The transformation in Dianna Agron is striking. If you don’t believe me, check out the images above.
On stage in McQueen at the St James Theatre, gone are the flowing golden locks of Quinn Fabray, the singing cheerleader from musical TV sensation Glee, for which she is best known.
Instead, London has a noir-ish, broody, bobbed and almost unrecognisable Agron making her professional stage debut.
“I had to convince the creative team that was the way we should go,” Agron tells me when we manage to briefly snatch a conversation, which is not the easiest thing to arrange given the US star’s hectic schedule of rehearsals, performance and engagements. “They didn’t want me to have a wig. There were a few people on the team that envisioned me with my blonde hair pulled up. That is not the character. She’s this dark, broken girl. I just don’t envision Alexander [McQueen] conjuring up this little blonde girl with a bun on top of her head.”
For an actress performing professionally on stage for the first time, Agron is clearly not afraid to take control and make her thoughts heard.
Though she may be new to treading the boards, she has a decade of acting experience behind her, starting with a bit part in by-the-numbers horror When A Stranger Calls, moving through teen detective drama Veronica Mars and cult super powered hit Heroes to the all-singing all-dancing camp TV behemoth that was Glee.
The role of head cheerleader Quinn made Agron a household name, certainly with teens, musical theatre fans and arts journalists (well, definitely one). From a fairly stock ‘most popular girl in school’ role – and the final character to be cast for the series – Agron and show creator Ryan Murphy grew a character that moved from hated to loved and back again over the course of six seasons.
“When you’re on a TV show for a good amount of years,” Agron continues, “people can start to assume that that is your full range, not just in acting but in looks too. It’s amazing how many people underestimate the fact that you want to transform for a role. I can be me in real life, but that’s clearly not why I got into this profession.”
Indeed, the lazy among us – and I include myself here – might have expected Agron to break her theatrical virginity with a musical.
That, I am swiftly learning, is not the Agron way.
The Georgia native and daughter of a hotel manager is in this game for the long term and for the craft of acting, not for the fame. A quick look at her recent movie projects reveals not a teen horror flick or cheesy rom com in sight, rather sci-fi action film I Am Number Four, Luc Besson-directed mafia comedy The Family and infidelity thriller Zipper.
“I love that I’m starting to surprise people,” she smiles. “Life’s for challenging yourself. It’s been 10 years of me taking a crack at this. In the past two years I’ve really turned things on their heads.”
And so she finds herself on the London stage, once again forcefully rattling the railings of people’s perceptions, starring in a genre-defying drama that takes audiences into the creative mind of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
The play, written by The Rubinstein Kiss’s James Phillips, follows obsessed fashion fan Dahlia (Agron) as she breaks into the house of the lauded designer, played by Stephen Wight, to steal one of his creations. When he discovers the couture criminal, instead of calling the fashion police McQueen takes her on a whistle-stop tour of his own fairy tale London populated by dancers.
“It was everything I wanted,” Agron says of the play that brought her to London and stopped her making her stage debut on Broadway, where she’d also been offered a role.
“I knew I wanted to do a play, but what I really wanted was to do an original piece, to create a character rather than step into a world that had already been created.”
And so we are back at that remarkable Agron-led butterfly-esque transformation; from blonde cheerleader to ebony femme fatale, from teen screen queen to unrecognisable theatrical star.
Like said butterfly, she’s likely to flit off to another enticing flower before too long. While she’s still young and carefree, Agron intends to explore and experience as much as she can. She’s already ticked living in both Paris and London off her list. New York may well be next.
Don’t expect her to stray too far from the “challenge” of working on the stage, which Agron describes as “wonderful and riveting and sometimes terrifying, because you learn so many good things at once.” Just don’t necessarily expect to immediately recognise her in any future roles.
McQueen runs at the St James Theatre until 27 June. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.