From Bondi To Broadway (well, almost)

Richard O’Bryan via LinkedIn

Former Sydneysider, Cleo Bachelor and all-round hunk Richard O’Bryan has just finished filming his first season on a popular kids’ TV show in the USA, after a successful season playing the male lead in Dirty Dancing on London’s West End. Girl caught up with Richard to talk names, musicals and… witches?

How are you, Richard?! What’s been happening?
I’m great! Going with the flow and enjoying once again a different country. 🙂

Now, let’s start with an obvious one – your birth name is actually O’Brien – so why did you change it?
Okay! When they flew me over to London for Dirty Dancing I was getting fan mail from people saying, “I have followed your career for 30 years and can’t wait to see you in Dirty Dancing.” I’m like, what is going on? We worked out that people thought the writer and performer from The Rocky Horror Picture Show was in the show, but it was me as we have the same name (Richard O’Brien). So I changed it to Richard Lawrence. Then seven years later I moved to LA and the name Richard Lawrence was taken. So we had to create another stage name. Richard O’Bryan. So as it stands I am Richard O’Bryan and I hope to stay that way for a very long time. 🙂

You’ve done musicals, TV commercials, dancing, acting… where does your true passion lie?
That’s a hard one yet I would have to say that acting has taken centre stage at present! Dancers have a life span and I feel I had an amazing run and am really happy at what I accomplished. Dirty Dancing in London’s West End was the last musical theatre show I have done. It was a choice to step away from it as I wanted a different direction and it has paid off thus far, with securing the new father role on the US Every Witch Way!

You played Rum Tum Tugger in the Australian big top tour of Cats – was that your first big break?
Yes it was my first lead role and it was the best experience of my life! We travelled around Australia and saw things that I would have never seen unless I took that tour. Also, it was an international musical yet it was the first time it had ever been done in a $4 million tent. Amazing experience. 🙂

How about that Cleo Magazine Bachelor of the Year nomination? What would you be nominated for now, 15 years later?
Haaa I remember it like it was yesterday! Another honour to be a part of it all! Ummm, I would hope that I have aged like a good wine and would go in as a guy who has had a great career as someone younger people could aspire to! We as performers evolve, and it is okay to go in many different directions as we need to diversify to keep things fresh.

Richard in Cleo's Bachelor of the Year competition, 2000
Richard in Cleo’s Bachelor of the Year 2000

You played the lead role in the West End production of Dirty Dancing (swoon) before you moved to the States – how did you find that after working in Australia?
It was another one for the books actually! It was not without its ups and downs! Originally I came in as the understudy to the lead role and worked very hard to be seen, yet it was a hard push to be noticed. For example, all the producers were flying in to see myself and another guy on two separate nights, but I got side swiped by a car on my Vespa and couldn’t make it as my knee was swollen! I had to swallow a lot of these scenarios yet I did not give up! Word got out and finally the producers one by one saw my performance and gave me the role after the other guy left. I was also offered the lead role in Canada yet I turned it down as I had come on a mission and had to finish what I had begun on the West End.

Did you move to LA strictly to pursue acting?
Yes! And surf! It was the middle ground between Australia and the UK. Weather-wise it is awesome, and the auditions are ever flowing. I have never been for more TV commercial auditions in my life. It is the place to be for now and I am blessed once again to see and work in another country.

How did the role in Every Witch Way come about?
Once again a very interesting way in order to secure a job. I have been attending an acting studio for six months and they have a mailing list for jobs. Email below (copy and paste):

(PETE)- Male, can play early 40’s, very handsome, charming and a dangerous wizard. He’s an astute business man, obsessed with power.
He’s a strict father who expects his children to be as driven and successful as he is. He is a perfectionist, who always gets his way. Authentic Australian accent or professionally dialect proficient a plus. SERIES REGULAR.

So this came in and it was pretty specific as they needed an Australian. Brilliant! 20 people to compete against instead of 200.

What else can you tell us about your character?
I’ll copy and paste again!

Mr. Novoa doesn’t care about anyone or anything except for his son Jax ruling the world but his plans got awry when Jax grows feelings for Emma, who is the Chosen One. Jax describes him as a bad wizard in Stormageddon. He is manipulative, cold, cruel, evil, and remorseless. It seems that he forced Jax to rule the world even though Jax resented against him. However, Jax has to listen to his dad when his dad says he always let him down.

Was it weird playing a teenager’s dad? Did you model your character off anyone you know IRL?
No, it wasn’t weird as I am 38 now and it could be a possibility. What was weird was when I had a flash back scene of when I was younger I was required to shave. This is when you can see that the casting was perfect for both Jake (myself) and Jax (my son).

Is showbiz as cut-throat and Hollywood as crazy as TMZ would have us believe?
Depends how you approach it! I am pretty chilled out and have other things on the side such as a property investment business in London called FullCircle2U. I believe if you have other things then the business is less mental for your head as it’s not the be all end all! This has always been my philosophy and it has proved me well.

As a dancer you’ve been on tour with the likes of Sophie Monk and Delta Goodrem – any stories from the road?
Delta is a top girl and an absolute gem! She was lovely to her dancers and the tour itself rocked! Big responsibility for Delta as it was 15 thousand people per night! No massive stories other than good times had with my dancing mates. One of those boys Shannon actually went off and danced with Michael Jackson the fateful tour that he died! He has done extremely well and dances with Jennifer Lopez and many others.

What advice would you give young Aussies looking at pursuing a career in entertainment?
Push hard and then some. See, if you are passionate the work just fits. It feels right and you should be blessed that you are in a creative world of expression which is very unique. I would also say if you are fortunate to earn some great money on your journey, put some aside and buy an asset so when you get to the end of whatever you have done, then monetarily you are ahead of so many performers that do not take this into account.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?
To get back to LA and capitalise on the opportunity that I have just been given with the show. It holds weight and the time is now to get some momentum. You see, the hardest part is getting the gig. Once you get one people seem to come out of the woodwork and opportunities come and you need to be ready.

Every Witch Way airs on Nickelodeon. The new series will screen in the US from July.

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