Interview with Camilla Beeput
On the surface, it doesn’t seem fair that some people’s talents lie in number-crunching or list-making, and other people can sing, dance AND act. Performing just seems glitzier, more glamorous, more alluring. But while filling in spreadsheets may not involve many sequins, both talents require an eye for detail and an ability to pay attention and take things seriously. Enter Camilla Beeput, the London-bred triple threat who is bringing one of the most significant Black American figures in 20th Century entertainment to life as part of the London Jazz Festival.
Beeput’s portrayal of singer, actress, and civil rights activist, Lena Horne, has won her plaudits from every corner - with the Times describing it as “a bravura display”. We sat down with her this week to find out a little more about the woman behind these incredible talents.
1) You are both a singer and an actress – do you prefer one type of performing over the other? And how different are they as disciplines, in terms of the way they make you feel?
This is a complicated question because there are different types of singing and different types of acting: live singing and recording sessions, and stage acting and screen acting.
They all have similarities and differences and I enjoy them all.
A song is a story and a good storyteller has an emotional connection with the story they're telling and with the people listening.
When you're acting you need to connect with the story you're telling also.
I feel different things depending on what story I'm telling. If I'm doing a scene about depression I don't feel good doing it, but afterwards if I've truly gone to a place of honesty with the character I will feel a sense of accomplishment.
2) Have you always performed? And, if so, how did you set about making it a career?
I have always been a performer. I would always make my family members laugh with my impressions as a young child with characters from Spitting Image the old TV show.
It became a career when I was lucky enough to get spotted on Fame Academy by a respected theatre director who cast me as Maria in his production of West Side Story.
3) You have worked and performed with a remarkable array of talented people – are there any who stand out in particular for you? And did you learn anything from them which you did not expect to learn?
I learn something on every job. Working with Johnny Depp on Mortdecai was a lot of fun because he was so playful. In between takes we continued the banter so that the playfulness wouldn't get lost. Michael Gambon was another very playful actor. He was playing a really dark and sinister character in The Nightmare Worlds of HG Wells but his sense of playfulness and joy was so infectious. You could tell they both love what they do. It's easy to get bogged down with feelings of rejection in this business but it's important to remember why we do what we do.
4) Tell us about "Stormy" – how did you come up with the concept?
I was talking with Clarke Peters on the set of BBC One's Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. I wanted to address my desire to see more non-white actors and more women telling their stories, he suggested I write a one-woman show. I came up with the idea for Stormy during a time of frustration with what I kept seeing as a lack of opportunity for non-white female actors. I connected with Lena's story because she struggled with those same frustrations, she is an inspiration and a trailblazer who I wanted to celebrate.
5) What was it like channelling Lena Horne? Do you have any particular rituals to help you get into character before a show?
It's great channeling Lena, she was such an electrifying performer who commanded the stage so well, it feels like a privilege to inhabit her. I always watch the same couple of interviews with Lena before every show, interviews that resonate deeply with me and remind me why I'm telling this incredible woman's story.
6) What has "being" Lena Horne taught you about yourself - as a performer and as a person?
That a great story told well is timeless. That doing a one-person show involves every part of you, there's no hiding.
7) You are a London artist, born and bred, is there anything specific about London which you believe has helped shape your influences and performance style?
I think that London is full of vibrancy and talent. There are so many people from so many places drawn here. The city has definitely shaped me as an artist. It’s a cultural hub, there's inspiration everywhere, from the array of art galleries and theatres to street art and music. London is where the classic and the current exist side by side, not necessarily in harmony but beautifully nonetheless.
8) What is the best bit of your job?
Doing the work.
9) And what is the worst?
The ego and hierarchy.
10) You are performing as part of the London jazz festival – are there any other shows that you are particularly looking forward to seeing?
"Windrush: A Celebration" by Anthony Joseph
"The Boy's Doin' It" `A Celebration of the Life of Hugh Masekela"
You can catch Camilla in “Stormy” at Brasserie Zedel between the 16th and the 25th November. Get your tickets here.