Doug Colling made his West End debut originating the role of Connor Murphy in the London production of Dear Evan Hansen, which opened at the Noël Coward Theatre at the end of last year, and was continuing in his role before theatres closed due to the pandemic. In 2018, Doug could be seen as Shakespeare’s Servant alongside Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench, who played William and Anne Shakespeare in the award-winning film All Is True, and whilst training at RADA, Doug appeared in short film Deadpan as Ollie and his stage work whilst there included Love and Information written by Caryl Churchill. Answering our questions, Doug talks about making his West End debut in Dear Evan Hansen, playing Connor Murphy and filming for All Is True.
What is Connor Murphy like to play in Dear Evan Hansen and do you remember how you felt performing as him for the first time?
He’s a dream role for me to be honest. He’s a bit of a mysterious element of the show in some ways so it’s been really interesting exploring some of the questions that surround him in the story. I have a lot of respect for Connor and people like him that choose not to conform and exist on the outskirts of the social sphere. I think we can often be too quick to judge people like him and he’s written with a complexity that challenges the audience’s perspective. It’s a real treat to have that sort of material to work from. The emotional track through the show is a bit of a rollercoaster, it’s lovely being able to come on and have a wiggle with the boys in Sincerely, Me after a somewhat heavy few scenes at the top of the show.
How was it preparing for the role and meeting the cast and creatives?
A combination of immense nerves and excitement preparing for it all. Especially knowing the reputation the show had formed for itself since opening. We also had to keep it all a secret until the press release which wasn’t easy. But once we were all together, there was this amazing shared excitement and enthusiasm to get cracking which was awesome to be a part of. Meeting the cast and creatives was surreal as I’d spent so long anticipating it in the months leading up to it all. I idolise the creative team a bit so it took some time to relax around them. But everyone was so lovely and supportive from the get go, it didn’t take long to get to know everybody and feel part of a new family. Getting to know and work with the cast and crew has been a constant source of inspiration and support, they are all wonderful.
Was there anything that drew you to the role/production and how is it originating the role in the West End?
I was a big fan of the show and Justin (Paul) and Benj (Pasek)’s previous works beforehand so I was just thrilled to get an audition initially. I’d seen Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse and was left in awe. I remember hearing the DEH soundtrack for the first time in my second year at drama school and welling up in the locker room almost instantly. I couldn’t quite believe it as the audition process went on, it was just amazing to meet the people involved as it progressed. When I was finally offered the role I was in complete shock and disbelief. I still struggle to believe it a lot of the time.
How did you find the experience on your first West End press night?
It was all a bit of a blur, I was very nervous. Couldn’t help but feel the pressure having that type of audience in. But as the show got rolling, it got a bit less scary. Waves of nerves would surge as the night went on but everyone was supportive of one another and we got each other through. Lovely to have it officially open and the evening’s soirées was very cool.
How is it making your West End debut with the musical?
It’s really special, I can’t quite believe my luck. It’s been a massive learning experience getting to work with more experienced actors and an exceptional technical crew. Learning how the show operates behind the scenes and the immense responsibility the tech staff have which really is the life-blood of the production. I’ve learnt a lot from the whole process already. There have been times when the self doubt and fear of it all creeps in but having such a strong team around really helps in those moments.
What do you enjoy most about being in the production and what are you looking forward to for getting back to live shows?
Definitely the people. Getting to work with ridiculously talented individuals, who also happen to be warm, caring, wonderfully crazy and passionate about all things on and off the stage, has been a real privilege. There is a real strong sense of community about the theatre and the show as a whole and getting to be a part of that has been priceless. Looking forward to seeing all of them again for sure, miss ’em lots.
Also, it will just be amazing to get to be in a large communal space again doing something together. Being able to look out into an auditorium of strangers where people aren’t afraid to sit next to each other and are just there to connect and have a good time will be really special once we get through this.
What encouraged you to train at RADA and how was your time there?
It was always a bit of a pipe dream to go there, I’d heard great things about it but never expected to get in. When I eventually auditioned for a bunch of drama schools, RADA was the one I somehow managed to get into. It was a wild time, you are sort of in this crazy bubble for three years where all time and space distorts. It can be really challenging and I was stretched in all manor of ways. I made some amazing pals there too and learnt loads.
You performed in many shows whilst training, can you say about some of them?
Yeah, it was great to be involved in so many shows in such a short space of time. I got exposed to a lot of material I hadn’t known a lot about prior to drama school. Doing Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information was a real unique one. The play features over 100 characters with a cast of about fifteen in a series of short scenes not connected via a set narrative, there was a lot of devising and playing about which was fun. Some pretty hairy quick changes too in quite a confined backstage area too. Then we did everything from Neil Simon to Sondheim to R.C Sheriff, a real eclectic mix of stuff.
Can you tell us about the short film Deadpan in which you played Ollie?
We got gifted this great script from Marcelo Dos Santos about a comedian (Ollie) who couldn’t make his girlfriend laugh or she might die, or so she said. It had a sort of absurd realism about it which I loved. I’d done a bit of screen work pre drama school, but this was the first time I’d been on a set since training. It was actually part of our third year of training so my head was a bit full of ‘stuff’ from the previous three years but it was a good challenge. Exciting to be on a proper set with my drama school cronies and we had a laugh filming it.
You filmed as Douglas in All Is True, what was it like on set and being in the cast?
Yeah, that was my first job out of drama school so I was super excited to be employed. The atmosphere on set was really lovely, we were based out on this historic estate in Surrey and the weather was amazing so it felt a bit like being on holiday. Ken (Branagh) was in full William Shakespeare prosthetics and directing at the same time which was a sight to behold. The cast and crew were all lovely and I think very accommodating of my wide-eyed fresh graduate naivety. The catering was also unreal.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time filming?
I was on set a few times when Judi Dench was filming which feels like a sort of dream in retrospect. Just to be sitting around with her between takes was surreal and wonderful. She would sometimes spontaneously ask us a geography question or some sort of trivia whilst we were having a cup of tea and then a quiz would begin. She was also very generous with her Maltesers. A magical Dame.
Had you always wanted an acting career and how did you start?
Pretty much since I knew about the concept of a job, I wanted acting to be that job. There was a time when I wanted to be a fireman but I think that was a result of Fireman Sam propaganda. I started off doing community theatre in NZ where I grew up and joined various drama groups throughout my school years and it all sort of grew from there. I was really lucky to have the opportunities I did growing up, there are some local teachers and directors I owe a lot to.
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
I like making music on the computer. I use a program called Ableton and a few other bits and bobs. I was really into electronic music in my teens, these days it’s a mixture of all sorts. I really like just playing about and experimenting with different sounds.
Do you remember the first theatre show you watched and what are some of your favourites?
I think the first one was The Snowman during a Christmas visit to London. I was obsessed with Spring Awakening in my teens, that’s still one of my faves. I’ve seen some amazing stuff since moving to London. Recently I’ve loved The Young Vic’s The Inheritance and Rebecca Frecknall’s production of Summer and Smoke to name a couple. I’d really like to see another live show from Punchdrunk too, they are epic.
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