Rachel Tucker rose to fame on the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything, where she reached the semi-final. Stints in West End musical titans We Will Rock You and Wicked followed, and now she is tackling two new projects: her first album, The Reason, and a political drama, Farragut North. Lucy Thackray caught up with her about how she’s dealt with the past few whirlwind years.
How’s your summer been?
It’s been really great, thanks, with the launch of the album and everything.
Tell me about how you chose the tracks for The Reason.
One of the songs is called The Reason, but it made sense as a title because there is a reason for every song I chance, it’s personal. It was recorded over the last year. So Small Bump is very personal, because I was six or seven months pregnant with my son – I recorded it when he was a small bump. Some are from shows I’ve done: No One But You from We Will Rock You, and I’ll Cover You from Rent, which I did as well. My mum passed away this year, so there’sGone Too Soon by Michael Jackson – everything was very personal. I really enjoyed recording. It’s time consuming, but you can do it over a long period of time, so you can take breaks or go for big marathon ten-day stints. I think it’ll be a couple of years before I do anything else again.
Do you have a personal favourite?
I think I’ll Cover You, which is the reprise from the show done slightly differently, just piano, or Gone Too Soon.
Tell me a bit about your background – everyone knows you from I’d do Anything, but you’d done quite a bit before that…
I had, yeah, I’d toured the UK with The Full Monty, Tommy, Tonight’s the Night and Rent…but, yes, the TV is when everybody first off sees you and thinks that’s where you started.
Did you audition because of the rôle of Nancy or more to raise your profile?
It was a bit of both actually. I wouldn’t have gone for it if it had been Maria Von Trapp, as that’s not really my kind of thing, but the rôle was right for my casting type and I did think the TV show part of it would raise my profile. It was a good way in, a foot in the door.
What was your experience of doing the show? Do you remember it fondly?
Absolutely, I had a brilliant time. It was very intense and competitive, and you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time but actually, as an environment, we were really well looked after. And it was exciting, you know? I was 26 and doing what I loved doing. The adrenaline of performing live every Saturday night in front of the nation was amazing.
Then you went on to We Will Rock You and Wicked, two huge shows…
Well, Meat [in WWRY] was my West End debut, so that was so special. The rôle was great because I was able to keep my accent, which was wonderful. Ben Elton and the team are very encouraging of regional accents, and obviously coming from Belfast mine was very strong. And it was just a blast singing queen songs for a year and being this rock chick, it was just right up my street.Then Wicked was the top dream rôle for me, so the fact that I got it was pretty insane. What people don’t know is that that was my third year auditioning for Wicked, so they had seen and heard of me before and kind of had me on the sidelines I think. I truly believed that it would have happened regardless of I’d Do Anything. I know in my heart that would have happened; I would never have let that rôle go past me.
What did you love most about that rôle?
Just being able to portray Elphaba every evening. Joining the dots and making the story clear. It’s not just about the songs, it’s not just about Defying Gravity, it’s making sense of all of it. The story is very important to me. Everyone brings something new to every character they go into, not changing it exactly, just bringing my truth to it. We all go through something like that, an injustice, and whether you get screwed or not, if you’re true to yourself that’s what’s important.
Now you’re about to do a play, Farragut North. How’s that going?
Really brilliant, I’m loving the seriousness of it, it’s quite an intense play. It’s about the spin and the tactics of politics.
It was the basis for the George Clooney film The Ides of March, wasn’t it?
Yes, that’s right. My character, Ida, is a hard-nosed journalist who works for the New York Times. She has a very masculine attitude towards everything, only out for herself in the end. It’s pretty different to anything I’ve played before, so it’s great.
And you get to work with the rather dishy Max Irons…
He’s really not hard to look at. It’s really not been difficult to work with him. I knew his work, and his father’s, so I was a tad star struck, going into work. There’s also Shaun Williamson, who played Barry in EastEnders, and is a great character in this, and Andrew Whipp and Josh O’Connor, some great actors.
Who are your musical and theatrical inspirations?
Bette Midler, I love Bernadette Peters… I grew up listening to Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé’s vocals are just insane. I love Michael Jackson, he was a massive influence on me, growing up. Sammy Davis Jr is up there for me, and Judy Garland.
There’s a Judy Garland medley with you and your dad duetting on your album isn’t there?
Yes. I’ve done that song with him since I was 10 years old, so another personal personal one.
You also had a baby this year, congratulations. How have you found it with work and everything?
I’m loving motherhood and he has fitted around it very nicely, I’ve taken him to the studio. My husband and I are also running a fringe pub theatre venue, The Bridge House Theatre, in Penge, so that’s taking up quite a lot of our time as well. We’ve had a lot of West End stars come out and do cabarets and stuff.
Do you get to the theatre much? What have you loved this year?
Not much, but there was a lovely period after leaving Wicked at seven months pregnant, where there was just three months or so of going to the theatre every other night. What have I seen recently… oh, The Globe – we went to see [fellow Nancy] Jessie Buckley in The Tempest there, oh my God. We were so moved, stunning. Incredible performance and the whole thing was amazing.
Do you think you’ll go back to musicals after this or try other things?
Whatever comes up, really. Whatever’s new. I’m up for trying everything, a new musical, I’d love to do a new play. I’d really love to do TV or film but it’s quite hard to break in.
Are there still dream rôles out there you’d love to play?
Funny Girl, Calamity Jane, Roxy in Chicago… all of those.
Farragut North is at the Southwark Playhouse from 11 September. Rachel plays London’s St James Theatre on 13th October, and her album The Reason is out now and available frombighandrecordings.co.uk.