Connie Fisher is a Welsh actress/singer who came to prominence in 2006 on the BBC talent contest How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? . She is currently in rehearsals for Wonderful Town, a Bernstein musical, and filming the tv series Connie’s Wales.
MF: Firstly let’s talk about your career before to The Sound of Music. You’ve said that your different looks ‘went against you’ as an actress prior to winning the role of Maria. There are quite a few less conventional looking actors and actresses around nowadays (Carey Mulligan and Tilda Swinton to name two). Do you feel appearance is still as important a factor in the showbusiness world as it once was?
CF: I used to feel that not being a size zero, having short hair and wonky teeth certainly went against me in the world of show business, but I think in hindsight that was because I just hadn’t found my nieche. I was still going for those romantic leading lady roles, those long hair, sparkling smile, long legged parts, which I just wasn’t perfect for. I now know that if your face fits the part, you are halfway to getting it.
MF: What would your advice to those starting in the business be?
CF: I have a poster on my wall which says ‘never, never give up’ and I think that’s great advice. You will face rejection at every turn – do take it personally but at the same time don’t let it crush your confidence. Never, never, never give up. Preparation is the key – my mum used to say ‘remember all the p’s’ – presentation, poise, posture and practice. At the end of the day visualise going on stage and visualise where you want to go to. You never know where that one job may lead or who may be in the audience.
MF: Did you find it challenging to go from unknown to competing on a national platform with Andrew Lloyd Webber as judge? What do you feel gave you the edge over the other competitors?
CF: I knew Maria was a part I was capable of playing, so I was less fearful than other West end roles I had gone for. But of course I didnt want to lose out on the chance of winning the role - because it was a televised audition – by showing my nerves on national television in front of Andrew!
I felt the role suited me: a romantic lead who steals the show with her comic timing and her love of music. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, and I feel that, in the stage show, Maria and I share those qualities. Everytime I play her it’s like wearing a comfy pair of slippers. Finally, I felt my face fit the role.
MF: When you won you were suddenly in the position of playing the lead in what was to be a top West End show – did you feel pressure to emulate Julie Andrews’ portrayal of Maria?
CF: It was a struggle to escape the ‘Julieisms’ at first, as I knew what people would expect of the Maria’s portrayal, because Julie had made it such an iconic part. However, it soon becme clear in rehearsals that the director didn’t want an impression of Julie Andrews, and he encouraged me to develop my own Maria style, which I tried my best to do, whilst retaining Julie’s best bits!
MF: You went to see Julie Andrews perform recently at the O2 arena and went to meet her afterwards. How was that experience?
CF: Amazing. I never expected to meet her but the head of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Estate invited me back afterwards. She was elegant as ever. The first question she asked was: ‘was I alright?’, which was charming. It was nice to be able to see the performer in Julie, rather than just the legend, and to empathise with her performer’s doubt. But she had nothing to worry about as she was brilliant.
MF: You’ve since been part of a variety of projects and, from an acting perspective, notably starred in the ITV drama ‘Caught in a Trap.’ You played an obsessive Elvis fan. Were you a fan of his prior to filming? Have you had any over-zealous fan attention yourself?
CF: I knew Elvis had an enormous following, but in my youth I was more impressed by The Backstreet Boys and Take That. So in preparation for playing an Elvis obsessed parking meter attendant I spent hours watching Elvis on screen. I watched a quite a few films and his 50 best performances on dvd. I soon became a huge Elvis fan, so the role was quite easy to play by the time we began filming! As it was a true story I suggested meeting the lady I was portraying, but she was jailed for 4 years for her crime, so this was impossible. ‘Caught in a Trap’ was an awesome tv role to be a part of, I’d love to film more projects that are of a similar ilk.
As for my own fan attention, there is a guy who sends me lemon fresh hand wipes wrapped inside his letters – that makes me a bit nervous – I wonder why I may need the wipes when reading them! When I’m on tour I have a lovely PA, Dawn, who looks after the post as it’s quite a big job. So I may have missed some of the more interesting post!
MF: You also released an album in which you sang a song Andrew Lloyd-Webber had written for you. How do you approach something of that magnitude?
CF: It was a real acoustic album – mainly piano and voice. We tried to do a lot of one takes to get an almost live sound to the album. It was a great honour that he wrote me a song – I think that’s every performers dream to have a musical theatre song written for them by someone like Andrew.
MF: You’ve performed at some of London’s most illustrious venues from the Palladium to The Royal Festival Hall – is there an inherent pressure when taking to a stage on which so many wonderful performers have starred? Do you suffer from pre-performance nerves?
CF: I’m sure every performer suffers from pre-performance nerves; whether you’re playing The Royal Festival Hall, Wembley, the Palladium, or your local village hall, the nerves are exactly the same. As a perfomer, most of the time the pressure it something we put on ourselves. Expectation is a nerve wracking thing.
MF: You’ve sadly suffered from a vocal condition and chose to pull out of reprising your role of Maria rather than give a performance you wouldn’t have been happy with – that must’ve taken immense bravery. Have you since had a lot of support and words of encouragement from your peers?
CF: Yes, I’ve been really comforted by my peers and fans who respected my decision. Having this vocal condition, called ‘congenital sulcuss’, is a daily struggle, and I’m lucky to have enjoyed the role for over five years, playing Maria every night. I have many happy memories which far outweigh the disapointment. Maria was a whole chapter of my life- now I’m starting a new one.
MF: You are involved in bringing attention to the Institute for Laryngology and Voice Restoration. How is the effort to raise awareness going?
CF: It is going really well. They’ve involved in a research programme to develop a biomaterial which is a gel to be injected into the muscle, and this will be used in the voice to increase elasticity within the vocal cord.
They are almost in human trials. It will primarily be used for cancer patients who have had their vocal cords operated on. The Voice Centre in Boston, part of Massachusetts General Hospital is the place to go if you have any voice conditions at all (Steve Tyler, Roger Daltry, Julie Andrews and Adele have all been treated there), and that’s where I go. My congenital condition was so rare that they’d never seen it in a singer.
MF: How do you feel fame has affected your life? Has that element of success been a positive or negative experience?
CF: The initial shock of having press interest and photographers hiding in the garden was quite amusing, but it soon settles, and you become unaware that people are staring at you. Being commended for being good at something is every performer’s dream, so to be given a role and told ‘this is yours’ is such a gift. I do enjoy going to red carpet celebrity events but I think the next step for me is graduating from Maria, and leaving that stereotype behind.
MF: You are based in Barry, South Wales but travel a great deal for work (even meeting your husband on a train platform!) – could you ever see yourself and your husband, Jeremy, living in London?
CF: We have a house in North London but I rent it out to drama students as we are lucky enough to have a house by the sea in Barry, near Cardiff. When you first start out in the business I think its essential to base yourself in London, but now I’m able to commute for auditions and filming, and have amazing friends who let us stay with them when we need to commute. We are starting to build our nest here, so unless a really nice job comes up which prompted us to move permanently I think I’ll always call Wales home.
MF: You’ve now been married for over a year – what is the secret to wedded bliss? Can you tell us about a memorable date Jeremy has taken you on in London?
CF: I must say our first date was pretty romantic. After meeting Jeremy on a train platform, he basically stalked me and then three weeks later we went on a date at the Gaucho grill, Piccadilly. He handed me a present, which was a Hornby model train of the one we were catching when we met, in a brown paper package tied up with string!
I’m not sure there is a secret to marital bliss – I haven’t discovered it yet! I think just finding the right match for you, someone who balances you, and, for me, someone who makes me laugh. As they say, you have to kiss many frogs to find a prince!
MF: What are your favourite West London haunts?
CF: I love going to Jo Allen’s for a ‘secret burger’ after a show. It’s not on the menu so you feel like you’re one of the regulars if you order a secret burger! It’s the best burger in London.
MF: Since your Sound of Music run you’ve starred in another successful show alongside Alastair McGowan, presented a tv and radio series in Wales and turned your hand to various presenting roles – what is next for you?
CF: Since winning Maria and doing the Sound of Music West End and UK tour productions so many doors have opened. There’s a line in the show ‘when God shuts a door, he opens a window’, and he certainly has! I’ve enjoyed presenting Cardiff Singer of the World in 2011 as well as hosting my own TV series Connie’s Musical Map of Wales which has lead to a second series, Connie’s Wales. I’ve also filmed a feature guest role in Casualty which will be aired in March, and I have finished a Cartoon for S4C called Popi’r Gath in which I dubbed for Joanna Page. I am currently rehearsing for a revival for a Bernstein musical Wonderful town where I play a young writer trying to make it in the city.
I’ve also started a jewellery range with a Welsh designer called Carrie Elspeth – I design them and she manufactures them as part of her line. They will be on sale from July on my website: www.conniefisher.co.uk
I love being busy with work, but one day soon I would really like to have some little ‘Von Trapps’ of my own.
MF: Finally, what are your top:
- Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Eye Gel
- Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Serum
- Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Day Cream
- Aveda Botanical Kinetics Skin Firming/Toning Agent
- Nanoblur Optical Skin Cream – this works in 40 seconds and makes me look 5 years younger!
Make up products?:
- Mac, Mac, Mac! Well – my top Mac products are:
Mac Mineralise Blusher ‘gentle’ – great for day or night
Mac studio fix foundation
Mac ‘Opulash’ Optimum Black Mascara
- Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat
- Bobbi Brown Corrector
- The Make up Brush Company brushes – they look like something from Grease as they’re so pink! They’re well made and never let me down – plus you can find them in your make up bag!
- Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker Lip Gloss