Emma Williams is an actress working on the stage, screen, TV and radio. At the age of 18, she made her stage debut playing the role of Truly Scrumptious in the original cast of the West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The role won her the Arts Correspondent Award for Best Newcomer and she has since gone on to be nominated four times for an Olivier Award.
With a number of film to stage musical adaptations under her belt, Emma is now leading the cast of An Officer and a Gentleman as leading lady Paula Pokrifki.
1. Your work has included performances for television, film and radio. What is it about the theatre that continues to draw you back? They keep giving me roles! Ha! But seriously, you can’t beat the thrill of performing in front of a live audience. Much as I love working in TV, film and radio, the adrenaline buzz you get from stepping out on to stage at night is just electrifying.
2. With so many awards under your belt, do you ever feel as though there’s more pressure on you to impress, and if so, how do you work through it?
Well I have a lot of nominations but only a few wins. If anyone’s putting pressure on it’s me. I’m a perfectionist and you always have to remember that for some people it’s their very first time not only seeing the show, but seeing any show. We have a duty to make it the most amazing experience possible so that they come back time and time again and support the incredible foundation of arts that the UK has to offer.
3. An Officer and a Gentleman was one of the highest grossing films of all time. What does the theatre adaptation bring to the table to keep the audience excited?
I feel like we’ve taken a brilliant movie and reinvented it to bring it back to the forefront for a new audience. The songs are all 80’s hits and spur off from Up Where We Belong which was so iconic in the film. I like to think fans of the movie will love the show and fans of the show will go and rediscover the movie afterwards.
4. A great deal of this story is about women facing the inescapable pattern of their lives, whilst Mrs Henderson Presents tells a tale of women empowering one another. With both roles being the type that could provoke discussions about feminism, is this important to you?
I’m a feminist, through and through, and part of that means acknowledging the contributions and sacrifices women have made to the changing face of feminism over the years. I’m proudest when I play strong women in musical theatre, but I’m also aware that the darker stories of feminism must be told too. The suppression of women around the world is still painfully relevant, and until we have gender equality, I’m always going to want to discuss it.
5. How would you go about helping a new theatre goer in choosing their first ever West End musical?
There’s no hard or fast rule! Just try it. Pick it for the colourful poster, for the famous face you recognise, for the fact the title made you smile, because your friend told you it was good, because someone else told you it wasn’t. Get yourself in a theatre and see a show, then see another, and another. Make up your own mind about what you personally like but remember, theatre is for everybody and out there someone is telling stories just for you.
And just for fun …
6. If you had to live in the costumes of only one of the characters you’ve ever played, who’s would you choose and why?
Definitely either Paula in An Officer and A Gentleman as I get to be both super comfy and glammed up, or Kat in Tomorrow Morning – pyjamas and a wedding dress! Best of both worlds!
7. Tell us about your funniest on-stage experience?
About three hundred shows into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang I blanked in Doll on a Music Box. I basically laa’ed my way through the entire second verse whilst the rest of the cast wet themselves laughing at me. I was utterly mortified and it felt like the longest thirty seconds of my life!
8. If you were given a chance, would you enter Big Brother?
Nope. No. Never. Not a cat in hell’s chance.
9. What’s the weirdest tradition that your family has?
Weird traditions? I don’t think we have any. Most of our traditions revolve around Christmas and nowadays I’m making new ones with my husband. We’re trying to compress both of our family traditions into one happy little festive mess. I’m still trying to convince him on the open a present before midnight on Christmas Eve thing though.
10. What do you love about yourself?
I could tell you that, like most people, I could list a ton of things I don’t like and very few I do, but it’s not good or healthy to be that way. I like everything. Every quirk, every foible, every wrinkle, freckle, bruise and bump. It’s all part of me. Without it, I am not myself. I’m still learning to say it but I’m the only me there is, so if I can’t love me, why should anyone else? We all need to love ourselves a little more. Step away from the magazines, the social media and the negativity (however unintentional), take a deep breath and repeat after me … ‘I love myself’.
Interested in seeing Emma Williams on the big stage? An Officer and a Gentleman will be at The Edinburgh Playhouse from 2nd – 7th July. You can buy tickets here.
Love reading our interviews with theatre professionals? Check out our 5 minutes with Louise Rednapp – Sally Bowles in Cabaret.