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So you want to work in musicals? TV well may be your answer…

Lara Pulver in Sky Atlantic's Fleming.
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Recently I’ve interviewed two actors about their careers – Jill Halfpenny and Lara Pulver. Each gave a different view on how they have succeeded in the industry, particularly regarding crossing the different genres.

I have written a lot before about performers from musicals complaining about not being able to get work in other areas of the industry, and it seems to me that Pulver and Halfpenny – known for both theatre and TV – have an idea of how they have managed that.

So here is what each has to say about making it in the business – nuggets of wisdom I thought were worth sharing.

Jill Halfpenny: You want to work in musicals? Don’t do one early in your career.

Halfpenny says that she actively avoided doing a musical in the first part of her career fear of being typecast.

She said:

The only thing I have thought is people find it hard to cross over from musicals. But I have never thought it was the case with straight theatre. Theatre and film go hand in hand. For the first 10 years of my career I purposefully didn’t do one [a musical] as once you do one, everyone says, ‘She’s that girl who sings’.”

So she made a name for herself elsewhere before turning to musicals, recently with Legally Blonde.

And it was TV that helped her do that.

Lara Pulver: You want to have a long career in theatre – try to make a name for yourself in TV.

Unlike Halfpenny, Pulver didn’t avoid doing a musical early in her career. She came to prominence in the musical Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007. But she has since gone on to enjoy success on television – notably in Fleming, Sky Atlantic’s new drama series, and shows including Sherlock.

In doing so, she is proof that it is possible – despite Halfpenny’s fears – to start in musicals and find success elsewhere. Indeed, Pulver said she hasn’t ever noticed anyone turning her down for an audition because she was in musicals, and goes on to say that in the USA it is considered a plus if a performer can do it all. Just look at Neil Patrick Harris and you’ll see what she means.

But – and here’s her advice – she knew that to continue working in musicals and theatre – something she loves – she would need to have some kind of name long term. Musical theatre alone wasn’t going to give her that, as we all know musicals don’t make stars anymore – very often they rely on them. And TV, like Halfpenny, has helped her here.

Here’s what Pulver learnt fairly on in her career:

I was doing Chicago and a friend was saying to me that he couldn’t get seen for the part of Amos, as they [producers] were only looking for ‘names’. I was 23 and found myself thinking, ‘Wow, if that is what lies ahead of me in five years’ time, I am screwed’. I realised if I could broaden my career and make more of a household name for myself, hopefully it would open doors and allow me to come back and do more theatre, which I love and have a passion for.

That approach may well have paid off, as she has hinted at plans to appear in a major musical, possibly later this year.

Clearly both Halfpenny and Pulver have gone on to find success from their different routes. But despite their different routes, both appear to agree that TV may well be the way to build a successful career in the theatre.

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