Despite his recent popularity on TV and in film, this actor still cherishes his role of a lifetime, as the original star of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
In 1979, Winnipeg-born actor Len Cariou was already a seasoned stage actor with a couple Tony Award nominations under his belt for his work on Broadway when he began a legendary collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, which culminated in the infamous “Sweeney Todd” production.
The production ran on Broadway for 557 performances.
Co-starring in the production with Cariou was Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Lovett, who went on to star in “Murder, She Wrote.”
During an interview with CTV.ca, Cariou is pleased that Broadway fans are in awe of his performance in the role.
“It’s terrific. It’s something that I’m really, really proud of. I think it was a genius piece of writing, and I was a lucky guy to be there, to have him write it for me. It’s something that I treasure very much,” says Cariou.
The actor now stars as Henry Reagan, a former New York City police commissioner on “Blue Bloods,” and has previously appeared in “Damages,” “Law & Order” and “Brotherhood.”
When asked about preparing for “Sweeney Todd,” Cariou recalls how he had to prepare for the worst.
“I went and asked Sondheim what he wanted me to do, range-wise with my voice, and I told him I was prepared to give him a couple of octaves to deal with, and he said, ‘That would be more than sufficient.’ I was studying with my voice teacher, so I went into training, because I knew it was going to be heavy stuff. To do it eight times a week… you’ve got to be in really, really good vocal shape, and singing properly.”
Then of course, once the production opened, it turned into a smash hit.
“When reality happened, with what the demands were, my voice teacher told me, ‘Listen, just come to me and we’ll exercise it, stretch it, so if you’re singing it properly, the eight times a week isn’t going to kill you!’ And that’s what we did. I never missed one performance of it, and I did it for over a year. That’s an accomplishment.”
Cariou also had one other stunning tidbit to share about his performance as the first “Sweeney Todd.”
“When we were in preview, I had acute laryngitis because of the soil we were using, and inhaling it. I had no head voice… but I could still sing. I just couldn’t make a head tone. An EMT examined me, and he said I shouldn’t sing, and I said ‘I can and I will. I don’t have any problem singing the stuff at all. I just dry up a little bit.’ He called me four days later and said it was laryngitis. The point of all this is, if you sing properly, you can still make good music. And on the recording of ‘Sweeney Todd,’ I had acute laryngitis.”
With that kind of discipline on display, Cariou learned a valuable lesson; “If you sing properly, unless you’ve torn something up there, you can sing forever.”
Getting back to “Blue Bloods,” one of the reasons that audiences have picked up on the series is that unlike other police procedurals which avoid the characters’ personal lives, “Blue Bloods” runs deep, and takes audiences to the Reagan family dinner table every episode.
Looking back on filming the very first “dinner table” scene, Cariou remembers how the cast had to lean on their professional instincts to pull it off the first time around.
“It’s interesting, because we didn’t have any background whatsoever; none of us knew one another when we shot the pilot in Toronto. The first day we filmed was the dinner, and here we are, ten total strangers, and we’re supposed to be this tight knit family,” says Cariou.
“We did about 20 minutes sitting around that table while they were setting up the shot, and we figured it out. I think it showed, right away. When they tested it, before CBS bought it, they said that’s what registered with people and they said it was interesting. It isn’t like any old cop show; this is a different cop show. I think that’s made it popular, because they’re getting to know these people. The writers are realizing what the dynamic with the family is now.”
As for response from the police, Cariou says he received the “supreme compliment” from two New York City police officers he met once, who said “Blue Bloods” portrays police life “like it is.”
“Blue Bloods” returns for a second season this fall on CTV.