Breaking Down the Characters with Jared Dixon
in 2018, we received a lot of feedback about our interviews. The general consensus was “We want more character study, how do you do eight shows a week, etc.” so we’re launching Breaking Down the Characters to do exactly that. Breaking Down the Characters will be more in depth when it comes to the roles a person has or is playing. We’ll talk about their processes, how they prepare themselves, and how they sustain it.
The First Breaking Down the Characters interview is none other than, Jared Dixon. Jared is the perfect person to launch the series with because he was also the first interview for Beyond the Stage Door. Last year Jared was on the road as an understudy in The Color Purple. This year, he’s the King of the Pridelands in Disney’s The Lion KIng. So we’re talking to him about his journey taking on the role of Simba and how he’s staying healthy while doing it.
How’d you begin breaking down the mythology of the Lion King and where Simba fits into it?
In the early stages of this process I focused simply on the story we’re telling. This is a hero’s redemption story. Simba is the heir to a legacy and what better way to tap into that than watching Black Panther? No? lol I’m serious. I started by thinking of all the similarities between the two stories. Africa, the loss of a parent, the connection to their ancestors, fighting against an imposter king, BLOCKBUSTER BOX OFFICE SUCCESS! It’s all there! It wasn’t hard for me to figure out what would work in terms of storytelling around a hero, because it was all right there and I’d JUST seen it done by a man who looks like me a few months prior to stepping into the rehearsal room. Talk about the fact representation matters! I also found that in my telling of this story I wanted to be as authentic to my own experiences and the culture gravity of The Lion King. I really believe that’s what it takes to make a story like this stick. You have to feel it in your DNA and extract it.
Did you do any special character work for the callback process?
During the callback process I spent a lot of time focusing on my voice and physicality as Simba. I wanted to show, not only that I can handle the acting and singing, but that I knew how to play a Prince and future King both physically and mentally. I also spent a lot of time studying my own experiences that related to this role and trying to figure out, not how to reenact them, but how to put Simba in my shoes and see what he’d do in those situations.
How do you go about particularizing the show to you (spiritually, mentally) making the character yours?
Empathy, to me, is an actor’s greatest weapon. If you can truly empathize with a characters circumstances, you can fully understand their actions. So with Simba, I tried to understand his thoughts from every angle and draw the throughline from the Circle of Life to Final Busa. When it comes to making it my own, honestly all I can do is trust that if I am active, the character will speak to me and I will continue to adapt as I grow in understanding. It takes faith and humility to know that I’m just the vessel and this character will form sort a symbiotic bond with me (shout out to my Spider-man/Venom nerds).
How’d you dissect Simba, and the differences between the movie version and the musical?
I honestly hadn’t watched the movie again until after I’d already opened the show. I treated this role like any other from day one. The story is all I care about. I felt if I put my energy into that, I’d better serve me in the long run. I feel that by adding my own interpretations and spins on things I honor passed portrayals, but in no way am I ever trying to recreate them. There are some very small differences between the movie and the musical. One being, Endless Night and other songs that weren’t in the movie. For those moments, I just spent time considering the psychology of a person going through similar circumstances and tried to paint the story emotionally from there.
Do you have any tips for memorizing your tracks physically?
REPETITION. Nothing beats muscle memory. As I learned anything in this track, I also attempted to learn to make it look good on my body. I love the movement in this show but I know I can’t really feel something until I find whatever swagger I need to make it look good on me. I’m constantly checking myself head to toe on all of it.
How are you vocally and physically sustaining this role?
Vocally I’m sticking to my routine. Choosing to be kind to my instrument with ALL of my lifestyle choices. Hydration, volume control, warming up etc. Physically, this thing is a MONSTER. I’ve had my peaks and vallies, but I’m strongest when I am maintaining my strength while also giving some attention to flexibility and cardio health. This is a full body show so it take a full body health routine to keep it up. “Stay ready so you ain’t gotta get ready.”
You can find Jared on tour as Simba in Disney’s The Lion King now, click here to purchase tickets. To follow Jared on social media click here (Twitter, Instagram, official website). As always you can find us on all social media @mwmivspeaks