An exclusive interview with Elena Roger for The Private Journey magazine conducted by Giovanna Aguilar
Accomplished, charming and superbly talented. Argentinean actress Elena Roger takes on Broadway in 2012, reprising the role that earned her a Laurence Olivier Award nomination in 2006 for London’s revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award®-winning musical—Evita.
With a distinguished repertoire in musical theater from Buenos Aires, Roger landed the role of a lifetime after a friend submitted a reel of her work to the producers of West End’s Evita. Captivating the international stage meant learning English, the correct pronunciation and the music, (she admits that at the time she was familiar only with the song, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”). Roger attributes the success of that incarnation of the musical to director Michael Grandage’s vision, as well as the talent and dedication of her muy increíble co-stars Philip Quast (Juan Perón) and Matt Rawle (Che).
The ensuing six-year journey led to her 2009 Olivier Award for Best Actress in the musical Piaf for portraying Édith Piaf; her first feature film Un Amor about young adolescent love rekindled in adulthood, directed by Argentinean Paula Hernandez. And, the return of the musical that led to Patti LuPone’s Tony Award® and stardom.
Roger’s extensive training in musical theater began when she caught the performance bug while watching American film idols Jerry Lewis and Gene Kelly. At 10 years old, she enrolled in various dance disciplines, including jazz and tap, then continued with guitar, piano and singing lessons throughout high school. “It was a beautiful experience,” she recalls.
When discussing how she is reconnecting with Evita, Roger, now in her late thirties, laughs: “Well, I am older and more mature. I’ve grown as a person and actress, and hope to bring this sensibility to my performance.” She is also eager to reunite with director Michael Grandage: “I didn’t get to see Michael’s other work, but he went on to direct Red and win the 2010 Tony Award®. We have all grown and it helps us to offer more depth to our audience.”
While Roger admits a penchant for playing strong leading roles, she doesn’t consider herself a vanguardista. However, she looks to identify with her characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Respectively, Roger sought the aid of political historians in Buenos Aires to help demystify Evita and connect with la persona who was “just like everybody else.”
Roger acknowledges her country’s perpetual love-hate relationship with Eva Perón, and how Perón’s keen ability to tap into her own humanity was what helped create the iconic personality that offers enduring relevance to the popular musical. Moreover, she considers Perón a trailblazer who defied women’s cultural roles of the era, helping pave the way for Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. “Consider the classic photograph at La Casa Rosada where Evita is seated while President Juan Perón, her husband, stands by her side. Custom required the First Lady to stand by her husband,” she comments.
With regard to working again with el muy genial award-winning choreographer Rob Ashford, Roger says she is ready to learn new steps; the 2006 version included Tango. But of course arriving at the Salsa capital of the world begs the question — Salsa or Tango? “I don’t like Salsa, I love it! It’s about individual style. Yes, Tango is in my blood, but the man is in control and it’s hard for me to be led.”
How does Roger cope with the notoriously challenging Lloyd Webber score that compelled LuPone to be silent off the stage during the 19-month Broadway run? She agrees it’s about self-discipline and preservation, “I watch what I eat and drink…and I don’t go to bed late.”
Earlier this year at a photo shoot for Evita in Buenos Aires, she met her co-stars, Tony® Award-winner Michael Cerveris and Pop Star Ricky Martin. Although initially uneasy about meeting Martin because of his celebrity, she found a down-to-earth, happy person eager to learn and committed to his role. “I am delighted to be part of a hard-working cast that is ready to play,” said Martin.
Lastly, when asked which her favorite song from Evita is, she shares, “You Must Love Me.” Now that is a sentiment this highly-acclaimed actress shouldn’t even have to consider as she steps onto the Broadway stage.
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