In the UK premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire, Gabriel Vick starred as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire, a role made famous by Robin Williams in the film, with the musical running at the Manchester Opera House from 2nd September, before closing on 1st October. With theatres having to close in 2020 due to the pandemic, Gabriel’s first show back was Going Ape at the Union Theatre, and his previous projects have seen him perform in Can I Help You? at the Omnibus Theatre, tour the UK with Little Miss Sunshine, Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End, and in 2008, he appeared in A Little Night Music. Gabriel will be seen on screen over the festive season in the Netflix film Christmas on Mistletoe Farm, and he previously played Hugo Alexander in Nativity Rocks! and was part of the Les Misérables feature film. Chatting to Gabriel, he talks about starring as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in the UK premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire, his time as Cain in Going Ape and his upcoming Netflix film Christmas on Mistletoe Farm.
You have recently been starring as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire at the Manchester Opera House, what originally drew you to the role and what was it like getting into character as Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time?
Like so many of us, I grew up on this film and the comedy films of Robin Williams in the 1990s. Whilst he is outrageously funny, there is typically an enchanting heart to his films and that’s what really makes Mrs. Doubtfire a classic that speaks to me. I love to laugh but it’s best when there is meaning to the fun – which in this case is that many family units are atypical but the common factor that binds them is love. It has been odd getting into character as the process to building up to putting on the wig, mask, glasses and costume was a gradual process in rehearsals. I began with just the mask and no wig. It was only really when that front door opened in front of our first audience that I truly felt like she had arrived.
How did you feel finding out you’d be playing the character made famous by Robin Williams in the film version and how was it rehearsing for opening night?
Robin Williams was a genius and I am grateful to him for gifting this character to us all. I was thrilled that I had the opportunity of bringing her back for us all to enjoy again – he gave me the blueprint and now I can take it somewhere else. But truthfully, Eugenia Doubtfire seems to have an energy and life of her own that soon takes you over and feels separate from Robin.
Rehearsing for opening night was hectic, particularly technically because I have never known a role that requires so many quick changes. I have not counted here but I know there were 31 for the role on Broadway. This was my main concern on opening night; fortunately all went well and the audience were pumped for the show and there was an electric atmosphere.
How was it seeing the audience response to the musical and why would you recommend watching a future production of the show?
It has been a dream come true to receive such an amazing response from every audience. The people of Manchester have been so up for a good time and have all stood at the end with almighty cheers. I think we need feel-good, big and bright shows at the moment; this show gives you all the moments you would want from the movie whilst also taking you to completely new places. If you want to be in a room with 2,000 people laughing and having a wonderful time then come along!
What did you enjoy most about working on the production and playing Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire?
I don’t know many people who don’t recognise the iconic “Hellooooooooo!!!” shouted in a high-pitched Scottish accent from the film. So I enjoy the farce scene most which culminates with Daniel covering his face with a pie and shouting “Helloooo!!!”
What was it like being part of the UK premiere and working with the rest of the cast?
It is always exciting to be part of a UK premiere of a new musical; we reworked the show for the first two or three weeks so there is the thrill of seeing how something new goes down with an audience; the only barometer that matters in the end. The cast were fab and were really up for the ride accommodating all the changes; everyone knows how lucky we are to be doing this as our wise director, Jerry Zaks, so often reminds us.
Last year, you played Cain in Going Ape at the Union Theatre, how was this and what was it like returning to the stage for the first time since the pandemic closed theatres?
The show was bonkers and we all had such fun – I played Cain as a middle class wimp posing as a thug. Sadly, Andrew Corbet Burcher, who wrote the show and ran Dance Attic in Fulham for decades, passed away a few months afterwards. He was much treasured in theatre circles and I am glad he got to see his show. It was so great to get back performing in a theatre, it felt like the world as we knew it was coming back to us.
Just before the pandemic, you were in the cast of Can I Help You? at the Omnibus Theatre, can you tell us about it?
This play and experience truly convinced me that theatre can change lives. This was the belief of the late playwright Philip Osment. This is his last play and the energy generated from his beautiful script made me feel like I knew him. It is a two-hander about mental health and had an intense power. Susan Aderin played opposite me as a woman with schizophrenia who saves the life of a suicidal metropolitan police officer which takes place at the top of Beachy Head. Despite the bleakness of the subject matter, it was darkly funny and truly uplifting and compassionate about the subject. Unfortunately, I never met Philip, but his legacy lives on with Jim Pope and Playing On, their theatre company. They outreach to marginalised communities and create pieces of drama around people’s real experiences. We took this play to the Ortus Cafe, Maudsley; St Pancras Hospital; We Are Spotlight, Tower Hamlets and the Dragon Cafe. This is where audience members literally said “this has changed my life.” This is why we have theatre.
You were part of the UK Tour of Little Miss Sunshine as Richard, how was it touring with the production and playing the character?
Richard was played by Greg Kinnear in the film and is a loser masquerading as a winner. This was such fun to play and the musical is quirky and loveable just like the film. I really enjoyed touring with the company including many dressing room parties hosted by Paul Keating and Jacob Jackson! I would say our week in Glasgow was my favourite – it’s a wonderful city.
In 2016, you were performing at the Harold Pinter Theatre as Robert Wace in Sunny Afternoon, what are some of your favourite memories from being in the production?
Meeting Ray Davies is one – I got into The Kinks thanks to my parents in 1993 (when a certain film was released too!) when we listened to a cassette of their greatest hits over and over on a family holiday. As a family, we have loved their canon of songs ever since. I am gutted that I was not at the show the night Mark Hamill came to watch; I felt his presence at least. I made some lifelong friends on that show and we had a wonderful time – some of them travelled all the way to Manchester to see Mrs. Doubtfire. Plus, our musical director of Mrs. Doubtfire, Elliot Ware, was the MD of Sunny Afternoon!
Over your years in theatre, you’ve been in numerous shows including Manhattan Parisienne, Once, Chariots of Fire and Cabaret, do you have any stand-out highlights that you can tell us about?
The 2008 production of A Little Night Music is one show that most people who know my career remember. It was a very special production with stars such as Hannah Waddingham, Jessie Buckley, Alex Hanson and Maureen Lipman. Also, co-creating and having my first musical, Miss Atomic Bomb, in 2016 staged at the St. James Theatre (now The Other Palace) was a great personal milestone and huge privilege thanks to our producer Tanya Link.
On screen, you have filmed for an upcoming release – Christmas on Mistletoe Farm – what was it like on set?
Messy! There were pigs, there were ducks, and there were geese that made me scurry! It was filmed on an actual farm with an old couple who literally opened a barn door for the ducks to settle at dusk every day. It’s always wonderful to work with Debbie Isitt, Nicky Ager and such lively improvisational minds led by Scott Garnham this time. Watching Ashley Jensen work was a true joy. This family film is out on Netflix this Christmas.
You previously played Hugo Alexander in Nativity Rocks!, is there anything you enjoyed most about working on the film?
Not having a script. On the first day it was terrifying. On the last day I couldn’t wait for the camera to roll; though much like Daniel in Mrs. Doubtfire, there were moments when I perhaps needed to shut up.
Can you tell us about some of the other screen projects you’ve been involved with throughout your career so far?
The movie of Les Misérables was epic – I remember thousands of people amassed in Greenwich Naval College including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and somewhere in there – Cameron Mackintosh!! Also, watching Ralph Fiennes work in The Invisible Woman was wonderful. I didn’t know it then but he had just finished filming one of the all-time greatest comedic cinematic performances – Monsieur Gustav in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I grew up watching my parents perform amateur theatre in my local village and professionally at the Edinburgh Fringe. I idolised and emulated them both on stage. They used to let me have their season tickets at Bath Theatre Royal to see the shows they had already seen so I saw so many musicals. High Society was a production that I really got the bug from and as I reached 20 years old I knew theatre was where I would be happiest. I did tell mum this when I was 11 years old doing impressions of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, but she insisted on something called an education first.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Favourite films: Interstellar, The Big Lebowski, Titanic, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Parenthood, Paddington 1 and 2, The Lego Movie, Wall•E, Team America, Philomena.
TV: Feud, Stanley Tucci’s Finding Italy, Paradise PD, The Trip.
Theatre: my recent highlights: Fairview at the Young Vic, The 47th at the Old Vic, Hamilton, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End and, of course, Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway!
In my spare time, I spend as much time with my children as I can. Otherwise I play piano, I enjoy continuing to explore a sustainable diet, a healthy lifestyle, and dreaming up musical theatre shows.
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