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Highland-bound Bodyguard star feels 'this tour will get best of me in this role'

By Margaret Chrystall

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No stranger to the spotlight, multi-platinum New Zealand-born recording artist Emily Williams will star as Rachel Marron in the UK and Ireland tour of the award-winning international smash-hit musical The Bodyguard, coming to Eden Court this week – here until Saturday!

Emily Williams will play The Bodyguard's charrismatic singer Rachel Marron.
Emily Williams will play The Bodyguard's charrismatic singer Rachel Marron.

The musical is based on the Oscar-nominated movie which starred the late Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner and features classic songs such as an all-time giant of a song, Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, plus Queen Of The Night, I Have Nothing and I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Emily Williams talks about taking on the role of Rachel played by Whitney Houston ...

Q The Bodyguard is such a favourite movie for a lot of people – the performances, the songs – even now, over 30-years on! Were you a fan of it when you were growing up?

A Emily: Yes, I was a fan of the movie – who wasn’t at that time?! It’s one of the best movies ever made. If I were to have missed it, I don’t think I’d be able to sing the way I do now, to be honest with you. I don’t know many vocalists nowadays who don’t regard Whitney Houston as their go-to vocal goddess of all goddesses! She was an absolute queen, and she dominated the entire 90s. I’m so glad I was able to experience her while she was alive and see her in her prime.

Q For you, this tour coming to Inverness this week will be a return to the role because you have played it before. Will it be different for you in anyway this time?

A I think when I played the role in Australia in 2017, I was more excited to be singing the songs than understanding and connecting deeply with the character of Rachel Marron. To get to come back and dive completely into my interpretation of Rachel, I now understand her so much better. I feel like the UK and Ireland tour are going to get the best of me in this role.

Q So can you share with us what you now see in Rachel and want to communicate about her with your audiences?

A Rachel Marron is strong, she’s an incredible performer, a beautiful mother, and very protective of the people around her. She’s someone that thought she knew what was going on around her, and was in control of everything, but comes to realise that she doesn’t have full control of certain parts of her career. That’s the moment where you see the vulnerability, that’s where you see her crash and explore parts of herself that she wouldn’t show the public.

Q In case people don't know, Emily, you were spotted and got your big breakthrough moment through Australian Idol and then went on to be part of the star girl group Young Divas. How does your own experience of stardom as a successful singer influence your interpretation of the role of Rachel. Do you see connections?

A There are heaps of parallels! The first song I ever recorded after the finale of Australian Idol was I Will Always Love You! But the thing that really connects me and Rachel Marron is the fact that I’ve been on stages like her. I understand the fans – and the stalkers! – that can come with being part of the industry. I understand the stardom, with people and cameras everywhere, so I feel like I understand her as a person. I would say another key connection is that we’re both mothers, so I am able to draw from personal experiences and throw them into her character. During the rehearsals I came to realise that my interpretation of Rachel Marron is rooted in realism, because this is my life. You must live through those years to be able stand in these shoes. I know there have been a lot of Rachels before me. But I feel that if you haven’t experienced a bit of what is going on within the industry, you won’t know how to handle this role.

Q Was the experience of being a reality show 'graduate' a tough way to get into the music industry, looking back? Were you given good advice?

A I’m kind of lucky because I have a famous sister [Lavinia Williams], so I was the younger sibling watching my sister who had been in the industry for a very long time. At the age of 13, I opened for Tina Turner alongside her because her group, Ma-V-Elle, were so big – they were the first Polynesian group in New Zealand to break out, so they were opening for a lot of amazing people. I met a lot of famous people while I was still a young girl, so I was exposed to the industry early on. The older I got, the more knowledge I gained about being in the scene, with the biggest guidance being my sister. It was Lavinia that told me to go and audition for Australian Idol. I was happy just being a normal forklift-driving mum, but I went, and the rest is history!

Q And what advice based on your own life would you want to pass on to a young newcomer?

A Be yourself. I know that’s so clichéd, but back when I started in the industry it was hard to be yourself. This current generation are allowed to be authentic and express themselves, but back then you had to be a certain way. I just wish I had told myself that ‘you are enough’ and allowed myself to be whatever I wanted to be. I restricted myself to a certain extent. I needed to know my place in the world. I was so lost, feeling like I was living under someone else’s shadow, so I didn’t know how to be myself or find who I was – I used to look at others and copy them, without having any self-identity. I had a strict Christian upbringing, which was very much 'Can’t watch TV, can’t go outside and play with other kids.' You had to sit at home, read the Bible and sing gospel songs. I started to notice that we weren’t normal compared to the other kids. I think that’s why I eventually rebelled.

Emily Williams – her favourite song to sing from a musical full of classics.
Emily Williams – her favourite song to sing from a musical full of classics.

Q The Bodyguard's soundtrack is very special with hits made famous by Whitney Houston – what's your own faourite song to perform in the show? A Honestly, I like singing The Greatest Love of All, because when I sit down and sing it, it’s so clichéd, but it’s so honest to me. The song gets me the most, because it’s who I am on the inside, and it’s nice to be able to express that honestly to the people listening. But there are so many other songs in the show that are full-out and solid. But wih this one, for me, you have to really come down into yourself and let the audience see a moment of truth.

Q It must be a big ask to go onstage and give it everything night after night. How have you prepared your voice and what are your tips for keeping healthy – and your voice in good form?

A Sleep is key – it has to be your best friend; it has to be your husband. You must love sleep! In all honesty, when you are playing this kind of role and the strain that it has on your vocals, you must rest. It’s not that you can’t go out and have a drink, you can. But you need to ask yourself if your voice would hold up. If the last song you’re singing night after night is I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ in the same key as the original, then no! Don’t go there!

Q What do you hope audiences on this tour – which also takes you to Ireland – will take away from this production?

A I want audiences to leave knowing that it was one of the best shows they’ve ever seen. I want them to feel every single emotion that we’re giving on the stage from beginning to end, and then celebrate with me in the finale. I want them to feel like they’ve been taken on a journey. For anyone who has never seen the show before, it is definitely a show you don’t want to miss; it should be on your bucket list!

The Bodyguard with Emily as Rachel and Ayden Callaghan (Emmerdale, Hollyoaks) as Frank Farmer, her bodyguard is at Eden Court until Saturday at various times. Details and tickets:

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