EastEnder Goes West

By Tim Wilson

Desune Coleman, it turns out, is a lot more than just a very appealing actor on EastEnders. As deejay/cab driver Lenny Wallace, he may be allowed to show off just one facet of his talent. But in actuality, Coleman this past fall sang, acted and danced up a storm in Londonís West End in Rent, the highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical.

How did Des make the transition? After performing a matinee and evening show one recent Saturday he still felt revved up enough to answer that question and others for the Gazette, God bless him.

Walford Gazette: Are you sure you still have enough energy left to give an interview, Des?

Des Coleman: Definitely. A lot of people donít realize that performers in theatre, especially in high-energy shows like Rent, actually need a good few hours to scrape themselves off the ceiling, to come down from the adrenalin rush of live performance.

WG: I hope this will help then.

DC: Maybe a glass of wine afterward will do the trick as well!

WG: Well, Iím very impressed youíre in Rent. Have you been doing it for long?

DC: Itís been two months now. I wished that I could have opened it here with the London company, but the EastEnders schedule wouldnít allow it because I was in the middle of a heavy storyline. This summer everything finally fell into place and I was offe red it. It is a great, great show. Fantastic.

WG: Do you think you were offered it on the strength of your high visibility with EastEnders?

DC: That didnít hurt, I guess, but I do actually have quite a bit of experience in musical theatre so itís not like they just threw on this TV person. I had the goods, yíknow?

WG: Iím not going to argue with you. I just heard that Rent is going to close soon in London.

DC: (mock sobbing)Oh my God, I didnít know that! Life can be so cruel, especially in the theatre! (laughs) Yes, Tim, it is and weíve all adjusted to that fact. Oh well, thatís showbiz.

WG: Well, itís been a phenomenon in the States but will run only 18 months in London. That must rate as something of a disappointment. Why do you think it didnít manage to duplicate its New York success?

DC: If I knew Iíd be producing shows as well as being in Ďem, wouldnít I? Oh, I dunno, there are several theories being bandied about. One is that the title ĎRentí over here is too closely associated with rent boys (male prostitutes), but I think thatís rather naff (silly).

WG: My theory is that the Brits got annoyed that Americans created such a smash hit with a show about poverty. They think they cornered the market on misery, donít they?

DC: Hmmm, could be true. Look at Dickens. Look at EastEnders!

WG: My point precisely. And one of your London subway lines, the Northern Line, is nicknamed the Misery Line. You people wallow in misery and only want to see American stuff where the characters are perky and happy (like Friends) and not suffering from AI DS or living in squalor. Am I not correct?

DC: A bit simplistic, that, but okay, Iíll buy it, Iíll buy it! (laughs) YES, THATíS why weíre closing!

WG: Thank you. So letís move on to the misery show we all know and love, EastEnders. No Gazette interview would be complete without an audition story. Got one, then?

DC: Kind of, I guess, but it has less to do with the audition itself than the circumstances surrounding it. Iíd been doing a series of auditions for the West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and my final audition for it was scheduled at 11 a.m. My EastEnders audition was at 1 p.m. So I auditioned for Superstarís director as well Lord Lloyd Webber (Andrew Lloyd Webber, the showís composer) and then made a mad dash up to Elstree to read for EastEnders. I drove home and got a call at 4 p.m. from m y agent who said, ďOi, you sittiní down. Hope so, Ďcos I got news for you...Ē I thought Iíd finally been cast in Superstar. Well, Iíd actually gotten EastEnders instead! I couldnít believe it because my first ever television role was going to be in EASTI ES! Hit the old jackpot, didnít it? I was appearing in Miss Saigon at the time, so needless to say I had no trouble handing in my notice.

WG: EASTIES? I heard a lady on television once refer to it as Enders. Did you meet Richard Elis (Lennyís best mate, Huw) at the casting session?

DC: No, we actually met on the first day we both showed up for work. The show obviously realized that our personalities matched. Theyíre really good at that sort of thing. We stuck together like glue from then on, the ďSiamese TwinsĒ theyíd call us. We lo ve to hang out with the guys backstage, the scene shifters, the prop guys, we all have a laugh together. We donít have to strain our minds, and can just kick back and relax with each other-have a good time. We like the actors too, but the crew at up at El stree is the best. They are the unsung heroes.

WG: I couldnít agree more. Whereís Lenny from? Does he have any family to speak of?

DC: He has a sister which they talked about bringing on but they havenít followed through because they have so many story ideas flying around. Lennyís from Wembley, which isnít far from London and got to the Square because he had an affair with his bossí daughter, decided he needed a fresh start. Isnít all that interesting? (laughs)

WG: Fascinating-love that backstory. How would you personally describe Lenny?

DC: Oh God, letís see. How about this-a cheeky chappie with a dodgy past! Heís a good guy, though. Heís not a criminal but believes that if he doesnít get caught, itís legal.

WG: How does the public relate to you? They like Lenny, donít they?

DC: They love the character I think because they can relate to him. He may get some really tough breaks and try to go in through the back door but thereís nothiní sinister about him at all. A lot of people are like that or at least understand people who are like that.

WG:The public must have been somewhat pissed at Lenny for recently causing a major character to cope with a hepatitis scare.

DC: Oh yeah, crikey, forgot about that! But that unfortunate situation gave me a chance to really sink my teeth into the kind of storyline every actor begs for. I guess that teeth sinking metaphor is inappropriate considering the hepatitis thing, sorry.

WG: Barbara Windsor (Peggy) told me in her interview with the Gazette that every actorís first day in the Vic is a particularly nerve-racking experience.

DC: And I was no exception. it was not just nerve-racking; it was surreal-like I stepped into my TV. It helped that I hadnít seen the show in about a year because I was busy doing Miss Saigon. I didnít know who the Hills family (Ted, Sarah, Tony) were, fo r instance. It also helped that Richard Elis started the same day as I did so we could cling together and get through those first days as a team.

WG: Someone beside you also looking around with widening eyes, saying ďWow!Ē?

DC: Yeah, it was good. The lovely Carolyn Weinstein from the production office also took us in hand and helped tremendously. And Richardís such a great guy.

WG: Where were you born, Des?

DC: Derby, north of London.

WG: Are any of your family also in showbiz?

DC: No, Iím the only one. My mum said once that if I wasnít born at home sheíd swear I was swapped at the hospital. The rest of my family are in more ďstableĒ professions and are quite tame, temperament-wise.

WG: Oh, so that makes you the fiery one, huh?

DC: (laughs) I can get a bit rowdy is all Iíll say, okay?

WG: Did you take acting, singing and dancing lessons from an early age?

DC: Not at all. I went through school sensing that I might have certain abilities in the performing arts. My first trade actually was welding.

WG: You mean like in Flashdance?

DC: (laughs) Yeah mate, like in Flashdance. Derby is a Northern industrial town so itís a pretty common trade to take on. Anyway I moved on after a bit of power station work and decided I wanted to become a pilot or a comedian.

WG: Who are your favourite comedians?

DC: Robin Williams and Steve Martin, without a doubt. I wound up going to the Guildford School of Music and Drama and developed my performing skills there. After I finished at Guildford I started working almost right away. Iíve been very lucky. Iíve had v ery few slow periods, work-wise. Iím knocking wood over here.

WG: Other than Rent and Miss Saigon, have you done any other musicals?

DC: I did Chicago in Germany for six months. That was slightly surreal, but fun. I did a show at Birmingham Rep called Big Times.

WG: Your stage musical roles have all been playing Yanks. Have you ever been to the U.S.?

DC: Yes I have, on a college break. A mate and I named Jamie hired a car and went all around the South. We started out in Santa Monica, California and moved onto places like New Orleans before ending up in Atlanta. We met some very weird characters on our fantastic voyage. A lot of it is unprintable, sorry.

WG: Thatís all right. Ever been to New York City?

DC: No, canít say I have. Someday I will. Iíve already missed out on stepping around the heart of sleazy, easy Times Square. Damn, itís gone all Disney, I hear.

WG: If you were given the chance to star in either a big Broadway show or a big Hollywood film, which would you choose?

DC: The big Hollywood film, thatís a no-brainer. The Hollywood film could lead to anything. A few years ago I was among the four final four actors considered for the lead opposite Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Taye Diggs got that. He w as in Rent too, on Broadway. And oddly enough, in the same role Iím playing now.

WG: I could do a Tonya Harding and break one of his legs for you, Des.

DC: (laughs) I donít condone violence of any kind, Tim. And besides I have to make my own breaks, thanks!

WG: Back to Easties, Enders, whatever. Last week I logged onto the Walford Cam and noticed it was pounding with rain. What happens on days youíre supposed to be outdoors and the weatherís lousy? Do you go indoors and do interior scenes?

DC: Nope, we just get on with it, no matter what. Itís more hell on the prop guys because their market stall props are getting rained on and they have to either dry them or replace them. That Albert Square lot set is a wind tunnel. Itís bloody freezing an d thatís why even in summer youíll see us wearing jackets or sweaters. Sometimes I wish I was on Sunset Beach instead! Love that show!

WG: Sunset Beach just got canceled, Des.

DC: Oh no, has it? I enjoyed watching it from time to time. Itís a right pile of poo-poo but the cast obviously knows it and have fun with it-they donít take it mega-seriously. All those pretty people out of work. Too bad.

WG: Do you have any funny stories about EastEnders for our readers?

DC: A while back I was doing a scene in a restaurant with a new character named Gianni di Marco. The actorís name is Marc Bannerman and we had to start the scene over 18 times because he kept on breaking up whenever I entered. I finally asked him what was so funny and he told me I was making like a crab to make my entrance. I had to contort my body in a certain manner to stay out of the cameraís way! A BBC digital show called EastEnders Revealed showed Marcís laughing jag.

WG: So after making a fellow actor laugh like a hyena on television whatís next for Desune Coleman? Does he want to make entire audiences laugh a la Robin or Steve?

DC: Funny you should ask that. Iím going to do a bit of television presenting (hosting) in the near future which might lead a new type of career. I could be the next David Letterman-my comedy training could come in handy there, I bet. And I could have Robin and Steve as my special guests.

WG: Thanks for talking to the Gazette, Des. Now go to bed.

DC: Not until Iíve had that glass of wine, mate!

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