Omar Baroud, Star of ‘Cabaret’ in the West End, On Building Character

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Photo Source: David Reiss

We catch up with the actor-writer to find out how he goes about constructing characters, particularly Clifford Bradshaw in the award-winning West End production of Cabaret.

Could you give us an overview of Clifford Bradshaw, your character in Cabaret?

Cliff is our way into Cabaret. He’s an American writer who comes to Weimar-era Berlin to find inspiration to write. He finds this sense of freedom that he’s never had before, and he realises this is the place where he’s going to get his best ideas. So that’s where we start, as he meets all these wonderful characters, including Sally Bowles at the Kit Kat Club.

What was your jumping off point for getting to know him?

I’m lucky that Cabaret is based on a book, Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, so I started off by reading that. It’s a memoir of his travels to Berlin, and although it’s never explicitly stated, Cliff is basically Isherwood. So there was lots of autobiographical material I could soak up. When I auditioned for the role I realised his life was actually very similar to mine. That doesn’t happen too often. I remember saying to the director, Rebecca Frecknall, “I think I’m Cliff”.

You inherited the role from Omari Douglas. Were you given freedom to reinterpret the character?

Absolutely. It was so daunting coming into something that had already been lauded so highly. But from the very first day of rehearsal, myself and the other actors taking over were told ‘this is your story now’. There wasn’t any looking back over what worked, or what didn’t. It was just a fresh start, which was such a relief. It was a beautiful process. One thing I’ve definitely noticed doing this is that the happier I am backstage, the sadder I can be on stage.

What is your general method for building a character?

I always try and research as much as possible, but then forget that research. I think it can help you subconsciously, but it doesn’t help to retain too much of it. I also do a lot of ‘facts and questions,’ which I learnt from Sarah Davey-Hull at Central School of Speech and Drama. You basically write down things you know for certain, such as ‘we’re in Berlin, it’s winter,’ stuff like that, and then a list of unanswered questions you have about the character. That helped me so much in rehearsals. 

Do you find being a writer yourself helps you with this process?

A hundred percent. It helps me to observe others, and think about why they are saying certain things, or acting in certain ways. And it works the other way around as well. So for example I realise certain words are hard to say, and certain sentences cause me to lose breath. You start to learn the difference between things that are easy to say and not. The two sides marry each other perfectly.

Omar Baroud as Clifford Bradshaw in Cabaret, © Marc Brenner

You’re currently playing Jackson in Wedding Season on Disney+. How would you describe him?

He is the queer one in a group of friends who go through all these weddings together. He’s very much against monogamy. In some ways he’s the polar opposite of Cliff, both in his outlook and his personality, so it’s been really fun to play them at the same time.

What’s up next for you?

A big thing on my mind is developing my musical, After Elijah, which won the Stiles and Drew award last year. We recently had a showcase at The Other Palace theatre in London, which got a really good response, so I’m hoping that will translate into something. Writing is very exposing; there’s no-one else to hide behind. 

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