling internationally with the company?
I remember the day I received the email offering me the tour. I was in the last month of performing arts college and had been wondering what I was going to do next, maybe a gap year… it all suddenly fell into place. So, there I was graduating from college and straight into an international tour. If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be travelling the world doing what I love at nineteen years old, I wouldn’t have believed you. The last two years have been life-changing for me. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the two companies I have got to work with. We are all in the same boat, far from home and naturally the cast become one big family.
You also played Michael Wormwood and Tommy, and understudied Bruce, what were these like to play?
To have my first adult theatre job playing these characters has been very rewarding and has allowed me to grow massively as a performer. Michael was a lot of fun to play as he’s this vacuous, indoor hibernator, TV addict. It was definitely fun to have moments in the show where I could just collapse on a sofa and watch some telly. I also had his ensemble track where I got to be a part of monumental numbers such as School Song, and climb and hang off gates whilst performing incredible choreography. On top of that, I played the part of Tommy who was a school kid who had a full on dance track which was very fulfilling as dance is a passion of mine. Altogether I was practically on stage the whole show and had ten quick changes! Bruce was a bonus to understudy, but sadly I never got a chance to go on for him.
How was the experience performing on Children in Need and The Paul O’Grady Show?
I am very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way from Matilda. I was thirteen years old when I performed on Children in Need. I recall the day being very special as they brought together all the teams of kids and adult cast to appear in one big Matilda medley. It was great to represent our show to a wider audience. Paul O’Grady was also brilliant, as it was another chance to showcase Matilda.
You started your acting career on screen in Horrid Henry: The Movie as Tidy Ted, what do you remember about filming this role and working with the rest of the cast?
I was ten years old at the time and remember everything feeling very surreal. I was a fan of the TV show so, when I landed a part in the movie, you can imagine how I felt. My best memory was sharing dinner with Anjelica Huston… I’m not even joking. All the cast’s food had arrived and mine was nowhere to be seen. Anjelica put her plate of chips in front of me and that was that.
What was it like playing Tidy Ted and how was it seeing the film for the first time?
I remember having the most fun on set and that definitely shows when you watch the movie. One of the highlights of my role was having to be called to set early to have my bright blonde locks dyed brown for the day. This was part of my transition into the character and as you can imagine, for a ten year old, it felt very cool.
How was it being involved in an episode of The Reluctant Landlord and can you say about your character Jeff?
This was my most recent television job. Working alongside Romesh Ranganathan was brilliant. This was a singing role and I had to sing the Westlife hit song You Raise Me Up. I remember the whole room went silent. The whole atmosphere on set was something very special. A job I will always remember dearly.
Who was your character Luke Darrow in Doctors and what was your episode like to film?
I would love to pursue more TV/film in the future. Playing Luke Darrow was very fulfilling. He had a unique storyline which allowed me to display all kinds of emotions and I remember feeling the most free and connected with the character and the cast when I filmed the episode. This was my first TV role where the storyline was focused around me and everyone was so supportive. I had the best time filming in Birmingham, and I remember not wanting it to end.
Can you tell us about being on set of Casualty and filming for your role as Ben Lockford?
This was my first television job as a child actor. It was a big step for me as I had just turned sixteen and, for the first time, was filming away from home in Cardiff on my own, in between GCSEs. I got to do my own stunts in this episode, which was to hang off of a ditch… I did have a harness on!
You’ve done a couple of voiceover roles, what do you enjoy about these and can you say more about them?
I would always recommend voiceover work to anyone. You pick up heaps of vocal knowledge and technique on the job which you can take with you as another acting tool. It’s a safe space where you can let loose and enjoy yourself.
When did you know you wanted an acting career and was there anything that led to your interest in the industry?
My parents always recall from the age of four I would obsessively watch music videos on television, and very quickly learn the dance moves and lyrics, and I would be oblivious to the fact that there was anyone else in the room. My mum instinctively felt this was my calling and found a local Saturday drama school which I started when I was five years old. I believe that’s where I found my passion for performing. I had a dance teacher called Maria who was incredibly supportive to me and gave me the confidence and push to pursue my love for performing. I had no idea that performing could be a career choice. I was asked to join the agency, and was fortunate to land my first job.
Can you tell us about your training?
I’ve been lucky to pick up work since I was ten years old and I feel I learn most on the job. I studied a two-year diploma in performing arts, where I focused on lots of styles of acting such as musical theatre, movement and TV and film. I also trained at a dance company and competed for a year and a half and have taken part in various workshops.
Away from acting, what do you enjoy doing?
Spending time with the people that mean the most to me. My family and friends have been incredibly supportive throughout my career so far. I also love to travel and choreograph.
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