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9th August 2023

Heathers: In conversation with Elise Zavou

With Heathers in Manchester, The Mancunion sits down with Eliza Zavou. We spoke about musical theatre, her character (Heather Duke), and the pressures of starring in a show with such a passionate fan base
Heathers: In conversation with Elise Zavou
Elise Zavou, Verity Thompson and Billie Bowman. Photo: Pamela Raith

Heathers the Musical is currently touring the UK for the second time. Ahead of its arrival in Manchester, I got to sit down with one of the female leads Elise Zavou (Heather Duke) to talk about all things Heathers.

How did it feel to be cast in the show?

E: “Amazing. It was such a blur because we auditioned way back in November and then we didn’t hear anything until January. We got [cast] and started like the week after. So, it was all very: ‘Oh my God, I’m doing Heathers!'”

For anyone who doesn’t know, what is the show about and who is your character?

E: “It’s a dark comedy based on the 1980 film Heathers. My character is second-in-command to the Queen Bee and she’s sick of it, but she doesn’t say anything because she’s better to be number two than at the bottom of the pile. And then the opportunity comes up for her to take charge and she does; she doesn’t let anyone stop her.”

What does it feel like to become such a powerful character then?

E: “She is me, but quite complex. For ages, she has had to keep herself quiet, follow orders and not get to do her own thing, so that moment when it turns to her being able to get in control and be powerful… When the tearaway happens, and the green comes off and the red comes on, and it’s like boom. That’s the moment when it’s like the power hits you. It comes off and you’re like, ‘Let it rip!’

“But it’s a really fun part to play. You get the bit at the beginning where it’s like, ‘What’s gonna happen?’ Like bubbling under, she keeps getting told to shut up and follow orders. And then you have that moment when she’s off, like she’s in control of her decisions and what she says goes, and that’s really cool.

“I feel like I’m similar and different to her. I would never say that I’m like her completely (I hope I’m not), but being able to channel that strength is really cool and something I aspire to be; I aspire to be that strong. Not in the same way that she is at all, but to use your voice.”

Do you feel there’s any pressure from the fact that there’s also a movie version?

E: “I wouldn’t say pressure but it is pretty nerve-wracking because, even without being massive fans of the film, the fans of the show are so loyal. They have precisely in their mind what the show is going to be like.

“But it’s actually really nice having that film as a background. Even last week when we were in Malvern and someone came up to us and she said that she was a bit older (most of our fan base are quite young teenagers). She came up to us and said, ‘I love this film and I’m so glad I got to see it as a musical.’ But people that have loved this film since the 1980s are coming and watching it and loving it, so it’s really cool.”

What’s been your favourite experience while rehearsing or touring so far?

E: “Rehearsals was meeting everyone. It was so quick and then suddenly there were all these faces and we’re going on the road for ten months, and this is us. And to suddenly know that everybody else was also as excited and nervous as you made us feel like we weren’t alone.

“And then touring… It’s so lovely to go around to not just London but all of these different cities and see where the fans are. Heathers all over the country. It’s so amazing.”

What makes the show so special?

E: “That’s really hard to answer in short sentences! What it means to people is a big one, and getting on that stage with such an incredible bunch of people, both on stage and off stage, and doing it with them every night is something that I think I will miss dearly once this job is finished. It’s just hard to put into words how special it is, but sometimes I won’t think until months down the line that I’ll look back on it and then be like ‘God, that was really special.'”

Is it quite a tight-knit community?

E: “Yeah! I mean obviously we all have our characters that on stage we interact with more and I’m always in a dressing room with the other two Heathers, Billy and Verity. One of them is here now!

“And truthfully, as cringey as it sounds, if either of them were different people, this experience would not be the same. It’s just the three of us. It just feels like friends when we’re off stage, and then obviously on stage, we’re horrible to each other. But they’re friends for life.

“It’s so important to be with a bunch of people that you get on with and you trust, because when you’re on the road, that’s all you have. You don’t have your friends and family from back home unless you are lucky enough to go home at the weekends. But when you are in a little town where you don’t know anyone, it’s so important to have a bunch of people that you can have a laugh with.”

Did you always dream of being an actor and what inspired you to try musicals?

E: “Cliché as it sounds, the answer to that is yes. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to do a job where your job is basically to play dress up, and in what other job can you do that? It’s just wild.

“I did always want to do this and I did clubs as a kid, but I don’t think it was until my late teens that I thought this was what I wanted to do as a job and took it more seriously.

“Everyone finds their way to this career so differently and that’s what I love about it. There are so many ways that you can get into this industry and do musicals. You don’t have to follow one route. You can take the route that’s right for you.”

You were in another show too. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?

“Yes. That show was Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World. It is a very new poppy show about incredible women. And it inspires not just little girls, but little people that they can just do whatever they want to do and to not let anybody stop you. That was a show that I will love forever.

“It was such an incredible experience to tell the stories of these real women that faced such hardship but fought through it for many different reasons. Whether that was someone telling you you can’t swim as far as a man or telling them that you can’t vote. The spectrum’s so wide and they all defied the naysayers.”

Outside of work, do you have any other hobbies or passions?

E: “I feel like I turned my hobby into my job, and you have to find other things. I love crocheting, albeit I’m not as good as some people, but I love it. I don’t know if you can say this but shopping is a great hobby of mine. I also love reading, and I’m reading a thriller at the moment but I read a wide array of things.”

Do you have any future plans or hopes?

E: “Well in terms of shows, I mean there are so many amazing shows out there. I feel like you always have a small list in your head of things we’d love to do and love to tick off. I think sometimes until you are in the room for something, or you’ve got an audition through for something, that’s when you realise, ‘Actually, I really care about that. I’d really like to do that.’ So I feel like I’d love to keep doing musical theatre, and if screen ever came up, that would be a fantastic opportunity, but I just love having all three elements in a show. It’s just never boring. I really want to put my stamp on it. I can do that with the character. So who knows? I mean, people are writing things right now that I probably would love to be in, but nobody knows about that yet!”

Heathers runs at Palace Theatre Manchester until August 12 and tours the UK until October 28 2023.

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