Interview: Alex Nee, star of the American Idiot theatre play

Our very own Gary Flockhart is given guitar tips by Alex Nee
Our very own Gary Flockhart is given guitar tips by Alex Nee
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THE star of American Idiot gives Gary Flockhart a guitar lesson ahead of the show’s visit to the Playhouse next week, while explaining what attracted him to the role.

HE doesn’t know it yet, but Alex Nee has his work cut out. It’s the morning after the UK premiere of American Idiot at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre and the San Francisco-born actor/musician, who plays the role of Johnny in the rock opera that’s set to take Edinburgh by storm, is about to try to teach your man from the Evening News (that’s me, folks) a few songs on guitar up on the stage.

The tricky part is that I’m left-handed - and the guitar he’s just handed me most definitely is not.

“No worries,” says the 21-year-old with an air of confidence. “I’ll have you playing that thing in no time.”

Good luck with that, I’m thinking to myself.

Before we get down to business, Nee tells me he grew up in Palo Alto, which is actually only about 45 minutes from where pop-punk outfit Green Day grew up.

So was he a fan before he landed the part? “Totally,” he says. “Dookie was one of the first albums I bought. I was 13 when it came out and had to hide it from my parents because of the Parental Advisory sticker.

“But I guess I really got into the band when I was in fifth grade and I’ve remained a fan ever since then.”

But Nee wasn’t too fussed about American Idiot when it was first released in 2004. “I was really sceptical about American Idiot when it came out, and barely gave it a chance.” he says. “I grew up on old-school Green Day and my eighth grade self heard American Idiot and thought, “these guys are selling out.”

“I didn’t give it a chance until I saw the musical version on Broadway. It changed my perspective. Now I understand how complex and smart and edgy that album really is... I love it.”

After seeing the show, Nee immediately knew he needed to be a part of American Idiot. So how did he land his dream role?

“I got an email from Jim Carnaham, the casting director, on the Friday around 7pm,” he explains. “At the time I was doing Rent in Chicago and they wanted me in at 10am the next morning. I was freaking out a bit - not only because of the tremendous opportunity it presented, but also because they were expecting me to perform three or four Green Day songs at the audition.

“I had less than 24 hours to learn them, which was scary. So anyway, I did Rent that night and got up around 4am the next morning and started listening to the album, trying to learn the songs on my guitar.

“I guess it went well,” he adds, laughing, “because here I am.”

This morning, with black nail polish and guyliner applied, the very patient Nee is attempting to teach me two of the songs he himself learned in the space of a few hours - Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends.

After several attempts, it’s just not happening. Holding a guitar in the right-handed position just feels so incredibly awkward to me. It’s frustrating.

I once read that some lefties aren’t so sensitive to this - but for those of us with a strong sense of handedness, holding a guitar in the opposite stance is awful. So I give up.

No matter. Nee says he’ll happily give me another lesson when the show hits the Edinburgh Playhouse for a six-night run on Monday. And while I probably won’t be taking him up on his offer, I’ll certainly head along to see him perform in American Idiot again.

A thoroughly modern musical developed by Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer, it’s the story of three lifelong friends - Johnny (Nee), Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) and Will (Casey O’Farrell) - who each go their separate ways as they search for meaning in a post 9-11 world, set against the musical backdrop of Green Day’s concept album.

It’s a truly exhilarating show with a young and talented all-Amercian cast - and one that is attracting people who don’t normally go to the theatre.

And it’s not just for Green Day fans, either.

“Obviously a lot of Green Day fans come to see it, but it also attracts more ‘seasoned’ theatergoers who wouldn’t normally consider listening to a band like Green Day,” says Nee. “I think it takes people out of their art comfort zone - which is great.”

American Idiot, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Monday-Saturday, various times, £17.50–£43.50, 0844-871 3014