At just sixteen years old, Franco-American Nicolas Motet is charming and down-to-earth, yet eloquent and perfectly bilingual. He is also the ambitious star of the long-awaited production Oliver Twist: The Musical. Not only did he invite us to see some of the rehearsals, he also kindly sat down with Theatre in Paris at the café of the glamorous and historic Salle Gaveau to answer our burning questions about the production, his projects, and life as a bilingual musical theatre star in France.
Theatre in Paris: At a young age, you were already involved in many projects such as the Grand Show des Enfants [“The Great Show of Children”] and The Voice France! Could you tell us how it all started?
Nicolas Motet: I began taking classes in musical theatre when I was eight and pretty quickly I was able to do my first show when I was nine, I believe, on TF1 [A French Television Channel] [during which] I was on the Grand Show des Enfants. And ever since, everything kind of continued because I was able to meet people, and I was able to learn a lot. I guess [everything] is kind of linked in, all together… it’s one thing that led to another and so on and so, here I am now!
TIP: A few years ago, you met the composer of this production of Oliver Twist Shay Alon in a rather serendipitous way. Could you tell us how that meeting happened, and how the relationship developed?
NM: I met Shay, I think it was... two years ago—that was the first time I saw him—and we started talking because I was speaking with my mom in English. He was new to France so he was [happy to hear] someone speaking in English and came to join in the conversation! And so we just started talking, and he talked about how he composes and how he does music and after we kept in touch [online]. I didn’t see him for a long time but I guess he kept in touch with what I was doing online, because it was two years [later] when he sent me a message saying, “Nicolas, I need a little help from you.” And it was lucky because I was on the freeway to Paris […]
Basically, I learned the song (for Oliver) with him, and he asked me if I would audition for the casting. And so… [I thought,]“sure! Yeah!” I loved the song, but I really didn’t expect that, you know just randomly! So when the producer, the amazing Alexandre Piot, saw my video, he told me afterwards that after just thirty seconds […] he knew it was going to be me! It was pretty quick, and it’s a nice story […] When you end up in such a huge production, you really think, like, “who would have thought?”
"A year ago, if you had told me that I’d be in a musical in Paris, I would [not have believed you]!"
TIP: You were second runner up on The Voice Kids. That’s amazing! Tell us about your experience.
NM: I really loved it because I was able to meet people my age that share the same passion, so I was able to make a lot of great friends. [Although] the stress of the blind auditions was one of the biggest stresses I’ve had to deal with—that’s where they turn around [and push the button]. I’ll never forget it! You just [go in] and it’s total pitch dark—you don’t see anything—and the only thing you see are the names of the coaches, and the public is totally silent […] It happens so fast… and I had the luck that one of the judges [pushed the button].
TIP: That must be incredibly nerve-wracking! On stage during the rehearsals of Oliver you don’t seem nervous at all. You must really feel comfortable in the role. Have you read Oliver Twist or any other works by Dickens?
NM: In school we studied the novel a bit, and I always loved the story, but I never read the whole book, but now I have obviously—I mean because the director really wanted to really bring something new in Oliver and give him a new character. So I really wanted to get where [Oliver] comes from and put my spin on it. And every time we work, I always find a little extra detail for the character. We really want to add something to it.
"I love this show so much and I think it would be a shame for someone to not be able to appreciate the show because of the language barrier."
TIP: So we imagine that having read the novel helps you get into character a little bit?
NM: Yeah, obviously, and also, there’s something about Oliver that I just I find in myself. In the first single, it’s all about not giving up. […] There are so many other songs in the show or even just moments, where if you put it in another context… it’s me! [I can identify] because there’s that wanting, that “I’m not going to give up!”
So sometimes you just have to read the lines a different way and you realise that it isn’t that far from where you are. And was exciting when I realized that “OK, I can find myself in this character, to identify with [him].”
TIP: What else do you do to get into character?
NM: When I work on a character, I want to (know) their objectives, what they desire, what they want; obviously in Oliver it’s pretty explicit that it’s his father, but for each character I want to give them a reason why they do something.
And then after it just depends on which character it is; for Oliver Twist, I said [earlier] that I can identify with the character, but [at the same time, I can’t] I mean he’s an orphan, and I’m so lucky to have a very close family; he lives in hard conditions, he receives no love, he’s lonely ; so there’s also that huge [difficulty] –I’ve really got to dig deep, so it’s a mix between identifying with some things, and digging really deep [for others].
TIP: It sounds like something that all great actors have to work on; from what we’ve seen, you are fantastic! How is working with the cast? The production team?
NP: […] I was very nervous before meeting them, I had no idea how it was going to be; because they are all so experienced in musical theatre […] and I’m the new one, I’m the youngest one… And I’m the one they put in the spotlight. (I was wondering how I was) going to fit in. And I was so surprised at how open they were ... their intentions are good, I just have fun with them, when we laugh, it’s real; the team is very professional, I feel very comfortable […] it’s just like, “I’m Nicolas, and I’m with my team.”
TIP: That’s great—so is it kind of like a little family?
NM: It really is! Exactly.
"There’s something about Oliver that I just find in myself."
TIP: Speaking of families, yours is a mixture of cultures—your mom is American and your dad is French. Tell us what it is like living so far from your extended family and part of your roots.
NM: I’ve actually always lived in France. I would have loved to live in America. But we regularly go visit family and that’s how I get to see America, towards Chicago and Detroit; we go also to Jacksonville, close to Miami. For my thirteenth birthday we went to New York: sometimes we add a destination. So we [often] go to America for vacations.
TIP: Travelling is so exciting! Do you speak in English with your mom and her side of the family all the time?
NM: Yes! [...] But, I always wonder if you can tell that I’m French when I speak in English!
TIP: Your accent is perfect—don’t worry; we also heard that you are learning other languages; do you think it is important to do so?
NM: I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked languages, I mean it’s not easy, it’s hard work, but I’ve always liked it.
When you learn a language, you’ve got to learn the culture, and the whole back-story of the country. That’s what I find the most interesting. [With globalization and travel] that’s why it’s so important—you’re constantly exposed to other people who are not necessarily from France, it’s a huge mix of [cultures] and that is what’s so cool!
TIP: Do you have a lot of international fans?
NM: I received twice a letter from a fan in Japan! I didn’t expect it—and after we kept in touch through Internet!
I know I have some [fans] in America, some in the UK—so not just in France. (My friend Frankie and I) did a cover of Clarity [on Youtube] I always try to not [prioritize] French or English, I always try to keep both happy; and so with Frankie it kind of opened [things] up to English speakers … so that’s why I keep on doing covers and things like that, and am preparing my album in English, which is coming out very soon!
TIP: That's so exciting! We can't wait to hear it.
Clearly you cater to both French and English-speaking audiences and all of your fans, wherever they might be—Japan, America, the UK... What do you think about making French theatre accessible to anyone who can speak English?
NM: I mean that’s just genius! I love this show so much and I think it would be a shame for someone to not be able to appreciate the show because of the language barrier. Especially a show like this one, where everyone can find a bit of [himself or herself] in it; and it enables my family from America to come and understand!
"For me, that would be a dream come true, to perform in front of an American—or an English speaking audience."
TIP: Would you like to perform in the US?
NM: For me, that would be a dream come true to perform in front of an American—or an English speaking audience.
TIP: What is it like to perform an adaptation of such a world-renowned musical right here in your own country?
NM: I think that people are going to find out that it’s not just in Broadway that you’re going to find great musical theatre. I think it’s a plus that people all around France will come to see this show!
"I’m very lucky to have such a great mom."
NM: My mom just… gets it… like the balance… It’s a comfortable and healthy relationship, and I’m very lucky because it can go very wrong… I’m very lucky to have such a great mom.
TIP: Do you have any advice for kids or teens around your age who are in the entertainment industry, or that want to get into theatre and acting?
NM: Well I would say […] to never forget where you came from, because you can always get lost… always be thankful for everything that you’ve got. Every morning I’m thankful for what I’ve got.
[I’d also say that] if you believe in it, it can happen. If you really believe in it…
When I was eight years old – when it all started- I really believed in it, and I knew [at the time], “I’m not there right now, but I’m going to [work and work]. And I’m just going to have fun with it and then we will just see where it goes. But I’m going to believe in it!”
You’ve got to stay focused, and just believe in it!
It was such a pleasure meeting Nicolas and getting to know him. Theatre in Paris is so excited to surtitle the French production of Oliver Twist starring Nicolas Motet in just a few weeks! If you too want to witness the talent and dedication that have gone into this international production, book now!