AS DANNY MAC knows, being a young actor can have its difficulties. Aged ten, he won his first professional role in a production of Les Misérables. But while he had the ‘best time ever going to work’, back at school, he was bullied for his success: ‘so I just never told anyone [what I was doing],’ he recalls.
Twenty-two years on, though, and he has definitely had the last laugh. After career-making stints on the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks and BBC juggernaut Strictly Come Dancing, he is now one of our hottest new theatre stars, who has proven he can act, sing and dance with equal gusto. And his latest stage role is his most high-profile yet: the male lead in the UK premiere of Pretty Woman: The Musical.
Danny jumped at the chance to appear in this theatrical take on the classic rom-com about the relationship between a call girl, Vivian (Aimie Atkinson), and Edward, the rich playboy who pays her to be his escort for the week — only for them to fall in love.
He admits it has been daunting to follow in the footsteps of the 1990 film’s star Richard Gere.But at the same time, he has enjoyed the challenge of getting his head around a character who, beneath his good looks, is a troubled and enigmatic soul. ‘In the movie, he says very little, and a lot of what he does say is just with his eyes. In this, we’ve got great songs that give us a basic insight into how he’s thinking and feeling in moments. But as an actor, it’s about trying to fill those gaps when he’s not singing with intent and purpose.’
The Pretty Woman story is a potentially controversial one to be revisiting, given the criticism the film has received over the years for being anti-feminist and romanticising the idea of a sex worker being ‘redeemed’ by one of their clients. Danny says such conversations have ‘definitely been on the minds of everyone that’s making the piece’, but also hopes that the production makes clear who the real saviour is. ‘Vivian’s already a great person at the beginning of the story, she’s just in unfortunate circumstances, whereas Edward isn’t. He’s the one who has to make the biggest change. Vivian is not saved by a prince, she saves a prince.’
Danny’s path into acting was somewhat unplanned, beginning when he casually joined up to a Saturday drama school as a small child.
‘It was more like a daycare. It was quite bad,’ he says. ‘But [because of it] I got called up to auditions.’
A year or so into his time there, he landed the part of Gavroche in Les Misérables — and his mind was made up. ‘You’re surrounded by men and women who are all going to work to sing and you think, “I can do this. This is an actual job”. Then I looked at my parents — my mum was a nurse and my dad ran a fruit-and-vegetable business — and I thought, “I don’t ever want to work that hard for that little money,”’ he notes, wryly.
After going to drama school, Danny landed the part of Dodger Savage in Hollyoaks, becoming one of the show’s most popular characters. As well as being ‘a crash course in telly acting’, the soap also turned him into something of a heartthrob, and he picked up numerous ‘Sexiest Male’ awards during his four-year stint.
But while that aspect of the experience was certainly surreal, he was happy to embrace it, he says. ‘The best thing about it was, it got me more episodes. Essentially, it’s a popularity contest and if you’re a popular character, then they’ll put you in the show more, so it’s kind of win-win.’
Danny left Hollyoaks in 2015 and says that as a former soap actor, you can face snobbery on occasion. ‘I definitely know there are casting directors that specifically won’t see you if you’ve done a soap; it is frustrating.’ However, Danny has thrived, undoubtedly helped by his stellar 2016 stint in Strictly, which made him a household name. Paired with Oti Mabuse, he was a runner up in the competition. Was he sad not to have lifted the glitterball trophy? ‘I would have loved to have won it for Oti, but her winning with Kelvin [Fletcher, last year] has really taken the pressure off me. I no longer have that weight on my shoulders.’
In the past few years, he has also won his first acting award for his performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard musical, and recently took the Bing Crosby role in a production of White Christmas in the West End. So where does he go from here? ‘I’d like to continue in the direction of working,’ he laughs. ‘I don’t mind too much what type of work it is, as long as it provides for me and my family and I feel like I’m pushed and stretched.’
Musicals to our ears….
Sleepless: A Musical Romance
It’s based on the 1993 rom-com Sleepless In Seattle, about a sad widower who goes on a radio show and moves listeners. Jay McGuiness and Kimberley Walsh play the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan roles. From March 24, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, London, sleeplessthemusical.com
Whoopi Goldberg (left) stars in the London musical version of the smash-hit film she originally starred in back in 1992. Absolutely Fabulous star Jennifer Saunders (right) takes on the role of mother superior. July 21-Aug 30, Eventim Apollo, London and on national tour, sisteractthemusical.co.uk
Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits came up with the music for this all-singing version of the 1983 Bill Forsyth movie about an American oil man who falls in love with the town that he’s supposed to be doing over. From June 18, The Old Vic, London, oldvictheatre.com
You’re thinking of Nicole Kidman swinging on a trapeze over the crowds and Ewan McGregor falling in love with her from the Oscar-winning 2001 Baz Lurhmann movie. Well, now you can see someone do that live on stage! From this month, Piccadilly Theatre, London, moulinrougemusical.com
The story of an outsize mum and her outsize daughter fighting to be fabulous in small-town 1960s America, as seen in John Waters’ brilliantly subversive film from 1988. With Michael Ball (right) as the mum and Paul Merton (left) as her hubby. From April 23, The Coliseum, London, hairspraythemusical.co.uk
■ Pretty Woman: The Musical is booking at The Piccadilly Theatre to Jan 2, 2021, thepiccadillytheatre.com