Danielle Hope: 'I would be very comfortable on a film set'
Ahead of her role in The Sound of Music in Belfast this week, songstress Danielle Hope tells Helen Carson of her Hollywood dreams.
Songstress Danielle Hope (23), who first sprung to fame on Andrew Lloyd Webber's talent search TV show, Over The Rainbow, has made her name playing iconic roles in musical theatre, from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz to Eponine in Les Miserables - but the young woman who so impressed Lloyd Webber with her incredible voice, says she is an actress first and foremost.
Danielle, who will make her Grand Opera House debut tomorrow, playing Maria von Trapp in the Sound of Music on what is her first visit to Belfast, says she would love to star in a Hollywood movie, or play a part in an historical drama on TV.
Born in Manchester, she says her Celtic looks could work well in a costume drama series: "I would love to do a period drama as I really like that style. With my very pale, Irish-looking skin, I would fit in with the era."
And having grown up singing along with all the classic Disney movies, Danielle says she would jump at the chance to travel Stateside and star in a Hollywood film: "I am well-known for my roles in musical theatre, but when you're an artist, you're an artist, so I would love to appear in a film. Having worked in a TV show (Over The Rainbow) with lots of cameras, I would be very comfortable on a film set. It is a direction I am interested in."
Danielle says she was never aware of her voice as a child, and certainly never envisaged a career as a performer: "I was introduced to music at a very early age, and I remember watching all the Disney movies on TV. My mum was my early music inspiration, which is why I have an album on iTunes called Mum's Car - I think this goes some way to explaining my lifelong love of music. I would listen to music as a child and then make up my own lyrics."
And while singing obviously comes easy to Danielle, she is adamant that getting a character right is the most important element to her performance on stage or screen: "It is all about the story and playing a character. In a musical, you tell the story through the songs. I am never really concerned about my voice, what I ask myself is, 'What is the story'? - everything else should come after that. I would rather see a real character portrayed on stage than listen to an overly elaborate musical score."
Danielle says she grew up listening to her mum Tracy's soundtrack, which included artists such as Celine Dion, Gabrielle and Macy Gray. "I had a good education, but I have broad musical tastes," she adds.
"Taylor Swift was my guilty pleasure, but after I saw her perform at the O2 recently - I'm happy to admit I'm a fan. She began her career at such a young age and she writes so many songs. I don't understand why she gets such a hard time from other artists - she is so talented and that should be respected."
Danielle spent her school years performing in musicals, including Fame, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and West Side Story, choosing to study Drama and Dance at A-level, followed by a BTEC National Award Musical Theatre.
She was still at school, though, when she was chosen from more than 9,000 girls to be in the final 10 and perform live on the 2010 BBC reality TV show, Over The Rainbow. Andrew Lloyd Webber was casting for his forthcoming West End musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but it was an opportunity which could have passed Danielle by - if it hadn't been for her late grandmother, Edie.
"When I was at school, I didn't watch a lot of TV, as I was more interested in going out horse riding. But my grandmother was aware of the Andrew Lloyd Webber's programmes and suggested I audition. At the time, I thought I would never be able to have a performing career as I was from Manchester and thought I would have to live in London."
But Danielle did listen to her grandmother, going on to become one of the hottest prospects in the show from the first week. She won the praise of judges, which included her childhood hero, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who said, "You are really fantastic. You are a very, very strong contender".
She says of Webber's comments: "Andrew is so influential and it is amazing to get a compliment from him as I never expected it. I did expect to be told what I could do better, so when someone like him praises you, it means so much."
Sadly, Danielle's beloved grandma passed away just before her debut in London, adding: "I know she is with me and watching me."
She did, though, have one or two moments on the show where the judges criticised her performance. Despite this, though, Danielle went on to clinch the role of Dorothy, aged 18, and has been a stage star ever since.
She says: "Meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber was unreal and the first time I had to sing for him - it was so strange. I thought to myself, 'Is this the same Andrew Lloyd-Webber whose name I scribbled all over my music books'? I have worked with him so many times since then and now he is just 'Andrew' - in a way it feels as though he is a different person to the one I had seen on TV."
Now that Danielle is a star herself, she has learned how much hard work goes on behind the scenes: "It is a wonderful life, but it is not glamorous. I have to look after my voice, so there is a lot of silence and sleeping. When you are a professional performer taking to the stage for eight shows a week, you have to be healthy as it is physically demanding. Every time you go out on stage, you must perform with the same energy and ability as if it was the first night."
Despite Danielle's enviable performing credits and a 2011 Broadway World UK Award for Best Leading Actress In a Musical, she admits playing Maria von Trapp in one of the world's most famous musicals presents its own challenges: "The Sound of Music is so famous, so there is a responsibility and a pressure on me as a performer to the show and to everyone in the audience - you just can't get the words wrong.
"This is my first time in The Sound of Music and I am nervous. But, when the audience see you going on and finishing that first song and there is a lovely response, it makes the whole show. Once that happens, the audience feels safe with you, and know that you will give them Maria."
The Sound of Music at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, opens tomorrow and runs until Saturday, August 15