Mike Rogers is an actor working for the events team at Hamleys toy shop in London. The 23-year-old went viral after a passerby tweeted a video of his dancing, dressed as an elf, in front of the Regent Street store with the caption: “Leading role they said. West End location they said”. He spoke to Ollie Cole about training in his native South Africa, that dance and the support he’s received since.
‘Leading Role they said. West End location they said.’ pic.twitter.com/10xkvpSaLh 
— Alice Orr-Ewing (@aliceorrewing) December 5, 2018 
Tell me a little about that dance and that, now viral, moment.
Basically, our job is to entertain outside the front of the store and earlier this year I did a course with The Showstoppers, the people behind a West End improvised musical show. One of the things they taught us was how to improvise a dance.
Everything you’re watching in that video was improvised and not practised at all. That’s why the people behind me in the clip are a little bit off, they were actually following what I was doing in a technique called ‘flock of birds’, where you do a simple movement and the rest follow you. We were doing it to the Jersey Boys Christmas soundtrack so I was incorporating some ‘Jersey Boys inspired’ movements to sort of match the music, and my fellow elves followed along.
Did you know you were on camera at the time?
I couldn’t believe it was that video that went viral, I’ve been outside doing all sorts with loads of people filming me over the festive season and that was the one video that went big.
The person who tweeted the viral clip messaged me on Twitter, saying that her mum had filmed me and sent the video to her. I think she must be an actress or something and has been through the training that tells you: ‘You’ll get a West End role when you come out of here, you’ll be the next big thing’ but had also landed an elf gig. That’s why she’s tweeted it saying ‘Leading Role they said. West End location they said.’
Some people thought it came across as if she was trying to make fun, but it wasn’t that at all. From it though, people have responded really positively, saying that they’ve taken their kids to see us over the years and it’s made their Christmas and so on. It’s been really lovely and humbling.
You’ve had some incredible support from it, and an offer of an agent too, right?
Josie Lawrence from Whose Line Is It Anyway tweeted about me, it’s just been amazing. Unreal. I’ve had John Byrne contact me, telling me that New Wonder Management would be interested to hear from me. I’m still seeing what’s happening with everything at the moment and getting through all the replies, but I don’t have an agent at the moment and I’d definitely like any offers I can get.
What’s it like as a Hamleys performer at this time of year?
This is not even half of what I do, we make up improvised songs, dances, we sing and act too. I do a lot of characters and spend my time getting into character, not just ‘dressing up’. On Monday, I was the Grinch, with the full prosthetics and everything and the public absolutely loved that. I love playing villains, and even though sometimes the children get scared, it’s a great lesson to teach the children to accept people for who they are, which is the story of the Grinch as I see it.
When I’m out there as an elf we’re dancing, but also asking the kids what they want for Christmas and interacting with strangers who are walking by. There’s a big fashion at the moment for big fluffy jackets, especially in pink, so it’s a lot of fun as an elf shouting: “Oh, my God I love candy floss,” and having some fun with that. Some have those jackets in rainbow colours too so I’ll break out into a little bit of Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] for them.
A Christmas or two ago a colleague and I had microphones and we were going up to people as if it was a red carpet interview, so there’s a lot of laughs and enjoyment to be had.
How did you get into performing?
I’m from Cape Town in South Africa, and I’ve always loved entertaining. We used to do trips with family and friends into the wild, in places like Botswana, and when we all got bored I would entertain the family or the other kids. We’ve got videos of everyone sitting around on camping chairs and I’m doing a silly show for them and performing.
My mum got me an audition to a theatre school when I was 14 or 15 and I wasn’t too keen, but I went ahead and did two years of training at the Cape Town Waterfront Theatre School. I really only wanted to be there for the acting side, I could not dance to save my life back then. But after joining a sort of hip-hop group at the school I developed that, and then went on to do their showcases and musicals, plus some stand-up gigs at the school. It became very much what I wanted to do and get involved in.
How did you go from there to being an elf on Regent Street?
I came to the UK to perform on a gap year and was working in a pub, but I realised that it wasn’t where I wanted to be and it wasn’t letting me pursue my passion. So I got a job at Hamleys as a temporary elf.
Around January 2016 I auditioned for all the big drama schools in London and didn’t get one callback. I understand that now, because it is hard, and there are a lot of people, and I probably wasn’t ready. It gave me a confidence knock, but it made me realise that was just part of the gig. It’s a cut-throat industry and you’re not going to get every role, you’re not going to get everything handed to you, and you have to work for it.
So I decided to work more full-time at Hamleys and it improved my improv skills, allowed me to get better at working with children, and of course with the parents I developed a sort of ‘pantomime’ humour as well. It’s been a really great place for learning skills. It’s been three years of being on the streets for Hamleys and doing other things in between to pay the rent.
And now you’re a pretty famous elf, are you hoping this could boost you along in your career?
I really do hope this can launch the next step for me because it’s everything I’m passionate about. It would be so lovely for things to take up from here and the support has been amazing. I can’t thank people enough.
Hamleys does have a lot of celebrities who started here. Jessie J used to work at Hamleys and now she’s a huge star touring around the world. There’s a few big actors who have worked here as well. I think it’s a case of showing passion for what you do. No matter how small or big the job is, it can take you places if you work hard and deliver.
You can see more of Mike Rogers’ work at Hamleys @MikePerforms on Instagram