Actress Janique Charles was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. She moved to the UK to join the touring cast of The Lion King in 2013, and is now playing Nala in the West End production.
What was the first musical you saw that inspired you?
I hadn’t seen many musicals growing up, although I was involved in a local production of West Side Story. I did, however, see a recording of The Lion King‘s opening number “Circle of Life” on the BBC, which blew my mind!
Did you watch The Lion King or other Disney films growing up?
Yes – The Lion King and The Little Mermaid were my favourite films. I also loved Mulan, Pocahontas and Aladdin.
When did you decide to pursue acting?
I had my first taste of acting when I was 14, playing the character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for an English Literature class assignment. Although I loved it I was very shy in my pursuit of it. I resorted to casting myself in imaginary movies – I think my mother walked in on me in my room quite a few times talking to myself! I was reciting my lines and going through my scenes with my imaginary co-stars…
Where did you train?
I didn’t attend a college for the arts, but I have trained privately with vocal coaches over the years.
What was your first professional acting job?
I played an understudy Maria in a local production of West Side Story in Trinidad while I was still at school, but The Lion Kinghas been my first full-time, “Hey, this is what I do for a living” acting job.
How did you get the opportunity to joinThe Lion King tour?
After wishing hard enough, the stars finally aligned and the associate directors of The Lion King came to Trinidad and Tobago to hold auditions for the show. My best friend told me about the auditions, so I went and tried my luck. A while later they sent me an email saying that I had been selected to join the cast!
How do you prepare for this kind of role?
In terms of physicality and movement, Nala and all the lions in the show use elements of Japanese-style dance, but of course to be a lioness, you’ve got to know what lionesses do. We are constantly reminded in rehearsals of the fierceness, regality and ferociousness that we are meant to portray. Studying videos of lionesses, their stealthy and graceful movements, the way they fight and hunt really gave me perspective and helped me to prepare for the role.
What was your reaction to getting the role of Nala in the West End?
When I was just told the news I was in complete shock. Perhaps a little numb. When the rehearsals started, I was nervous. On my opening night, I was so overwhelmed, I cried!
Can you relate to her journey?
Nala’s journey is an epic and emotional one where she leaves her family behind, venturing out into the unknown in hopes of finding a solution, salvation from the tyranny and oppression that loomed over the pride lands.
Luckily, in Trinidad and Tobago, there were no diabolical, Scar-like dictators to run from, but like Nala, I too have left my family behind in pursuit of a dream in a foreign land, hanging on to their prayers, love and support. I left home when I was 19 to start my first job. Being on my own was tough, and in the beginning I was far more timid than Nala ever would be, but the journey’s been incredible so far. I’m living my dream!
What are some of the most challenging aspects of this big production?
This show has been running for 18 years now, which speaks to how amazing it is. What’s challenging but necessary is maintaining that level of excellence day in and day out, regardless of how you might be feeling. You have to give it 110%.
What’s your favourite number to perform?
My favourite number to perform is “Shadowland”.
Have you learned a lot from The Lion King company?
I didn’t attend a college for the arts, but I consider my time performing on tour and here in London has been the best education and a life-changing five years. It’s humbled me, empowered me, challenged me and ultimately I feel that I have become a better artist for it.
What’s the best thing about being in London, and what do you miss about home?
I’ve got everything I want at my fingertips here in London – whether it’s same-day Amazon deliveries, 24-hour food outlets for when I need a forbidden late-night snack or a huge network of creatives to collaborate with in the arts industry. I do miss the familiarity of the people and my culture. I miss the climate and the food. Trinidbagonian food is the ultimate taste bud-exploding comfort food!
What are are some of your dream roles for future?
I’ve got a list, you see, and it includes having my own show on the Disney channel – yes, I still carry that one from my childhood! I’d love to have a successful Netflix series, work with Denzel Washington, play an X-man, play Black Widow in a remake of The Avengersand loads of others.
Any advice for budding performers?
1. Devote some time every day for simply dreaming.
2. Nobody can do your role the way you do it, so invest in your creative capital. It’s a goldmine you’re sitting on.
3. Be present and be daring.
Finally, why do you think people still love this story, and why should they come see the show?
I guarantee you will not leave the theatre unmoved, and the feeling will last with you for a lifetime. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster whether you’re a child or an adult. You can’t resist it – it’s magic.
It is a timeless story with narratives that cover every major aspect of life and society in a positive way: whether it be, love, relationships, family matters, community or leadership. When you’re happy, go and see The Lion King. When you’re sad, go and see The Lion King. When you’re angry, relax and “Hakuna Matata”!