Oliviers 2017: Adam J Bernard – ‘Simon Cowell said I couldn’t sing, now I’m up for an Olivier award’
Having landed a lead role in Thriller Live after his very first audition, the actor and singer has appeared in West End shows including I Can’t Sing! and Hairspray. Now Bernard’s performance in Dreamgirls has earned him an Olivier nomination. He talks to Tim Bano about learning on the job and being John Boyega’s stunt double in Star Wars…
What was it like to get the Olivier nomination? Did you have any idea that it was coming?
You never know – you just work as hard as possible. When I received the news I was blown away.
How did you get into performing?
I wanted to be a professional football player but I didn’t get a contract. I appeared on The X Factor in 2010 and went through to the boot camp, but they didn’t show my audition. I was happy about that because Simon Cowell told me I couldn’t sing.
A couple of years later you were in The X Factor musical I Can’t Sing!
It was crazy. Simon Cowell didn’t remember me so I didn’t bother asking him. After that, I put the smallest CV ever together and sent it out to as many agents as I could find. Sheri Copeland gave me a chance. She put me forward for my first audition ever, which was Thriller Live. Originally they put me up as a swing, but I ended up getting a lead role.
You didn’t have any formal training, so how did you learn singing and performance techniques?
I just picked it up along the way. I suit diving in at the deep end – trying to survive, talking to people and learning as I go. I take away the material I’m given and drill it so that when I’m on stage everything is as familiar as possible – except the audience.
You were in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 – how did that happen?
I was a swing on I Can’t Sing!, and remember going home thinking I wanted something more fulfilling. The next morning I had a Facebook message from the stunt department on Star Wars, saying: “We’re looking for a stunt double for John Boyega.” I looked around the room, thinking someone was pranking me. I called the number, the woman said: “It’s not a joke, are you available?” They needed me two weeks later but I was due to be in I Can’t Sing! for a year, so I said I couldn’t do it. Soon after that, we heard that I Can’t Sing! would be closing. I called back, went for an audition and got it.
Did you have any stunt training before that?
My dad was a martial arts instructor, so I did that for about 10 years. All the fight scenes are choreographed, so doing musical theatre and learning dance routines were things I could pick up quickly. Filming in Abu Dhabi, having a Chewbacca beside me and the Millennium Falcon behind me was just incredible.
You’ve done a massive West End musical, a blockbuster Hollywood film and you’ve been nominated for an Olivier. What’s next?
I’ve always wanted to get into TV and film. That was my initial goal. I’ve got a manager in LA who thinks I’m ready. I would never rule out going back to musical theatre or doing a play and actually becoming a ‘proper’ actor. I really enjoy expressing myself and provoking emotions in others.
CV: Adam J Bernard
First professional role: Thriller Live (2011)