11th December 2015
Your questions for Natalie Mendoza
The Australian actress who set pulses racing as Gigi in Miss Saigon answers your questions on gender-swapping, pre-show rituals and the movie in her mind…
Jessica Keyser With such an astounding career under your belt, what was it that drew you to Miss Saigon and Gigi as a role? What do you look for in any role you take?
There has to be some sort of bigger reason as to why I want to take on the role. Being a female actor, I’m very mindful of the sort of roles I play. Right now, with what’s going on the world and women being trafficked, the appeal for me was to be quite ‘in your face’ about Gigi’s story, which this production really doesn’t shy away from. The new direction is really edgy and isn’t afraid to be quite ugly at times. Even though the world that we see is obviously quite sexual, we never miss the undercurrent of desperation beneath all of that.
Nathan Robert Hinds How do you turn your one song and minimal stage time into a complex journey?
Two things. I always approach the role I am playing in two ways. First of all I look at it from the macro perspective; what function does my role play within the actual storyline and how does my character complement Kim’s story? How do I create obstacles for Kim and add depth to her character? With this in mind, I’m really aggressive with Kim and incredibly in her face. It’s so important to establish that intense energy and make it a really tough journey for Kim. It’s an environment of survival – not a backstage dreamland – and I have to be part of that terror for Kim.
I also take a micro perspective on the role and look at the inner workings of my character. I quite strategically set up the character’s arc and then, wherever the song happens to be in the storyline, I use that to really bring out that journey. So, with ‘The Movie in My Mind’, Gigi has literally just been slapped in the face. She starts out as the Queen Bee but, at the time of the song, that power has disappeared. She has lost her status and that armour that she has created has cracked. The cynicism melts away and we get to see Gigi’s dreams, hopes and desires. She sees Kim in that moment and something else takes over – something greater than Gigi kicks in and she goes from a place of survival to wanting to help this person survive. It all happens so quickly but it’s such a beautiful transition.
Amir Ghomshei If you could sing any other song from the show which one would it be?
I don’t really yearn to play any other role, to be totally honest. When I was younger I understudied Kim and I was in the first production in Australia. It’s a beautiful role. As a technical exercise, I think the music is stunning and so – of course – I’d love to take on any of those songs. But I think this role is perfect for where I am in my life right now.
Annie-Louise Jones Did you feel a lot of pressure stepping into the role after Rachelle left? What was your main goal once you were cast?
As I’ve gotten older something has definitely changed within me. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself. What I’ve realised through lots of training over the years is that the best possible thing you can do is just show up and be honest. That means that some nights you’re not going to be perfect; you might not hit the top notes the way you want to but, as long as you’re experiencing those emotions at 200%, you can’t ask anymore of yourself. In a way, that removes all pressure. It also allows me to perform the role differently every night which – hand on my heart – I absolutely do.
Kenneth McKenzie Do you think Gigi would swap places with Kim?
Of course! I think the first day she showed up, Gigi would have been exactly like Kim – they both had the same desire to get out. If Gigi could escape, she’d jump at the chance.
Victoria Coulton What do you feel like every night singing such an amazing song?! 🙂
I have a set of exercises I do just before I go on stage which really allow my imagination to open up. These visions change every night. Just before I set foot on stage, I might imagine myself running from a bomb or rushing to get a girl to a doctor… I don’t deliberately think of a particular scenario – whatever comes into my imagination, I work off and that feeling stays with me throughout the show. It’s kind of my little secret.
Kyanna Cronshaw If you could see any character in Miss Saigon gender swapped, who would it be?
Because it is a story that is replicating history and dealing with gender issues I wouldn’t swap any roles. I want people to see how ugly some women had it back then – and still have it now. That’s really why I wanted to play this role so I wouldn’t want to mess around with that.
Lily Chan What’s the secret to such a beautiful singing voice every night?
I actually really refrain from trying to sound beautiful. That’s not my aim. My aim is to sing honestly. Sometimes I speak the song more than I sing it. I treat it more like a monologue and the musical director really has to rein me in, because I can take it too far! I’m also pretty religious about my vocal warm ups because it’s not like I’m a natural recording artist – I’m an actor first and a singer second. I have to work hard at the singing and be really disciplined about it.
Penny Deen How long did it take you to reach a true connection to Gigi?
I felt a connection before I even started playing her. I felt a connection when I saw Rachelle play the role just before I joined the production. I’m such a big supporter of women and sisterhood and I immediately wanted to help tell Gigi’s heart-breaking story.
Melissa Fass Would you be willing to reprise the role in the US if offered?
I’d have to see what else was happening! We’d have to wait and see.
Maria Saunter Which part of Miss Saigon gets to you the most emotionally apart from your own scene?
The end of ‘The Movie in My Mind’ when all of the women come together. That moment makes me cry every night. We’re still fighting for our place in the world and we can all relate to an aspect of what these women have been through; women being exploited, lack of equality and the constant sexual exploitation of women in the media. In that moment after the song all their armour is stripped away and you see these beautiful strong, vulnerable women. That’s when we’re really at our best, when we come together as women.
I also cry every night at the end of the show, at the curtain call, when Eva walks down and you see people just spring to their feet. I’m just so proud of all of us, and Eva, at the moment. You feel like you’ve all been on such a journey together by the end of the show.
Dionne Lomax How do you switch off all that emotion after the show?
I never coast during a show – it’s never a comfortable experience, because it’s such a gruelling story. I wind down really slowly after the show and take my time with everything. I have a twenty minute walk home and then I just relax at home. I can’t talk to anyone after the show – I get very quiet and need my down time.
Lizzie Coulton What’s the most demanding part of playing Gigi?
This show has been challenging because I actually became ill a couple of weeks in. I’ve got chronic fatigue and I have to really look after myself. Normally I’m a full on athlete but I can’t spend hours in the gym like I normally would, so I have to be really gentle with myself. I take a walk in the park every day with my puppy but I can’t push it too much. It has been a very odd experience but, in a way, it kind of makes me feel more open and vulnerable. I don’t have as much as a mask on – I don’t have the energy for that – so it’s actually been pretty good for me as a performer.
Steven Lunt Are you free Saturday?!!! Lol
I’ll be performing on Saturday night!
Liam Draper [email protected]
What is one piece of advice you would give your character and your character would give to you?
I generally don’t give advice unless people reach out to me. I don’t like to impose. I try to avoid giving advice that hasn’t been asked for and I doubt that Gigi would reach out to me. As for Gigi and her advice to me? I’m not sure our paths would really cross!
Nicolette jones[email protected]
What is your favorite song from a musical?
My father’s a jazz musician so my favourite thing is to sing with him; something from one of those Great American Song Books. I love a song called ‘An Affair to Remember’, from the Cary Grant film. It’s a beautiful romantic film and there’s this very sweet scene where the Grandma plays the song on the piano. There is something in the way that it is written that makes me cry – so I’d love to sit and sing that with my dad.