Vlado Mihaylov: Musical is the hardest art form

There are no easy or small roles - it is all about work and love

I have been dreaming of playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar since I was a little kid who loved that particular record most out of the entire family collection, says musician, singer and actor Vlado Mihaylov in an interview to Europost.

Vlado, 2019 was a very successful year for you and with a grand ending - the leading role of Jean Valjean in the musical Les Miserables at the Sofia Opera. What kind of response has this lavish production garnered?

Everyone is ecstatic and enjoying the show, although it is quite long at three and a half hours. People even bring their children, which makes me very happy because this is an important - especially to the youth - story about love, compassion, faith and second chance. The audience is brought to tears every night. From the very beginning, when we had the idea of staging this musical, my hope has been that we can capture this moment of catharsis that the story brings. I am glad we have been able to achieve that.

What was the most challenging aspect of playing this character for you?

It is a physically demanding role because of the mise-en-scene, which requires you to be well conditioned. It is similar to The Phantom of the Opera, where I also play the leading role, and close to Jesus Christ Superstar, where I portray Judas. In terms of singing, Jean Valjean is a very difficult part, but the real challenge is the acting aspect because of the constantly shifting moods, feelings and vocal requirements. Sometimes you have to transition from one state to another within the same phrase. Moreover, there is music over the entire duration of the musical, which is quite long - time, during which you have to hold the viewers' attention without any lapses in your performance, convey different emotions and be flexible and captivating. This is the biggest challenge with this role. It is reminiscent of Hamlet. The musical is among the hardest art forms because it requires a combination of singing, acting and dancing.

The casting was held in London. Tell us more about it.

We all sent audition videos to London, where each member of the cast was chosen by the production company Cameron Mackintosh. I was the first one to get the stamp of approval. I am sharing this not out of vanity but as a curious fact. Over 100 audition tapes were sent, which were narrowed down to a terrific amalgamation of dramatic actors and pop and opera singers.

Have you studied musical at any point?

No. As a matter of fact, I have had only two vocal lessons in my life, which is not something to brag about. My teacher was the great Bulgarian tenor Aron Aronov. I turned to him in a very difficult time for me, when my voice and technique were wavering, and he helped me find my footing again, showed me things that are serving me well to this day. I have been dreaming of playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar since I was a little kid who loved that particular record most out of the entire family collection.

Is that how your love for musical started? With that record?

Yes. I was a huge fan of Jesus Christ Superstar as well as Hair. But I was not interested in the genre per se. Over the years, I was not particularly enamoured with it and most musicals were not my cup of tea. Many years later, it was the role of Judas that made me truly sample this art form and I fell in love with it.

And how did your love for acting started?

With watching a lot of films. My family has always appreciated both good music and good films. When I was quite young, a family friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my answer was actor, singer and guitarist. I am not much of a guitarist, but I have been playing, and acting, since the age of 13. In the early days, I was inexperienced and naive, ignorant of the amount of work that was behind even the shortest appearance on stage or the big screen. But I took my lumps and got on the right track. I quickly learnt that it was all about work and preparation. There is no such thing as an easy or a small role. In whatever field you are, if you put love and dedication into your endeavour, the rest will take care of itself.

What is the most drastic thing you have done for a role?

I have been filming for international productions since 2004, and the most challenging role for me was that in Septembers of Shiraz starring Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody; because of time constrains. I had to do two things - lose weight as fast as I could and learn to play the piano. I shed eight kilos (17lbs) in about ten days to be able to shoot scenes with Adrien Brody in a prison in which our characters are thrown during the Iranian Revolution. It was important that I looked feeble. I had two weeks to learn a fairly complex musical piece - Paroles, Paroles (originally sung by Dalida and Alain Delon) for a duet performance with Salma Hayek. I conquered the piano but that scene was eventually left on the cutting room floor. While I was rehearsing, though, Adrien Brody happened to walk into the room and heard me. He praised me, then sat on the piano and started playing Chopin. He rehearsed for months for his role in The Pianist and can still play.

Have you been playing the piano ever since, like him?

No, but I would love to go back to it. I just do not have the time at this point. It was the greatest challenge I have faced professionally because of the tight schedule, but I would go to even greater lengths for a role.

Is there something you would draw the line at?

I do not feel comfortable filming love scenes. I am not saying I would not do it. But it is one of the hardest things to do, and it takes a lot out of you. When you are focused on the job, and the technical process is what it is - for example, you have to follow directions like “pull the sheet” - getting into a romantic mood then is impossible. You have to pay attention to the details, as in every other scene. It is very stressful. The other thing that comes to mind is a casting where I auditioned for the role of a brutal terrorist who kills innocent people. I have to say that even trying this character on left me shaken for the next two days. I did not get the part and it was for the better because I have no idea how I would have done it. Actors see everything as a challenge, but you feel natural resistance to doing certain things.

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Vlado Mihaylov is a musician, singer and actor. His degree is in English philology, but he picked up a guitar and found his true calling when he was at the age of 13. He started out in the music business as a vocalist of the band Safo. Now he is a prominent member of the bands SLNG, Rewind, and Equinox, the last of which represented Bulgaria at the 2018 Eurovision song contest. He landed the leading role of Jean Valjean in the new Sofia Opera production of Les Miserables. He has also starred in The Phantom of the Opera and Zorro and played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Sam in Mamma Mia! (played by Pierce Brosnan in the film adaptation). He has over 50 roles under his belt, primarily in international productions, which presented him with the opportunity to act alongside stars such as Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody.

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