DIVA TALK: Chatting With Tony Winner and The Bodyguard Star Heather Headley

By Andrew Gans
19 Oct 2012

Headley in Aida.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How are you going about approaching the character and approaching the songs to make them your own?
Headley: I've been saying this: I can't be Whitney. I am not capable of being Whitney Houston. I had to stop listening to the records because they're intimidating. She really did have one of the best voices that we have ever been privileged to hear. And, I'm very happy that this is not a biopic, so it's not about her life. But in the same vain, it's like trying to come in after Barbra Streisand. You're trying to do Funny Girl after Barbra Streisand did it. You're trying to do Hello, Dolly! after Carol Channing — it's a tough thing. So, for me, I think the big thing has been to find my own Rachel. Of course, giving the honor and the kudos to Whitney's version, but just finding my own Rachel, within my body, within my voice because it is an original show — but yet it's not. I think there are a lot of people, especially now, who are walking in going, "Oh, you have to be Whitney," but I can't. I'm incapable of such. You know what I mean? So the deal is now to find — kind of treat her — as though it was Aida or just learning a new part. What is she to me? What do I feel? And, the nice thing about it is that…it's been adapted. And, so with [writers] Lawrence Kasdan and Alex Dinelaris, they changed it. There are new emotions, new relationships popping up, new everything, so I do have to find a whole new path down that road, but they are some very high designer shoes to fill!

Question: How would you describe the Rachel that you're playing?
Headley: She is a huge pop star, but has her own demons and has kind of been brought up in the spotlight and has her insecurities — has her fears. There's the fear of, "I have to succeed, but can I? Can I not?" … You have these insecurities on the inside that sometimes make you act out in not the best of ways. And, on top of that, she's a broken girl, which is the best story. It's about broken people, and these two broken people can find each other in each other's arms…

Headley and Lloyd Owen
photo by Matt Crockett

I remember being a broken girl and my husband coming in and kind of picking up all those pieces and putting them together. When you find the right person, you can just be. You can be you. You can pull that mask down and say, "I don't have to be tough today. I don't have to be cold today, and I don't have to be this…" So that's my thing about finding her. I'm not trying to base her on anybody's life or anything like that and be like, "Oh, she's based on this pop star or that." It's just knowing what people go through…

So every day — we've been in for three weeks — we're finding different nuances. I'm finding different nuances to who she is, and being around these people — this cast — is just amazing, and I'm not just saying that because it's a part of the conversation. It really has been. The Brits, I always think, they know drama…Shakespeare. It's just what they do. And, to see how they work, it's been such a learning experience being around them. And, they've all been so polite and so caring and so thoughtful and embracing. I'm away from home, and that's tough, but it's been great to be a part of their company — literally and figuratively, as well. Just to be within the company is great.

Question: Tell me a bit about working opposite your co-star, Lloyd Owen.
Headley: I've been blessed in my life to have these pretty men, sometimes. [Laughs.] Adam [Pascal]… I had to look at him every day. I mean, gosh, help me! And then Lloyd, again — just amazing. Lloyd is coming in as the actor-actor man, so he has no music theatre on him. The other day, he actually had me giggling because I said something to him, and he says, "Of course, you just project your voice." And, I was like, "No, honey, we're miked." And, he's like, "We're miked?!" I was like, "This is music theatre, honey! We get miked!" [Laughs.] So it's great to learn from him, see how he works. But on the other hand, he's just very giving, very sweet, a prankster — I think we're going to have some problems between the two of us when the show starts [laughs] — and it's been really, really a pleasure. It's a great cast because people have kids and wives and husbands and partners, and it's just been great to be with them and hang out and kind of talk on that level. He's great. He really is. I remember when they introduced me to Lloyd that first time. He walked in and I said, "Yeah, that's a bodyguard." That's who I would look for. I don't know this, Andrew, but I'm almost sure that Lloyd has a gun somewhere in his house because that's just what you would expect — that he's a sniper, and you're like, "Right. That's what he would look like." [Laughs.] So it's been great. He's a lot of fun. Yeah. I always miss my Adam, but Lloyd is a very, very good [co-star]. [Laughs.]