Ronan Keating: ‘Acting the role of a singer does my head in’

The ex-Boyzone singer-songwriter talks about the challenge he faces taking on the lead role in hit West End musical Once

Singer-songwriter Ronan Keating, 37, has sold 40m records worldwide, first with Boyzone, then as a solo artist. Most recently, he’s been a judge on Australian X-Factor (mentoring this year’s winner, 15-year-old Marlisa Punzalan). But he faces arguably his greatest challenge this month as he joins the London West End cast of the Tony- and Olivier-winning musical Once to play the role of Dublin busker Guy.

“A musical is never something I thought I’d do,” he admits. “But it was the combination of great dialogue from playwright Enda Walsh and great songs. I just fell in love with it. I thought, I can do this. Now I have to say that I’m very anxious about the whole thing.”

He’s quietly been auditioning for film roles for the past few years, narrowly missing out on a part in The Hobbit. Last year, he landed the lead in Australian film Goddess, opposite Laura Michelle Kelly, which was universally panned. But when he was approached by Once director John Tiffany, who created theatrical hits Black Watch and Let the Right One In, he knew it was the right fit.

It must be second nature playing a singer on stage? No, he says firmly: “This sounds weird, and I’m not trying to talk about myself in the third person, but I’m not Ronan Keating on that stage. So acting the role of a singer slightly does my head in.”

In many ways, Once is the anti-musical. There are no flying sets and high-kicking chorus girls. The stage is a bar-room where the cast play fiddle, guitar, drums, accordion and mandolin. “That’s the brilliance of director John Tiffany,” Keating says. “It’s not overly executed or miked, it’s not in your face. At the beginning, the audience are invited on stage for a pint.”

Based on the low-budget 2007 film, Once explores unrequited love and life’s missed opportunities. “It’s that kind of Dublin mentality: you just have to grin and bear some things,” Keating says. But can a pop star, who became famous at 16, identify with his character who works in a Hoover repair shop? He laughs and says he worked part-time in a shoe shop before Boyzone took off. His mother was a hairdresser, his father a trucker. He grew up, one of five children, around north Dublin. “I understand it very well. I just hope I can do the role justice.”

Keating is currently in Australia where he’s been based for X-Factor. During the day, he’s rehearsing with Tiffany and the Melbourne cast of Once (the show opened there last month). In the evenings, he’s brushing up his guitar skills “until my fingers can’t play anymore”. He’s enjoyed the beach lifestyle, and is engaged to Oz producer Storm Uechtritz, but they are returning to live in Dublin to be near his three children from his previous marriage “and to get back to my roots a little bit”.

Before that, though, he has eight shows a week in a musical to perform. “I’m not doing Once to prove that I’m worldly or cultured. I just love the role.”

You sense Keating relishes a challenge. He was the first member of Boyzone to go solo. In 2011 he released an album with Burt Bacharach. “Being in a boyband, everyone has an opinion of all of us, and what we do. There was a time I fought with that. I’m OK with it now.”

After a lifetime in showbiz, theatre has been a revelation. “After 20 years in the public eye, it’s a brand new world.”

Ronan Keating joins the cast of Once on 17 November, Phoenix theatre, London WC2

More theatre coverage

Kristin Scott Thomas to star as the Queen in return of The Audience

Bend It Like Beckham to be made into musical

The Real Thing review – Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal impress in Stoppard revival

Hold Your Own review – powerful poetry from Kate Tempest

‘The very pineapple of politeness!’: Gemma Jones and Wendy Craig on playing Mrs Malaprop

Life With Father: the long-lost daddy of Broadway

Death, drugs and survival: DV8 tell the story of John

Blank canvas: the enduring appeal of Yasmina Reza’s Art


Liz Hoggard

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Once review – Ronan Keating hits the right notes as humble busker
The Boyzone star’s acting errs on the wooden side, but there’s no doubt about his singing performance, writes Kate Kellaway

Kate Kellaway

30, Nov, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
Ronan Keating takes the lead in Once in his West End debut

The Boyzone singer will star in the romantic musical adapted from the Oscar-winning film

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

06, Jun, 2014 @9:37 AM

Article image
Ronan Keating in Once review – night of cracked hearts as Guy meets Girl
The Boyzone star acquits himself well but despite Enda Walsh’s colourful characters, this show sounds too tasteful, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

26, Nov, 2014 @10:46 AM

Article image
On my radar: Patsy Kensit's cultural highlights

The actor and singer tells Ben Marshall about the enduring appeal of the Who, the unspoilt charm of Sicily – and why Singin' in the Rain was the happiest night out in London

Ben Marshall

12, Oct, 2013 @11:04 PM

Article image
Gurinder Chadha: ‘It’s been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done’
Turning her 2002 hit film Bend It Like Beckham into a West End musical will, Gurinder Chadha hopes, inspire a whole new generation of girls

Corinne Jones

10, May, 2015 @7:45 AM

The 10 best Broadway debuts by Brits – in pictures
As Ewan McGregor and Rupert Grint take to the New York stage, theatre critic Matt Wolf looks back at the most memorable Broadway debuts

Matt Wolf

19, Sep, 2014 @11:00 AM

Article image
Declan Bennett: 'You'd have to be dead not to appreciate the story of Once'

The young British actor loved the film and now stars in the musical. But his co-star took some persuading, writes Tom Lamont

Tom Lamont

06, Apr, 2013 @11:05 PM

Article image
On my radar: Rupert Grint’s cultural highlights
The actor on Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, David Shrigley’s unsettling cartoons, designing T-shirts online and getting his dad into RuPaul’s Drag Race

Kathryn Bromwich

29, Oct, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Tim Minchin: ‘The world feels a bit post-jokes’
The comedian-composer on his children’s book, Australia’s same-sex marriage vote and why he’s glad to be leaving Hollywood

Michael Hogan

08, Oct, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Frances Barber: ‘Everybody in LA’s on prescription drugs but they frown on a glass of wine’
The actor on starring in a new Pet Shop Boys musical, her addiction to Twitter and Strictly, and the impossibility of avoiding Brexit chat

Michael Hogan

27, Jul, 2019 @3:00 PM