For the recent run of Hairspray at the London Coliseum, Jordan Benjamin made his West End debut playing Duane, and he also performed as his understudy role of Seaweed, with the show closing in the West End on 29th September, and the cast made a performance on last year’s Britain’s Got Talent. This Christmas, Jordan will be making his pantomime debut at the Corn Exchange in Cinderella, with rehearsals starting in November. On screen, Jordan played Tito Jackson in Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror and played one of the main characters in CBBC’s Rocket’s Island as Dibber Sparks from 2012 to 2015. We spoke to Jordan about his West End debut in Hairspray, playing Duane and covering Seaweed and his upcoming pantomime at the Corn Exchange.
You recently made your West End debut as Duane in Hairspray, how did it feel booking the role?
You know that feeling when you throw a bottle behind you, trying to aim for the bin, but you don’t really think it’s going in; but then you turn around and you make it, times that by ninety-nine and that’s how I felt when I found out I booked Hairspray. I was completely in disbelief, but so thankful.
What was it like opening in the show when theatres could reopen?
We as a company went through so much together! Having been sent home from the first rehearsals, postponed three times and come back still with uncertainty, that first night that we had an audience, even though it was just an open dress, was so emotional and uplifting, it felt like a huge euphoric release for all of us! And that feeling grew again when we had our first official audience in, socially distanced so there was around one thousand audience members, and I thought that was gonna be the best feeling, until we opened for a full house! That was indescribable.
As understudy Seaweed, how was it rehearsing for the role and then going on to play him at the London Coliseum?
After the first cover run, I had an incredibly greater level of admiration and respect for Ashley Samuels because Seaweed is not an easy role by any means, and the fact he did that eight times a week is amazing. Rehearsing was difficult, the biggest challenge for me was learning how to balance dancing full-out and singing Run And Tell That, making sure I don’t look lazy but I’m not too out of breath. But once I found that, after a couple of cover runs I felt so ready to do it when it was my time, and I had the best time being Seaweed! I was able to really shine as this cool character and be myself at the same time! Once you get a taste of it, you just want more, and I’m grateful I had plenty of opportunities to satisfy that hunger.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from being in Hairspray for your West End debut?
There are so many highlights to choose from, including all the funny moments when wigs almost flew off, or actually did! For me, the biggest highlight was being able to perform in a show that was all about bringing people together, no matter what they look like or their background, and being able to communicate that message to thousands of people was a privilege. I felt like the show had a great balance of depth and fun, so for my debut I was able to have meaningful and crucial conversations as well as have fun every day.
What did you enjoy most about being in the musical and cast?
I met some of the most amazing, inspiring, strong, wise, beautiful and talented people I have ever met in my life. We became so close because of everything we went through, and supported each other when we were down, especially when I was at my lowest point in the run I was lifted up by my new family, and that’s something you never forget. That’s what I enjoyed most, growing to love this awesome group more every day.
With the cast performing on Britain’s Got Talent last year, what was this like to do?
Intense, but incredible. By this point we had only ever rehearsed together twice, so this was the first time we ever performed together. Also, with it being during a pandemic, we had to learn most of the dance from videos on Dropbox, and we rehearsed the whole dance together on the day of the shoot. By the end of the day, my legs didn’t want to work anymore, but I didn’t care because it was one of the best days of my life, I so badly wanted to perform, having been deprived of it for so long, so finally being able to let loose and dance was unbelievable.
You’ve been announced as part of this year’s Corn Exchange Newbury pantomime – Cinderella, what are you looking forward to most for making your pantomime debut?
I’m looking forward to discovering it for the first time. My life is filled with learning new skills or discovering new forms of art and seeing what I like and don’t like because that’s what I enjoy doing. So I’m looking forward to discovering whether pantomime is something I enjoy, which it most likely will be because I love working with children, making people laugh and Christmas, so what’s not to love?
Why would you recommend audiences book to see Cinderella?
With the tough couple of years we’ve had, it would be nice to have some joy, uncontrollable laughter and fun in our lives, and that’s exactly what Cinderella will be! Why not end this year and start the next with a show that will tickle your ribs so much you’ll still be feeling it in the new year!
When do rehearsals start and how do you think you’ll find the experience working on a show over Christmas?
Rehearsals will start the second week of November. I love Christmas, which means that working on this show during that time has its pros and cons, it unfortunately means I will spend less time with my family which is something I’m not used to, but also means I will be making hundreds of people smile every day during my favourite time of year!
After working on screen when you were younger, how different are you finding the experience working in theatre?
Much harder, yet so much more rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, I love working on screen because I love that side of acting, and being able to watch an end product that you’re proud of and have it forever, which is something you don’t get with theatre. However, I find that theatre, even though more physically demanding, is more rewarding because nothing is better than that feeling when you’ve given everything on that stage, are dripping with sweat and struggling to catch your breath, but have the biggest smile on your face as the audience roar with huge smiles on their faces, even behind masks. Nothing is better than that feeling.
Can you say about portraying Tito Jackson in Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror?
I miss the guitar! That instrument was so beautiful, I didn’t want to let it go. It was like literally taking a trip back in time when everything from the house and props, to the studio and our costumes were accurate to Michael Jackson’s time and felt so real that acting became easy. Also, it was an absolute honour to be able to play a Jackson brother, that goes without saying.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Dibber Sparks in CBBC’s Rocket’s Island?
My character on Rocket’s Island wasn’t too different from how I really was, which is why playing a slow, weird, colourful, clumsy kid came so naturally to me. Some of my favourite memories was strangely all of the embarrassing moments my character went through, like dancing in his underwear in front of everyone, splitting his trousers while climbing a roof and crawling through mud on his hands and knees. Those moments are my favourite because it taught me a valuable lesson that I’ve taken into my life, don’t take yourself so seriously.
You’ve been part of a number of commercials, what are these like to do and can you say about some of them?
The commercials I’ve done have been the most stress-free, exciting and easy experiences ever. It was like a day off school, or a day travelling to just have fun, and someone just happened to be there filming. I was in a few Disney adverts as a child, one of which was just a day of outdoor sports like rock climbing and BMX, and my most recent advert for Dettol, I spent the whole day playing football which I love to do.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I’ve always been a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory, I’ve seen it too many times to not mention it first. I’m also a massive anime head, so love shows like Naruto, Fairytail and Sword Art Online. I’m into films and TV shows that are very intellectual, showing people thinking outside the box in ways that blow my mind, like PhoneBooth, Inside Man, Money Heist and Luther. Recently, I went to see Tina the Musical as it opened, AMAZING, a must-see.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I’ve loved performing my whole life, from my first school play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to now. I didn’t really discover what acting was until secondary school, before then I just knew I loved being in front of people telling a story. My parents found out there was an acting class near where I lived, and they practically forced me to go, which I am so thankful for because through that class I was able to get a scholarship at a theatre school that ran weekly called Young and Talented, which is where my love of acting began and how my career started. Acting became more than just fun, it was a chance to be someone else, to escape from my own life for a little while and enter an entirely new world that could look like anything I wanted it to. It allowed me to understand people more, to express my own emotions better and I loved making people react, whether they laughed, was shocked, cried or cheered. I lived for making people feel, and that’s why I love acting.
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