FORMER X Factor winner Matt Cardle continues his foray into musical theatre with his portrayal of Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar at London’s Barbican — nine years on from dazzling 17million viewers in the TV talent show final. ‘He’s the opposite of me,’ says Matt, 36, of the Roman governor of Judea best known for condemning Jesus to crucifixion. ‘He throws his weight around. It’s a real contrast to who I am. He comes on and makes a big fuss and ultimately has the say about what happens to Jesus. It’s quite a role to get your head round.’
Directed by Timothy Sheader, this production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s renowned 1970 rock opera was a hit when it made its debut at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2016.
Matt is a recent addition to the Barbican run and his rendition of Pilate’s Dream has received glowing reviews. Matt added the musical theatre string to his career bow in 2015 when he was unexpectedly invited to join the cast of Memphis by its leading lady, Beverley Knight. ‘I got a phone call from Beverley. She said she was in a show and the lead guy was leaving, and she asked if I wanted to try out for it. I’d never done anything like it before and didn’t think it was something I could do, but I saw the show and fell in love with it. It went from there…’
Matt was keen to follow in Beverley’s footsteps. She was regarded as one of the UK’s leading soul singers long before finding further success in West End productions of The Bodyguard, Memphis and Cats. ‘She is just incredible on stage,’ says Matt. ‘Musical theatre isn’t for everyone but if you can work your way into that side of the industry it’s an amazing place to be.’ Matt was on stage through most of the Memphis show, despite having no acting training. ‘I threw myself in at the deep end and luckily it paid off,’ he admits.
‘It could have gone badly wrong but it went better than I ever imagined. It made me realise this was something I could do in addition to my solo career. With my gigs it’s just down to me and my band, but with a musical there are 30 people on stage and it’s a team effort. You have to get it right for everyone. And it’s a different buzz — I didn’t realise how much I’d enjoy acting until I started doing it.’
Matt gained more West End experience when he took over from Will Young in Strictly Ballroom last year, and is set to star in musical comedy Falsettos in the autumn. Busy Matt has been juggling the musical with performing on the Trevor Horn Reimagines The Eighties project, which finishes up at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall tomorrow. Innovative producer Trevor reworked some of the decade’s biggest hits and Matt has been performing classics such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love and Owner Of A Lonely Heart by Yes. Matt says: ‘I worked with Trevor’s son on my last album, Time To Be Alive. Trevor was looking for someone to sing on his tour and his son said ‘‘Why don’t you ask Matt?’’ He’s a legend. The songs are smashers.’
Matt’s series of X Factor — where he beat One Direction in the final — attracted some of the show’s highest viewing figures. But Matt no longer tunes in. ‘I haven’t seen it for a few years now,’ he says, although he has stayed in touch with ninth-placed contestant Aiden Grimshaw and says the pair hope to work together.
One famous face Matt hasn’t stayed in touch with is Meghan Markle. There were reports that the pair exchanged messages on social media when she was an actress in US TV show Suits. ‘It was nothing then, and it’s nothing now,’ he insists.
■ Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Barbican until August 24, jcsuperstar.co.uk