RTÉ TEN caught up with the lovely Helena Blackman, who was runner-up in popular reality show How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, to find out about her role as Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
RTÉ TEN: What was is that attracted you to the story?
Helena: I've always wanted to do a show in the 1800s period as I thought it would be interesting. I didn't know much about American history, so that meant that I had to learn more about it. Although the storyline is mainly all singing and dancing, there is a lot of struggles for the characters, particularly the part I'm playing of Milly. She's come a long way. She's lost family and she has had to create a new life for herself. It's quite an exciting and challenging thing to do as an actor.
How did you prepare for the role? Wikipedia has been great. It was diary entries from friends and family who did the Oregon Trail from the East Coast to the West Coast that really helped me. I got an insight into what they went through and how they walked it. It was really important for me to have a sense of that history and background before you I began rehearsing. I wanted to pay homage to the writers and what they do. I tried to put myself in their shoes.
Could you identify with Milly on any level?
Definitely! Obviously I've never walked the Oregon Trail and I haven't lost anybody. I had to put myself in that place and try and see her for what she is trying to achieve. Milly wants to get married and to have a family. She started a new live and new projects and met new people. It's very important to try and find common ground with the character.
Milly is a feisty character. Was it challenging playing her?
Not challenging but more exciting. It's nice for me to do things that are a bit different. She is a woman out in the wilderness and she's trying to make it in the world without knowing anyone else. She has to start all over again. It's fun to play parts like that.
What is your favourite song from the musical and why? At the moment it's one of the brand new songs called I Married Seven Brothers. It was a really good idea to write this song because it looks at the frustration that Milly has. The MGM musical kind of makes the story a little light-hearted, whereas this particular song means that she gets to express how she feels about what's going on in her life. That's a really, really fun thing to do.
Milly is such an iconic character. Does this put you under pressure?
I try not to think about it. Maybe I should. I don't see myself as Jane Powell who played her originally. I'm not trying to recreate her either. I purposely haven’t watched the film so I can just do my own thing with it. If people don't like it, it doesn’t mean that I am any less talented. I think it's very important to have a new fresh take on it and I think we've achieved it.
What was the auditioning process like?
It was quite lucky for me. I just had the one audition. Some of the other people had quite a few. It really varies from job to job. It was nice to know that I was appropriate for the role.
Is Sam Attwater as lovely as he seems?
He's a very lovely boy. He's a very handsome young man. He does a lovely job in his role as Adam Pontipee. It's great working with him.
What do you think it is that attracts audiences to the show? I think people just really enjoy the story. This show does have something for everybody. It has singing and dancing, so people of all ages can go. The story isn’t difficult to understand or follow. It's well written in that respect. It captures a large audience and age group.
Does Is How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? all seem like a blur now?
Yes, it does. It was back in 2006 now. I can't remember loads about it. It was just such a whirlwind. I think you have a selective memory when things are stressful or emotional. It doesn't necessarily pick up on all of it. I know I'm very nostalgic about the process. It is part of my career and part of my history. Unfortunately, I remember very little about it.
Did you learn anything about yourself going through the reality show process?
There's always an experience in life that has to test the strength and depths of emotion. I had an experience like that very early on in my career and my personal life. I definitely realised that I'm a survivor. Not that I didn't know this before, but I'd never been tested up until that point. It was nice to find out that I could get through it.
If you weren’t in theatre, what do you reckon you would be doing today?
Gosh. I would have loved to do architecture. Maybe something to do with sociology or something that meant I could still use my brain and be creative. It would definitely be something people orientated anyway.
What would you say is your career highlight to date? I've been very lucky as there have been very many. I've worked with some fantastic musicians along the way and amazing composers. The job isn't the same unless you're working with those kinds of people.
Who would you love to collaborate with or work with?
I would like to meet Julie Andrews and take her out for a cup of tea. That would be interesting. I would love to just have a chat and see what kind of person she is. It would be really fascinating.
Would you ever go on anther reality show?
I'd be inclined to go on Strictly Come Dancing over the ice-skating show. I would be really paranoid about falling on my bottom.
Finally, are you up to anything good for Christmas?
I'm spending a couple of weeks with my family. My mum is very keen for me to get home as I've been away for quite a while. That is my intention. It's going to be really nice.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers runs from Jan 27 - Feb 1, 2014 at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.