Jason Broderick: Fame, fortune and following the dream

A bizarre audition secured a role in Anna Nicole for Cork actor Jason Broderick, writes Jo Kerrigan

Jason Broderick: Fame, fortune and following the dream

WHEN he was undergoing his early training in Cork, Jason Broderick could never have dreamed he’d end up with a major part in a West End production based on the life of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

Anna Nicole, the flamboyant and at times shocking opera by Mark-Anthony Turnage weaves its plot around the flamboyant life and tragic death of the actress and Playboy model.

The Olivier-nominated production fuses jazz and blues with more traditional operatic language. Inevitably it’s the extreme side of Anna Nicole’s character that provides much of the spectacular side of the opera, but as in any lasting piece, poignant emotion has its place too. Billed as a key musical highlight is ‘Drug Solo’, by Anna’s son, Daniel, played by Broderick.

Given the rather unusual subject of the opera, Broderick got the part in a suitably bizarre audition.

“It was very different,” he explains. “The piece is beyond extraordinary, and the audition was weird. Instead of one to one, they had all the potential candidates together, in a surreal acting exercise where we had to hurl abuse at each other and try to elicit a reaction. They then asked us one by one to improvise ‘a bad drug overdose and trying to turn your body inside out’.”

On the final choice, the last three candidates had to sing in front of each other for the conductor.

“He worked through it a couple of times each and then out of the blue said, ‘OK, I want him’, pointing at me. That was that. No waiting, no deliberation. Just on the spot.”

Broderick’s development in the world of performance has been a far more gradual affair.

“I was part of Cork Children’s Chorus, run by John O’Brien and Sonya Keogh. It was there I really got my classical vocal training, expertly led by those two, with massive opportunities for performance such as opening the European Capital Of Culture Ceremony and a cultural exchange tour around Japan.”

He also enrolled in CADA Performing Arts and took classes at Cork Arts Studio with Philip McTeggart Walsh.

Broderick was accepted at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, one of the top theatre training establishments.

“That was a difficult three years, not only in terms of the gruelling work but financially too. I didn’t qualify for UK funding so I ended up working a bar job until 3am, four nights a week, getting up for class at 8am the next day, living off nothing but rice-cakes and peanut butter.”

Pride, he says, prevented him from sharing his difficulties, although ill-health from overwork almost prejudiced his third year. “But, thanks to some quick networking on my part, I finished with a high-profile agent and some good contacts. I’m very much of the opinion that luck is a fallacy. You make your own luck.”

A couple of weeks after graduation he was offered a coveted spot at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. “I thought the path ahead was clear, but little did I know how much waiting lay ahead.”

After a hundred or so auditions/rejections, a rumour came of part-time flexible work to be had with an agency that only employed actors, singers and dancers.

“I sought them out and quickly joined the ranks at — Harrods! Little do the shoppers of London know they are being served by the next West End wannabe who can act like he knows what he’s talking about. There are hundreds of us, all there to earn a quick buck, never intending to be there for long.” He worked for Harrods on and off for almost three years.

However, persistence paid off and he was offered parts in both Sweeney Todd and the BBC drama Doctors. Then, realising that he needed another string to his bow, he decided to take an online course in web development which blossomed into further skills. “Hopefully, I will soon be able to make enough from that not to have to seek part-time work and so I will be free to audition whenever I’m called,” he says.

His Irish roots are something on which Broderick has pondered long. “It wasn’t a difficult choice for me to leave the country because as far as I was concerned it was the only choice. But living in London, where costs are astronomical, I hadn’t a penny of a grant, scholarship, bursary, nothing. I felt embarrassed to be Irish. My country had turned its back on me.”

But how can the Irish government afford to support its struggling artistic talents when it can’t balance its basic budget? Broderick seizes the challenge immediately.

“Investing in the future of its youth is an investment in the future of the country. In France they have long ago realised the impact of education in the arts for their economy. Support for individual creative artists is part of their welfare state. Ireland could learn a lot from this mentality.”

Broderick eventually had to consider how he would find his niche in London. “The answer was obvious. I am Irish. It didn’t make sense to be so obviously different and yet hate that part of yourself. I had to learn to love who I was. I wouldn’t be what I am today without all those experiences and people shaping me. That meant falling back in love with my Irish roots and my training in Cork.”

A young Corkman on the threshold of fame, Jason Broderick has no idea where this leap into the hallowed hall of Covent Garden will take him. “It is most definitely a huge stepping stone and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I just want people to realise it’s never easy. You have to give it all you’ve got and more.”

-Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until September 24

More in this section