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Tom Scanlon

8th May 2022

Photographer & Editor-in-chief: Owen James Vincent

Make Up Artist: Rita Nieddu

Styling: Rory Mcnerney

Interview: Sophie Todd

Logo Design: Emily Curtis

After reigning the school halls as Ram in the west end hit Heathers, find out who Tom Scanlon is as the leading man of his own story and what’s coming up after his Westerberg graduation.

What is it like wearing heels one minute and being a jock the next? - what group were you in at school? 

Wearing heels one minute and being a jock the next is quite a jump but, as an actor, not a jump that I’m scared to make. My time in Kinky Boots was amazing. It was a lot of fun and it was great to be able to learn new a new craft. I was definitely not a jock in school; far from it. I was the weak kid that was always picked on and bullied a lot, so it’s really interesting for me to go from one side of my life to the other. Taking what those bullies did to me and the experiences I had with them, and using it to my advantage. Going from the heels of Kinky Boots to the Adidas trainers of Heathers felt very natural, the heels more so than the trainers, but my career has taken a few vast twists and turns where I’ve filled lots of different types of shoes.

Having been in the show, has it made you think any differently about your school days? 

When we first started there was one particular day in rehearsals where our director, Andy Fickman, who is a wonderful TV and Film director, asked us to talk about our time in school, and I somehow managed to be the last person in the circle. As I listened to everybody’s stories about their times in school I had a realisation that my time in school didn’t quite go as well as theirs did. I was bullied a lot from years 3 to 11. I had cigarettes put out on my head, was thrown into bushes and beaten up so many times at school. I remember when it got to my turn to speak in the circle I got a little bit emotional. I didn’t want to say much because I thought I’d passed the part of my life where those experiences affected me and I didn’t really want to relive those moments. I’m older now and much wiser. Those experiences have turned me into the person I am today. It was a really interesting moment for me because I hadn’t really thought about the similarities between what I had gone through and what I was going to be doing on stage 8 times a week. It was a little bit cathartic almost. I thought I had come to terms with the stuff I went through at school and that I had gotten closure, but sometimes, every now and again, something pops up and I go ‘why did I get upset about that?’. As much as it has brought up issues that I’d experienced in the past, it has also been quite useful for me to move on from those things.

Tom is wearing Yer Won.

What’s your most and least favourite things about Ram Sweeney? 

My favourite thing about him as a character is actually getting to do a comedy role. In my career, up until now, I’ve always been in the background in the ensemble. I’ve covered roles in the past and I’ve been on for lead roles before, but I have never had that lead role to call my own. So, it’s been really fun to do a comedy role every night to show my agents, my peers, my colleagues and casting directors that I do comedy and (I hope) I do it well! 

I remember on opening night my agent came to see me after the show and said “Tom, you are really funny” and I said “Bronia, I know!” And we both laughed. So, that’s my favourite thing about Ram Sweeney. He’s a comedy role and it’s a lot of fun role to play.

My least favourite thing is that Ram is the school bully; he’s the popular kid but there is a particular scene in the show where you see Ram and Kurt’s dads interacting with them - It gives you insight into why they are the way they are, because their dads are exactly the same - bullies. I love the funny side of him but, without giving too much away, Ram and Kurt are not particularly nice people. Very on the nose, very dark humour. I can feel the tension in the air when the audience are reacting a certain way. Only then do I know I’m doing my job right.

Tom is wearing Yer Won.

Do you ever feel any pressure to convey the messages that Ram does? Especially in a time where the conversation about consent and truth and being true to yourself is so important. 

That actually ties in nicely with my previous answer. With the kind of tragedies we’ve had in the past, it has been difficult. It was a risk going into it, playing this character, but I do think that it is important that lessons like consent are told through story. When I was younger I used to work in several bars in central London as a go-go dancer. I remember in a couple of those bars, we had guests that would try their luck at touching you. At the time I didn’t really think anything of it, but looking back I think ‘actually that wasn’t ok’, I was working, I was at my place of work and performing because that’s what I do. So yes, there is a bit of pressure but I try to focus on the more comical aspects of Ram as opposed to the sides of him that I don’t like.

Obviously the show is in a school setting but the messages and storyline are much bigger than the walls of the high school. What’s the best thing about being in a show that does teach/display such important things within society. 

I really love that at the end of every show we always got a standing ovation. The themes that are in the show are very dark, so it was a surprise to me that we got that kind of reaction. It somehow works here in the UK. The standing ovations are rewarding, even with the story that we show, we still have people on their feet, smiling and clapping. It makes it worthwhile!

Tom is wearing Bougie Studios.

If you could play any role/character in any show what would it be and why? 

There are so many roles I would love to play. If you had asked me a few years ago I would have said Fiyero in Wicked, but as new shows come out and new things happen my aspirations change. I think I would love to do a play at some point. I’m not entirely sure what kind of play, but it would be a new challenge for me. I’d really like the opportunity to explore more of my comedic side too.

A role I would love to do again is the Referee Angel in Kinky Boots! I had so much fun on that show and it would be an honour for me to reprise the role! Actually, I would love to play Charlie in Kinky Boots! [laughs].

Right now I’m very content with what I’m doing and where I am. 

Prior to Heathers you were in Drag Race as one of the Brit Crew. What was your highlight from being on the show? And if you were to create a challenge what would it be? 

Meeting RuPaul himself was so surreal. It was a bizarre out of body moment but so wonderful. I remember being in the dressing room with Ashraf and we heard Ru coming down the corridor. We looked at each other with shock as we heard him getting closer. Where I was sitting I could see the door but Ashraf couldn’t. Ru walked past and I remember my jaw dropped. I could hear Ru asking his assistant if we were here and his assistant said “Yes! They’re in their dressing room!”. Ru walked back to the door and came in and he was this tall, statuesque, warm, welcoming person in this brightly coloured suit. It was a moment that I’ll never forget.

As for a challenge, I would love to see the Queens come out of the studio like they did in the beginning of the Drag Race franchise. They could go into the West End, be put through a rehearsal day of an actual West End musical, and perform a number from a West End show in the theatre in front of a live audience. Imagine Baga Chipz performing the opening of Cats at The Palladium. That would be really iconic! 

Would you ever consider being a Drag queen professionally and who would your drag persona be?

Well, fun fact, I have been a Drag queen professionally. I started my Drag career in a troupe called The Globe Girls and I did a few gigs with them for practice before I started rehearsals for Kinky Boots. I was in Kinky Boots for a year and a half, so every night I was in drag and sometimes twice a day! Following Kinky Boots, I appeared in a TV show called The Greatest Dancer on the BBC with my Globe Girls family and we worked with the incredibly talented Oti Mabuse. So I think I have had a little bit of a career in Drag [laughs]. In musical theatre it’s very easy to be put into a box. Some casting directors might be reluctant to see you for certain roles if they pigeon hole you as a drag queen, but then people like Ella Vaday come along and help shatter that box. She’s balancing the musical theatre career and the Drag career quite well and actually it doesn’t seem to be that weird now. I like where it’s going and it’s thanks to people like her and Vinegar Strokes.

As for my drag persona, my drag name is Keesha Lorraine (gay man’s pie). It’s actually just me but with a wig on. She gives me a bit more confidence when I’m in a group of people that I don’t know, it’s like hiding behind a mask and she’s a bit of an elevated version of myself. 

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