Next month, CJ de Mooi will be performing as Captain Hook in the Peter Pan pantomime at The Chrysalis Theatre in Milton Keynes starting 4th December and working alongside Steve Hewlett, Lucy Rose Rollason and Mr. Blobby, with the run ending early January 2022. Other stage work for CJ has included the one-man play Banana Crabtree Simon, written by Dave Hendon which was premiered by CJ in 2018 in London with a planned tour next year, and he also played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. On screen, CJ is probably best-known from his long-running appearance on quiz show Eggheads, which he joined when the show started in 2003 before leaving in 2016, and he has co-written a TV pilot Together which was filmed over summer. Before opening in Peter Pan, CJ answers our questions about playing Captain Hook in this year’s Chrysalis Theatre pantomime, performing in Banana Crabtree Simon and his TV pilot Together.
You will be playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan at The Chrysalis Theatre in Milton Keynes, what are you looking forward to for playing the character?
I always enjoy playing the baddie because it’s the best role and Captain Hook is one character I’ve wanted to play for years. You can have real fun when you’re the one everybody loves to hate and there’s real opportunity for improvisation, audience participation and just enjoying yourself. Peter Pan is such a classic story, loved the world over, and Hook is one of those villains who has become so famous, he’s passed into popular culture by himself. Who wouldn’t want to play such a wicked role?
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see the show?
This is going to be a unique show. We have a great cast including, of course, Mr Blobby who, let’s not forget, was a huge television star and chart-topping recording artist. Not many panto headliners this year can say that! I think with his participation we can guarantee it’ll be a high energy show, with lots of excitement and, yes, let’s be honest, unpredictable chaos! It’ll also be a great value panto with some adult tickets at only £9.95 and even a full family ticket at £65. That’s a fantastic price for a fabulous night out!
What can audiences expect from your performance of Captain Hook?
I always say, if I haven’t made at least two children cry during a performance, I haven’t done my job right! It’s of course right that everybody has a wonderful time but I always feel the panto villain has to have an edge of danger. Some performers are excellent at playing comedy baddies but I prefer to be a bit nastier. We all know Hook will be good in the end and that’s even better when he’s really bad to start with.
How was it reading the script for the first time and meeting the rest of the cast?
Reading a script for the first time, whether it’s a panto, play or musical, is an exciting experience. As an actor, it’s one of the aspects I look forward to most. For me, acting is not something I want to do, it’s what I NEED to do. From the age of five, I knew I always wanted to perform so reading a script is the start of a new and wonderful journey. Meeting other cast members can be slightly intimidating because there is so much amazing talent in the theatre world. Our Peter Pan cast is absolutely brilliant and I just have to hope I can keep up with them. However, they were all so friendly and welcoming so I know we’re going to have a very hard-working, but thoroughly enjoyable, five weeks together.
You’ve worked on pantomimes previously, is there anything you enjoy most about appearing in them?
A lot of people are dismissive about pantomime and that really annoys me. This is an art form (and yes, it is art!) that requires acting, singing, dancing, improvisation and audience participation. No other form of theatre involves all those skills. Plus, it tends to be an extremely dense schedule with a lot of shows in a relatively short period of time. Consecutive days with three shows each day are not uncommon and unless you’re totally professional and dedicated, there’s no way you’re getting through those. The best thing about working in panto is the amazing cast and crew you get to share your time with. They become such a close family and I’ve made lifelong friends in some of my past shows and expect to again this year too!
How do you find the experience interacting with a pantomime audience as the villain of the show?
Being the baddie provides a unique opportunity to ad lib and make up lines on the spot. You never know what the audience are going to say or how they’ll react so the possibilities are endless. Sometimes the lines just pop into your head in an instant, especially if it’s a good insult but the skilled performer has to ensure it’s a comment that can immediately be turned around by the crowd. That way, they stay in control and have more fun. Still, it’s nice to be really mean from time to time…
What can you tell us about Banana Crabtree Simon where you play Alan?
Banana Crabtree Simon is a beautiful one-man play by Dave Hendon which I premiered in London in 2018. It opened to great reviews and award nominations and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever performed (don’t tell Peter Pan that though!). It’s a very intimate and emotional play about one man’s struggle with early onset dementia and recently I performed it in Blackpool. A producer there was so impressed he’s putting together a national tour for 2022 and I’m planning to take it to Edinburgh Fringe too.
In 2018, you played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, how was this?
Even more so than Hook, Scrooge is a character that has assumed almost mythical proportions and even his name has passed into the English language. I’d wanted to play the role for the longest time and this was a little-known musical version. I was only brought into the production three weeks before it opened and it was a large role. In a full two-act show, Scrooge is on stage for all but eight minutes and has five solo songs and parts in several others. That was an awful lot to learn but so enjoyable, it was definitely worth it. Also, it’s a great credit to have on the CV!
Can you say about your television pilot Together which you created and co-wrote?
I came up with the idea of Together a few years ago but in September 2020 I thought, as nothing else in theatre was happening due to COVID, that I’d try to get a pilot made. I got in touch with a few industry friends, including my director Ed Greenberg and we started the ball rolling, I found a wonderful script writer in Liam Pritchard and even managed to get my wonderful friend John Challis (Boycie from Only Fools and Horses) to take a role. It’s a classic British sitcom but with a few twists which will have been unseen on UK television before. I pitched it as a gentle, bittersweet comedy to set apart from a lot of the shows around today. The pilot was filmed this summer but, sadly, John died a few weeks after so never got to see the finished production. The Together pilot is his last ever performance so I really hope a broadcaster somewhere picks it up and either commissions a series or at least shows the pilot. It would be a lovely tribute to John if so.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I performed my first show at school when I was seven. It was a musical revue show called Rooster Rag and for some reason I was given the lead role. By that age, acting was already in my blood and I knew it would be my life. Not many children at that age know they want to be accountants or chartered surveyors but I think all creative types, whether they be actors, dancers, singers, writers or anything, are just certain. Acting is the only thing that makes me truly happy and being on stage or walking around a theatre is the closest I’ll ever get to a spiritual experience. It’s my home.
Do you have any favourite memories from your time on Eggheads?
After the first series had aired, I was sitting in the lobby of a New York hotel having a drink and suddenly heard a voice behind me asking if I was CJ. It wasn’t the first time I’d been recognised (not even the first time abroad) but it was still a very new and unexpected thrill. I turned round with a smile and came face to face with Michael Caine! He was staying in the same hotel, had spotted me and just came over to say how much he enjoyed it. I will never forget that as long as I live!
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