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'I'll make Whitney's role my own'

MAKING HER OWN MARK: Heather Headley stars as Rachel Marron in the theatrical adaptation of The Bodyguard

ANYONE TAKING on the unenviable task of recreating something that is already a mega hit is bound to be nervous. Whether it’s a music artist breathing new life into a classic song, or a film director remaking an iconic movie, the task will always come with the added pressure of knowing the critics will compare the new work to the original – and perhaps conclude that the new adaptation is a disappointment when compared to the version audiences know and love.

Heather Headley is all too aware of this. Undertaking the role of music star Rachel Marron in the new theatrical adaptation of the 1992 film The Bodyguard – the role originally played by the late superstar Whitney Houston – Headley knows she has some big shoes to fill. 

But the Trinidad-born, US-based singer and actress says she doesn’t plan to imitate Houston’s portrayal, but rather put her own spin on it. In fact, she says the hugely anticipated musical, which opened at London’s Adelphi Theatre this week, is a product in itself – and not just an imitation of the film.

“If the audience is coming to the theatre to see a live version of the movie, I think they’ll be shocked,” says the 38-year-old. “Just as I have to find my own Rachel, the show is its own being. I’m a fan of Whitney and I’m a fan of the movie, so when I read the script for this show, I had to ask myself, ‘Would I go to see this show?’ The answer is yes because I think it’s a wonderful production, and I think the audience will love it too. It’s theatre meets concert.”


DYNAMIC DUO: Headley stars alongside actor Lloyd Owen, who plays bodyguard Frank Farmer 

Having starred in the huge Broadway musicals The Lion King and Aida (the latter earned her a prestigious Tony Award for best actress in a musical), Headley is no stranger to the stage. But the talented vocalist, whose albums include the critically acclaimed This Is Who I Am (2002) and her Grammy Award-winning gospel album Audience Of One (2009), admits that undertaking a role that was made iconic by such a massive star was daunting.

“This is a new realm for me,” she explains. “The weight that is placed on the music in this production means that I have some high designer heels to fill! I think I sing about 11 songs and they’re not easy songs. Aida was difficult for me, but this is different because the songs and Whitney are both so well known. 

“Originally, I didn’t think I should take on this role,” admits the married mother-of-one. “The producers came to me and said they’d love me to do it, but I wasn’t sure, firstly because it is such a big role, but also, because my family and I don’t live in the UK! It was my husband who convinced me that I should do it, saying that he’d come over [to London] and see me every two weeks. So that was really encouraging. Also, I spoke with Rickey Minor, who was Whitney’s musical director for many years, and he really encouraged me to do it. So people have been very supportive.”

The Bodyguard was of course made famous in 1992 by Houston and co-star Kevin Costner, and included several of Houston’s hit songs including Saving All My Love, I Have Nothing and the smash hit, I Will Always Love You. The theatrical adaptation sees Headley starring alongside actor Lloyd Owen, who reprises Costner’s role as Frank Farmer; a bodyguard who is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker.


ICONIC: Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner starred in the original 1992 film 

Interestingly, Headley explains that though she and Houston were both in the same circle – and were both, at one time, under the guidance of music mogul Clive Davis – the pair never actually met.

“Our paths crossed because Clive Davis worked on my record; he was in charge of me when I was at Sony. So of course I knew of Whitney and she knew of me through Clive and the fact that we were in the same circle. But the one time she was in the room with me, I couldn’t bring myself to go and speak to her. 

“I’d grown up listening to her; she was like my mentor. So when it came to it, I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak to her! There’s a little regret there for me that I didn’t meet her, but at the same time, I’m ok with that because I like having her on a pedestal.” 

That’s perhaps unsurprising when one considers how Headley idolised Houston during her childhood years while growing up in Trinidad. 

“I remember being on the island watching Whitney Houston videos and wishing I could sing like her,” Headley recalls. “If someone had told me then, ‘In 20 years from now, you’ll be playing Whitney’s role in a theatre production,’ I never would have believed them. So I feel extremely blessed.”

Having moved from Trinidad to the States at 16 has Headley become Americanised or is she still Trini to the bone?

“I still consider myself a little Trini to the bone,” she laughs. “When [Trinidadian javelin champion] Keshorn [Walcott] won the gold medal [at the London 2012 Olympics] and they played our national anthem, I started bawling! 

“Trinidad is the foundation of who I am. I learned to sing there, I learned about God there, I learned about love there, I learned about being a woman there. I remember as a child, looking at my teacher and thinking, ‘I wanna be you when I grow up. The way she walked into the room and the way she called us ‘uncouth’ was wonderful! I was 10-years-old and I went around calling everyone uncouth! So yes, Trinidad is still very much part of me.”

The Bodyguard is at the Adelphi Theatre, Strand, London WC2 until April 27, 2013. For more information visit www.thebodyguardmusical.com

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