I was first introduced to Polly McKie when I attended Sophie's Open Mic Spotlight Series in 2013 because my friends Ethan Paulini and Christopher Sidoli were being featured. It was in that moment, I fell in love with Polly's humor, charm, and talent! As a result of that evening, I got to do a limited run live interview show as part Sophie's Spotlight series. From my first show, Polly (and everyone at Sophie's) embraced me with open arms. I was made to feel at ease right away and that led to 8 weeks of more joy than I could have ever asked for. Like Polly mentions below, Mondays became my favorite night of the week! So, now, I am beyond excited to have been able to sit down with the talent that is Polly McKie and get inside her heart, soul, and mind!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Oh, it's hard to pinpoint exactly who or what. I'm the youngest of five children so was always looking for attention! I was brought up with parents (both teachers) who love music and the theatre and I was taken to shows from as early as I can remember. The first big professional London production we saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when I was 7. I was always in every school production, starting with "Mary" in the Nativity when I was 5 and ending with the role that made me realize this was what I wanted to do as an adult, in my last year of school: "Meg Brockie" in Brigadoon. In between I worked with some wonderful professionals and it's only now, as an adult, that I realize what an honor it was to sing and act alongside Bill McCue (A famous Scottish talent) and go on tour to Orkney with a new musical called The Two Fiddlers by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
I'll never forget a particular trip to London when I was about 13 or 14. My dad had booked tickets for Follies and he told me what it was about and I thought it sounded boring. I went and it changed my life! I still get goosebumps when I think about it. Eartha Kitt sang "I'm Still Here" and I clapped so hard I thought I would burst. I bought the CD and became obsessed with Sondheim and wanted to sing all his songs. I still want to. And I often do.
I love Meryl Streep (of course), Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. What links these women for me is how they come across as genuine (off camera and on). I can imagine sharing a joke with them. All three have a reputation for being fun on set. When Judi Dench and Maggie Smith work together they have a reputation for getting fits of the giggles. They also exude humility in spite of their phenomenal success. I firmly believe that's why their work is so consistently good. You see so many actors who become stars let it go to their head and they stop being relatable and that comes across in their acting. I wouldn't say no to a love scene with Colin Firth, George Clooney or my new obsession, Bryan Cranston.
Above all, famous or not, I want to work with people who take it seriously but are willing to have fun. People who are modest and care about the craft more than they care about the fame.
3. You have performed in numerous stage productions both stateside and internationally. What do you like most about performing around the world? What similarities and differences do you notice between audiences and the theatre scenes in general as you travel? I love travel and seeing different cultures. Performing in such a variety of spaces with such culturally different audiences is fascinating. I recently went to see a friend in a Scottish play Off-Broadway at 59E59. Apparently the stage manager noted that evening that there must be a Scot in the audience because of things getting laughs that had not with all American audiences. Sometimes humor travels, but some jokes are very local too.
The thing about theatre, wherever you are in the world, is that people who love theatre LOVE it. And no matter how many movies and new technology we have, nothing beats live theatre. That is universal.
One very big difference I have noticed is that in the U.S. audiences will clap if a star name comes on stage and are often very quick to give a standing ovation. That does not often happen in the U.K.
4. In addition to theatre, you have worked in film/television. What do you like about working in each medium? At first I thought I would not enjoy working in film and TV but I have really grown to love it. That said, I am grateful that my background and training is in the theatre. I do not think anything else matches the discipline we receive when learning Shakespeare or doing 8 shows a week. Most of the film actors I like and admire have theatrical backgrounds. And, of course, the medium is different, but I use the same basic principles in my acting. It all boils down to being believable and relatable. We can analyze acting forever (and we do!) but what matters is portraying something real and making people feel something. It's about being a human being and sharing that, no matter the medium.
5. You are the voice of Disney's audiobook Brave. What was it like when you found out you got the job and what is like knowing anytime someone listens to that book, they will be hearing your voice? Getting that job was a thrill. There are so many Irish and English people in New York and most people cannot place my Scottish dialect. So when this came up and they advertised that they wanted a real Scot to be the voice, I knew I had to try. On the day of the audition I was sick but, of course, I went. The waiting room was full of lots of Scottish people. It was a very strange experience. So often, I go in using my American accent for auditions but for this I could be 100% me. Ill as I was, I went in and did my best. I had no real voiceover experience but I had always been told I had a great voice and I know how to tell a story. I have 6 nephews and 4 nieces and I love reading to children. They are the best and most honest audience of all. I went into the sound booth for the audition with one page of copy and I imagined I was reading to one of my younger nieces. The casting director said "Great, now can you imagine you're reading to an older child?" I switched to an older nephew in my mind. I was in and out of the room in those 2 takes and then I put it out of my mind. My agent called me to tell me I had booked the gig and within a week I was in a recording booth with Disney execs in New York and taking direction from the head of Disney character voices online from L.A. I LOVED every minute of the experience. I think the children in my life who hear it are not overly impressed. It's just Aunt Polly reading a story. And that's what it should be.
6. In addition to all of the work discussed above, you are also the host of Sophie's weekly Open Mic Spotlight Series in NYC. What do you enjoy most about this? What is it like to watch what could be tomorrow's musical theatre stars perform? I love Sophie's! Monday has become my favorite day of the week. I love hosting. I hear myself and think I am turning into my mother. I insult people and crack jokes. My style is very much like my mother. And, although the humor is biting, the audience knows that it is supportive. We have been labeled the most supportive Open Mic in NYC. I have been to open mics as a performer and I think that is the key. I understand the nerves and excitement that the singers have. I want to make them feel supported and important. Even if you are one singer out of 30, those 3 or 4 minutes that you have are like a Broadway debut for some of these young (or older) artists. There is a comedian who came and sat at the back for the first few weeks and just watched. Then one week he got up to sing and he said he felt safe and described me as being "A cross between a comedienne and a social worker." That is the biggest compliment. That we create a place that feels safe and fun for people to perform.
7. You have also started your own coaching classes and workshops for actors. What made you want to teach others? What have you learned from your students? I am from a family of teachers. And I have been a teacher for years. An actress and a teacher. Both are in my blood. My mother probably should have gone into acting and I think she would have but her mother died when she was 17 so she stayed with her father and went to teacher training college. Just as well she did or I might not exist! The two are so closely linked. Some of the greatest teachers are performers. They have to entertain and educate. And I think actors owe it to other actors to pass on what they know. I have had the chance to work with some wonderful teachers and I want to share what I know (even if it is how to learn from my mistakes!) Students always teach us as much as we teach them. There is that wonderful and famous lyric in The King and I:
It's a very ancient saying,
But a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you'll be taught.
I am far more likely to quote Sondheim but, in this case, this applies.
8. How do you feel living in New York City fosters your acting more as opposed to living somewhere else? I adore New York! It is the center of everything for me. I love London but I instantly felt at home in New York on my first visit. I knew there was a special connection. I love what the city has to offer - everything! (well, apart from a good fish supper). I still pinch myself when I walk home past Grand Central and the Chrysler Building. I have lived here for almost six years and it still thrills me. I am surrounded by actors and singers. I am immersed in that life and I love it. I can spend what is a pretty average day going to an audition, walking past a celebrity on 14th street, going to see a friend in a play Off-Broadway or on Broadway, and sing at Sophie's. Of course, there are many days of just buying groceries and doing laundry but the first example is just as regular and that's a thrill. It feeds my soul!
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Be yourself and trust your gut.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Ah, Adam, I know you ask this question and I always wondered what I would answer. I think I do not want a super power. I want to be human.
Polly was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest of five children. Her father submitted the birth notice "Suddenly as the result of an accident...." The newspaper refused to print it, so here it is for all to read now. A sense of humor is a prerequisite for being part of the McKie family. A family who is passionate about the Arts. Thanks to her parents (both teachers), she was lucky enough to be a regular visitor to the theatre: everything from local pantomimes to Shakespeare, Greek tragedy (her father is a classicist) to West End musicals (her mother writes and directs musicals for young children).
After graduating with an M.A. in Theatre and Philosophy, Polly continued her studies and earned her postgraduate certificate in drama education, deciding to take the sensible career path and work as a teacher. The desire to perform never left, though, and she performed in the ensemble of Sweeney Todd at The Theatre Royal in Glasgow, understudying "Mrs. Lovett" (still a dream role today).
In 2004 she moved to Bermuda where she was in several shows and was lucky enough to work with Martin Lowe (Tony award for Once) and Brian Kite (La Mirada, L.A.) in Cabaret. Her time working in The Beauty Queen of Leenane helped her come to the decision to move to New York and pursue her acting career full-time. At the end of the 2 week run, the rest of the cast was so happy that it was over. Polly wanted it to run forever.