Killian Donnelly and Denis Grindel interview – The Commitments
Hurrah! The Commitments is finally here. The much anticipated show from veteran director, Jamie Lloyd, has come roaring into the Palace Theatre! Based on Roddy Doyle’s hit novel and movie, The Commitments, the West End musical of the same name stars a talented cast of soulful singers, and a man with very tight jeans. I was lucky enough to catch up with leading actors, Killian Donnelly and Denis Grindel to discuss their roles of Deco and Jimmy in the show.
You can read the full interview below, as well as watch a video highlight of our chat and of course a video of THE LIGHTNING ROUND! ah! Enjoy…
Q: So hello! Here we are with Killian and Denis… I am in an Irishman’s dressing room! It’s not a dream, it is an interview. Ah! How are you today lads?
Denis: Very good!
Killian: Very well.
Q: SO my first question about the show is unavoidable….Denis…let’s talk about your skinny jeans…
D [laughs] : Oh my god! They were extremely tight! [lifting his leg up] I’m actually wearing trousers today. These have a bit of space…but yeah. I like skinny jeans! It worked with the show! They realised he’s not going to be comfortable in baggy jeans as Jimmy so Jimmy will wear skinny jeans! It’s not in Roddy’s version but now it is! [laughs]
Q: And Killian, don’t think you are going to get away with it either – let’s discuss those superman pants!
K: Ahey! Yes!
Q: Are they from your own wardrobe?
K: They were actually my suggestion. Luckily with the year the show was set we could actually have superman pants! I was delighted with them! My mam loved them when she saw them!
Q: Your mum! I was going to say is this kind of show you can invite your mum to? There is a lot of swearing, nosebleeds, the “C bomb”…is this a mum show?
K: Well my mam loved it, she had read the book ages ago.
D: My mum curses anyway so….[laughs] Oh god, she doesn’t actually! Sorry mum. I have had people ask me though saying “I have an 80 year old gran, should she come to the show and I don’t really know what to say!”
K: It in the first five minutes it becomes the language and you just sort of absorb it really. People are loving it though.
Q: Who would you say is the target audience for The Commitments?
K: You could say it’s open to everyone. The youngest I’ve seen is an 11 or 12 year old with their parents and I thought “oh they’re a bit young” but they were up dancing and clapping at the end. Then Peter on stage door sent a message back saying a father with his two kids who are 11 and 12 year olds just wanted to say they really enjoyed it. I then met an elderly couple from Toronto last night and they were saying [puts on Canadian accent] “it has to come over to Toronto! We loved it.” They really enjoyed it, thought it was amazing and they’d never read the book or seen the movie. They just walked in off the street as they saw our signs and thought “let’s go for it!”
Q: Yeah, it may have bad language and violence but it has an inspirational message that everyone can connect to…
K: Jamie didn’t want to filter it down or just make it for one specific audience. He wanted it to be it’s own piece and that is what people are enjoying about it.
D: I think it’s good too as it is hitting a niche that not that many other musicals are; Men, like older men, want to come and see the show. They can enjoy it without feeling like they had to go!
Q: There’s pint drinking! There’s motorbikes on stage! There are beer bellies! And in the spirit of beer bellies…not that anyone had one…
[Killian and Denis both point to each other and laugh.]
Q: Bellies, superman pants…it is a sexed up show! Has this increased your fan base?
D: I never had Twitter before but now I do and now I have a Twitter fan club! There are 50 followers! Join today!
Q: Do you have any message for the fans?
D: Well I got a beanie hat in the post from a very nice girl named Abbie! I’m hoping I can maximize on this and get as many beanies as possible!
Q: Ha! Well if anyone wants to send the boys some new hats, get them to The Palace.
D: Please do! I have no time to shop!
Q: So in the spirit of your new Twitter account and your growing fan club, this is your West End debut isn’t it! How does it feel?
D: It’s crazy! It’s bizarre only a month ago I was just finishing college. I’m still meeting my friends from college and they are starting to do some work as well but we all can’t believe that everything has happened so fast! It’s brilliant and it’s fantastic that my first show is something so close to my heart – it’s Irish!
Q: How does it feel acting alongside such theatre greats as Killian?
D: Never even heard of him! Haha! I’m joking. Killian’s a lot of help really.
K: I was asked to go in and read at the final auditions. I was cast but they still didn’t have a Jimmy. Everyone else in the cast was Jamie’s first choice, but they couldn’t find a Jimmy. Literally thousands of Jimmy’s came in but when Denis walked in…it was literally that moment where he had a bit of fire in his eyes. There was something different. It was me sitting on the other side of the panel actually seeing that and saying “This guy is really good. He really is Jimmy Rabbit.”
Q: You thought “ I can just imagine him in a skinny jean…”
K: Yeah! Ha! Do you know what I mean! He completely just absorbed the character.
Q: So Killian you have been in Billy Elliot, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables film and stage show and now The Commitments. How have you got away with not being type cast as one particular style of character?
K: I thought you were saying “how have you got away with that!” I’m like..“I don’t know, just keep it down!” [the boys laugh]
Q: No! How have you gone from playing an angry northern miner to a lover to now playing the soul sister of the Irish world?
K: Well this is more the sort of stuff that I really like to sing! I never trained and I walked into an audition asking questions about the character. Les Miserables was the best training I ever had in my life. It opened my voice up.
Tony in Billy Elliot was the one role I had seen and thought “I’d love to play that!” then I saw him do a pirouette and I thought “ahhh, never gonna happen!”
Q: And did you manage it?
I did it in my audition! I fell over but one time I did it!
Q: So you two are cheeky Irish Men…A lot of the cast is Irish – was this important to writer Roddy Doyle and director Jamie Lloyd.
K: I think Jamie was looking to cast it completely Irish but it was hard to find completely Irish actors. They did auditions at home in Ireland and Padraig [Dooney] came over.
D: A lot are Irish and we have some good English cast members too! A lot of us are new are unheard of. Jamie found people who were a bit raw, like in the movie.
Q: It’s a big sing too…
K: He talks [points to Denis], I sing and talk so I think I have one up on him!
Q: Denis you sang a little song as Jimmy and it was heart warming…
D: Thank you! I had two songs, they cut one because I was too good at singing!
K: I complained actually, I thought he was singing a bit too much.
D: [mimicking Killian] “ooh, I’m the singer!”
K: It feels like a rock concert. Jamie said” if you could bottle all your faces on stage when the audience stands up at the end, well that’s what it has to be.” That’s what The Commitments feel after their first gig!
Q: In the show you all kind of hate each other. Is this true of real life?
D & K: Yes! Absolutely!
D: He said something really funny in another interview, he said even if we did hate each other we can get it all out on stage!
K: We can vent! That helps so much! Everyone says in this business: “Oh we are all one big happy family” but actually we get to scream at each other on stage and call each other every name under the sun. It’s great. One of the actors, he plays Mickah, he gives me this headbutt at one point. It looks brilliant. We’re high fiving when we go backstage!
Q: My final question before we move on to the lighting round, which I know you are both very excited about…well it’s more of a role play really. Imagine I am a young lady wandering the street looking to see a show. I’m lost! I really want to see a show tonight, but I don’t really know anything about theatre. I run into you pair – what would you say to me to convince me to pick The Commitments?
D: Here love, give me your money!
D: [points to Killian] Do you wanna see this guy naked? This fine specimen of a man naked!
K: you don’t need to see the show to see me naked!
D: But you should come to the show!
K: If you like a great night out, if you like music and singing along, if you like a good story line and to really enjoy yourself and to laugh your head off by the end of the night, then come and see The Commitments!
D: There is violence, swearing, things flying into the audience.
K: There are stripping ladies, it’s not just me!
Q: Tell me about this good singing?
K: [singing]: MUSTANG SALLLLLLAY!
I’m sold! Get me another ticket!
The Lightning Round
Want to know what happens when two cheeky Irish chaps attempt to tackle the lightning round at the same time? Watch below!
Killian and Denis were certainly a hoot and a howl! If you want as much fun as I had talking to these guys, then get yourself to the Palace Theatre for a fun packed show!