Interview: Emma Leon

Ksenia Khor

Ksenia is a communications student, avid traveller, and book lover. She is passionate about art, fashion, theatre, spirituality and well-being.

Chelsey chats with Emma Leon who plays Baker’s Wife in ‘Into the Woods’, a fairy tale musical that is at The PumpHouse theatre, Takapuna, now until November 17.

Can you tell our readers about yourself?

I’m a Canadian Kiwi. My mum’s from New Zealand and my dad’s from Canada. I was born in Canada. Then we moved to the Philippines. After my brother was born we returned to New Zealand. Then we moved to Boston and that’s where I graduated from high school. I went to university in Canada and then got a career, a husband and children there. Later my husband and I decided to return to New Zealand and we did so 10 years ago. My parents also came back here and now we are all based in Auckland. We even live on the same street. And my family helps me a lot because my children can be a lot of work sometimes.   They are two creative and divine little boys with special needs.

How did you become interested in acting?

I’ve always been into acting. I performed at school. When I was in the Philippines, guest theatre practitioners would come in and work with us and I really enjoyed it.  I took acting through my life. While in Canada I performed on semi-professional level and had a professional career.  Now, in Auckland, I work full – time in a winery and continue performing. Auckland is a pool for many talented people. It has an amazing community theatre scene and I was lucky to work with talented directors.  

How do you juggle your commitments: family, acting and full-time job?

Mostly it is the rehearsal period that is the busiest. I work for Matua winery and it’s just three minutes away from my home.  So before I go to work I drop my kids off to school. After work I manage to do all the mummy things and then I head to rehearsals. My husband helps me a lot as well. So, sometimes it seems that it’s never going to work. But everyone from my family pitches in and it does work in the end. For example, my mother loves baking and she helps me with that.

Have you thought of doing acting as a full-time career?

I always thought I could do it. But before going to university I was weighing all the things up decided that I wasn’t ready for a life with financial struggle. There are so many talented people, but only a small number of them make good money. So I made a conscious decision to do an academic degree which I can later fall back on. After graduation I worked for university and also performed and I felt that I had the best from both worlds.

I thought of doing it full time, but it’s really hard to break in. And I’m not ready to do such a commitment. Also, in New Zealand, most of professional music theatre productions are from Australia. So to act professionally you might need to go to Australia or the UK as there are more opportunities there.  But with family you aren’t very flexible for such moves so I’m working here. Once I auditioned for a New Zealand musical production and I got cast. But then they lost their funding and could not put the show on.

Can you tell us about “Into the Woods” and your role in it?

“Into the Woods” is Stephen Sondheim’s musical. It’s really difficult musically and that’s why it’s a challenge to put it on. I always loved “Into the Woods”. I remember in 1987, when I was graduation from high school, it received a Tony awards. And I watched it and thought how amazing it was. In this production I worked with people I already knew like music director Andrew Christie and director Aaron Tindall with whom we did another Sondheim’s musical,  ‘Assassins’.  The cast is full of talented people from community theatre. They are the best of the best. That also pushes you to be and work better. It’s great working together when we all know each other.

‘Into the Woods’ is a fairy tale, though more Grimm then Disney. It is about wishing and its results.  Characters like Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Ridinghood and the princes are preoccupied are wishing for things, but the second act reveals what happens after their wishes came true. Like, what happens after Jack cuts the Beanstalk and a giant falls into his yard? The show is a little bit scary, a little bit funny and very layered.  For instance, every time the witch comes in, certain music is playing.  So before she even appears you hear that music and know she’s on the way.

I’m playing the Baker’s wife. I was thrilled to get it because that’s the role I really wanted to play. The story of Baker and me sort of ties everyone together. They want to get a child and in the show we learn what happens with their wish.

What do you think you have in common with your character?

She is strong and I’d like to think I’m strong too. She keeps all things including her husband together and is a bit of a multitasker. She follows her husband into the woods and I’m a bit like that because I help my husband to stay straight.  I think Baker’s wife represents a lot of modern women who have to juggle many balls.

What is your favourite fairy tale?

My favourite one is Cinderella.  I love the idea of a lovely girl getting helped out into a beautiful dress. And I’ve always wanted to go a ball too.

What would be your ultimate dream role?

For so many years I’ve wanted to play Fantine in ‘Les Miserables”. I actually have so many roles I’d love to do.  And Baker’s wife was one of the characters I wanted to play as well. I would love to sing in Civic. I really adore singing and I’m really happy to get characters that need you to play. When I’m a bit older, I would love to play Momma Rose in Sondheim’s ‘Gypsy’. I like big roles because they  are a big challenge.

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