Cyrano, a new musical from director Joe Wright, is released this week in Australian cinemas. I recently spoke to one of the film’s stars, Kelvin Harrison Jr, about the project…
Matt: What interested you most about the role of Christian when you first heard about it?
Kelvin: I got an email saying Joe Wright wanted to meet me and I was like “huh, that’s an email I don’t get every day. I’m interested. What’s he want to talk about?” I finally had a Zoom call with him and he said they were going to do an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. I told him I’d never heard of it. He then sent me the screenplay, I read it and I fell it love with those three characters, especially Christian. I gave him my interpretation, did a self-tape, and then next thing you know, I was in Scilly.
Matt: Christian is an interesting character. He’s a nice person and a well-intentioned person but that’s not to say he’s not a deceitful person. How did you approach that with Joe Wright in working out how to portray the character?
Kelvin: One of the things I loved about Christian is that he came into this with so much innocence and sincerity. He’s a very trusting young man. What he gets mixed up in is not necessarily having the confidence or the understanding of how this particular community works and entrusts his relationship with Roxanne in Cyrano. I think Joe wanted to keep him kind of naïve and innocent. That’s why he almost falls into this trap of deceit and it’s not that he was out to fool the girl he loved.
Matt: We saw you work with a vocal coach and sing on screen last year with The High Note. Did it feel more comfortable this time around or was it a different beast as a full-blown musical?
Kelvin: It was different. The High Note was cool because you feel like a real pop star. You go into the studio and you work with big producers like Darkchild who’s worked with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson and you go do a music video recording on set. With Cyrano, we’re singing live, and we’re dancing, and the music is so much more intimate in so many different ways, and the lyrics are so profound. It feels like you’re doing a proper musical but you’re doing it all day with many different takes.
Matt: Singing on set, as opposed to in a recording studio, seems to becoming more common and that’s the approach director Joe Wright used here. Was it easy to embrace?
Kelvin: I think it’s more natural. With pre-recording, it’s like a safety blanket for actors so they don’t have to worry about how they sound on set because they’re not proper Broadway singers… but I also think it’s unnatural to lip-sync to your voice that you recorded three months ago. You may not be feeling the same way and you don’t even know if it’s going to sound right in that location.
Matt: There are some beautiful locations used as part of the production. What can you tell us about the Sicilian town of Noto?
Kelvin: It’s beautiful. They invited us into their home in the middle of the pandemic. They were so hospitable. They fed us, the gave us a good time, they had street musicians playing, we had dinners and stuff like that. It was just nice to be in this world that felt kind of fantastical and supported this Cyrano space we existed in. You could walk down the street and see Ragueneau’s Bakery, Roxanne’s apartment, and De Guiche’s house. It help us immerse ourselves in this fantastical space that Joe Wright created.
Matt: This film was shot last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did it have a big impact on the shoot and perhaps what you could and couldn’t do off-screen?
Kelvin: It was a proper lockdown where we had to quarantine and everyone was wearing masks. I think the biggest difference for performers is that so much of our job is about connection and relating to the crew and talking to the other cast members. When you had red zones, yellow zones and green zones, it was a little more isolating but at the same time, any obstacle can be a gift because it forces you to make the most out of the moments you have. When those masks come off, you’re really hungry for meaningful connections with your cast and crew.
Matt: I read an interview with Joe Wright where he spoke about shooting war scenes near at active volcano, Mount Etna, which did erupt during the shoot. Were you there for that?
Kelvin: Oh yeah. Mount Etna gave us trouble from day one. As soon as we decided to shoot up there, Mount Etna was like “ah, I don’t know about that, fellas.” We were in a hotel a little bit away from the volcano but on the third day, I remember looking outside the window and seeing it spout out lava. We were like “are we working today?”
Matt: This is a love story but of the cast, you seem to spend the most time alongside Cyrano, played by the Peter Dinklage. You’re both terrific and so how did you bring the best out in each other?
Kelvin: Pete is just a great dude. He’s a professional and he’s one of the most brilliant actors of our generation. It’s such a gift to work with him. We just kept the banter going. Early on I said “Pete, how do I stay in your good graces?” and he said “just keep laughing at my jokes.” Easy enough!
Matt: With any period-piece movie, one of the fun parts are the costumes and we see you here wearing baggy clothes with big puffy sleeves. Are the clothes actually comfortable?
Kelvin: It’s cool at the fitting. I had a sword and cool boots and beautiful shirts. And then on day 15, you kind of go “my back hurts” from how heavy it all is. You’ve also got 5 people dressing you every day because it’s so detailed. I respect the craft.
Matt: You were in my neck of the woods recently shooting Elvis under the guidance of director Baz Luhrmann. What can you tell us about it?
Kelvin: I love Australia. It was beautiful. I finished this movie, did my quarantine, and dropped in there. I got out the day after New Years’ and I cried because I was so glad you guys followed the COVID rules and I could go outside to restaurants and eat like a normal person. Elvis is going to be sick. Baz is Baz. Baz is an event in one person. You know his films are going to be a spectacle and exciting. The cast is incredible and I had such a great time making that movie. I know everyone is going to love it.