British Actors Arthur Darvill and Joanna Christie Are Lovelorn Troubadours of Broadway's Once

By Adam Hetrick
25 Jun 2013

Arthur Darvill
Photo by Joan Marcus

Did the two of you initially audition together?

JC: I knew Arthur was coming out to New York [for the second round of auditions]. When I was done auditioning, I said to the casting director's assistant, "Is Arthur Darvill here?" Because I thought, "If I'm reading with him tomorrow, I want to meet him and practice." And he stood up and said, "Hello, that's me! I'm Arthur." So we did have a chance to do the scenes together.
AD: I arrived on a Friday and it was snowing. It was really horrible. I walked all around New York and had to buy new socks. Then we came out of the audition and it was blazing sunshine. We went for lunch outside.
JC: Then they called us.

So you found out about your casting at the same time?
AD: I found out first.
JC: We had both our phones out. It was half an hour before I found out I had been cast. My agent was out to dinner, so she didn't get the call. I had to call her and say, "I don't think I've got it because Arthur's found out and I haven't." So I genuinely thought Arthur had gotten it and I hadn't. I was gutted!

How long was the turn-around from your casting to New York?

AD: We were told, "You'll be flying out to New York straight away." So, I thought, "I need to say my goodbyes." I'd just moved into a new flat in London. Then we had no contact from the production for about a week.
JC: And I thought, "Was this a joke? Is it April Fool's Day?"
AD: Then we got a call saying, "Your first rehearsal is tomorrow morning."

This is truly an ensemble piece as far as the acting and musicality go. What kind of rehearsal did you have with the cast?

AD: We had no interaction really.
JC: We came straight in. We had two rehearsals with the cast and then went on. We flew in on a Sunday and they said, "Your first show will be Friday," and we only had two rehearsals that week. So we hadn't even met everyone, and we knew we were going to do a show in less than a week.
AD: It was like being in a band. We kind of lead most of the songs we play. So we learnt it [with just the two of us playing] and we knew it would only be the worst it would be with just the two of us. So, we really hammered it. We spent most of the time with the music.

How did you find your groove with the cast? Once is a true ensemble of actor-musicians. 

AD: I remember playing "Falling Slowly" for the first time here in New York and that spine-tingling moment where suddenly a violin comes in behind you, and it gave me a really strange emotional response to the music. Just having these people with you. It forces a good relationship with people, having to play music with them. We all kind of said "Hello," but then you start playing music together, and everyone is playing together, and we play slightly differently than whoever's played before, but everyone is suddenly excited about it and in tune with it. Suddenly there's a bunch of people doing something in complete synchronicity. It's brilliant.

Joanna Christie
photo by Joan Marcus

Has music been a large part of your lives?

JC: Definitely for me. My mum's a musician and my brother's a musician. I played piano from when I was six. That's all I did when I was younger. That's why I'm called Joanna. (I'm named after the piano, like, "The old Joanna.") I was a music scholar at school and did competitions and concerts, and then when I was 16, I played a concert and I just completely got the fear. I was playing this Beethoven sonata and looking back, it was utter stage fright - for the first time, I'd never gotten it before – and my hands seized up. So then I said, "I never want to play in front of anyone again." And I didn't. It was a massive deal. I had this amazing concert pianist as my piano teacher, and he refused to teach me after because he said, "You're wasting your time," because I just wanted to play for myself. He said, "Well, I don't want to teach you if you have such low expectations of yourself and low ambitions." So, I had to move teachers.
AD: Have you gotten in touch with him?
JC: No, I haven't.
AD: Well, you should: "Look at me now!" [Laughs.]
JC: From then, I never played in public again. To the point where if I were in a rehearsal room, and I'd see the piano, I'd go over, but if somebody walked in the room, I couldn't play. I always wanted to act, but music was always a big part of my life. So with this show, I told myself, "I have to get over this." That's why I spent nine hours on the piano for my audition, because I thought, "I've got to do this for myself." Also, now I realize, what a shame [it's been], music was a massive part of my life and I wasn't doing anything with it. Just because of fear. So, now it's really special to me.

AD: Music is completely in my bones. My grandfather Arthur, who I'm named after, was a church organist. My dad is a Hammond organ player, and he played for Fine Young Cannibals and the Ruby Turner Band. He played lots of reggae and soul and rhythm and blues stuff, and he was always on tour growing up. There was a keyboard in my bedroom, and my mom's a puppeteer. I've just kind of grown up in that environment. Music and theatre have been the two biggest influences in my life, and I never thought that it came from my parents. I thought, "This is my thing that I do." I've always acted and been in bands and written songs and used them as therapy. It's completely because my parents were so creative and great.