Nicole Scherzinger on Playing ‘Old Relic’ Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and Ageism in Hollywood: ‘It’s Still Very Brutal’

Nicole Scherzinger is back on London’s West End, playing Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Sunset Boulevard.”

The former Pussycat Dolls star made her West End debut in a revival of Webber’s “Cats” in 2014, for which she earned an Olivier nomination.

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In “Sunset Boulevard,” with music by Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, Scherzinger plays movie star Norma Desmond who yearns to return to the big screen. A struggling screenwriter may be her only hope, until their dangerous and compelling relationship leads to disastrous circumstances.

Scherzinger’s initial reaction when director Jamie Lloyd offered her the role of Desmond was one of incredulity. “I was like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ First of all, I still look great under bright lights. And isn’t that an older woman who is, like, an old relic? How does that even remotely have anything to do with me?,” Scherzinger told The Sunday Times. “I was, like, ‘Yo, this chick is crazy. I don’t want to play her. She crazy.’”

It was the music that persuaded Scherzinger to take up the role eventually. “When I listened to the music I felt those were songs I could have written, like they were my songs. This is a completely different show than the musical people know. I feel like we might as well change the name of the show because it’s a completely different story we’re telling,” Scherzinger told The Sunday Times, adding that in her interpretation of the role Desmond “is not crazy. She’s madly passionate about what she feels like she was put on this earth to do. She’s in love with her art. And there’s nothing tragic or pitiful about that. She’s wanting to be seen for who she really is.”

The 1950 film raised the spectre of ageism in Hollywood. Things haven’t changed much from then, according to Scherzinger. “It’s just as relevant today. And it’s still very brutal,” Scherzinger.

“There are songs about how to make it in Hollywood which remain completely true. This industry is a harsh, savage beast,” Scherzinger told The Guardian. “I know what it’s like to be the hot new thing on the block. You blink your eye, time goes by and you’re like: “Woah, where did it all go?” The younger generation comes in and suddenly you’re fighting to be seen and have a voice. I’m still doing that. So it speaks to the ageism of Hollywood but it’s also about how hard it is to get and keep any job. In the past, Norma’s been misunderstood. If anybody’s got passions and dreams, then it’s taken away from them, it leaves an emptiness inside. I think most people can relate to that.”

“Sunset Boulevard” is on at London’s Savoy Theatre through Jan. 6, 2024.

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