In the late ’80s, Ralph Brown starred in a production at the Kiln Theatre in London’s Kilburn neighborhood. Jenny Jules was an usher at that same theatre. Though their first date took place three years later, they fell for each other quickly and have now been married for 27 years.
Brown gave up the theatre in 1990 after a bad experience with The Scottish Play and consciously turned to film and television; meanwhile, Jenny moved from the aisle to the stage. But just as the stars aligned nearly three decades ago, they’ve re-aligned to bring the couple to Broadway.
The British actors star in two different British imports as part of the replacement casts for the 2018 Tony-winning Best Play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the new dazzler The Ferryman. Jules is the second woman to play the famous Hermione Granger on Broadway, taking over for Noma Dumezweni, and Brown inherits the role of Muldoon in Jez Butterworth’s newest play. While the stories of Harry Potter and The Ferryman are entirely different, Jules and Brown both step into big ensemble plays—a rare breed on the Main Stem.
Brown, who makes his Broadway debut (“At the age of almost 62, it’s lovely,” he adds,) joins stage veterans Brian d’Arcy James and Emily Bergl, who helped Brown settle back into this reignited stage career. The best part, Brown says, is he was able to offer something in return.
“The Ferryman is set in South Armagh in the North of Ireland in August 1981. I was in South Armagh in August 1981 during the hunger strikes.” he says. “The new cast, of course, is largely American and the previous cast was largely British and so there was a little bit of translation and historical background that I could cover in for them directly from my experience.”
“We had an exchange of 'Can I help you out with those kinds of areas and you can help me out with what it's like to be in the play?'“ Brown says, chuckling.
He replaces Stuart Graham in the role of Muldoon and he takes on the challenge of finding a new angle to what he calls the ‘“bad guy.”
“I have done the bad guy before. But, I always play the bad guy as if he's the good guy and I think that's the trick to it,“ he says. “I think real people believe they're the good guy … Jez has been very clever in the writing because he doesn't give the truth into any one mouth and any one character doesn't monopolize the truth or weakness.“
Jules, on the other hand, is no stranger to Broadway. She starred as Tituba in the 2016 Tony-nominated revival of The Crucible. She joins Harry Potter alongside a slew of new cast members, who all worked closely with the original cast to keep the magic alive.
Seeing the production with the original cast helped Jules form a fresh perspective on the story, and also allowed her feel and understand what the audience experiences throughout the two-part epic.
“I'm following Noma [Dumezweni’s] track but I'm giving it my spin of my interpretation of who I think Hermione is in this story. It was wonderful to kind of troubleshoot, to see the show … and to be filled with the joy that that show gives.”
One of the most rewarding parts of playing such a notable character for Jules is being able play her as a performer of color. “People of all hues, of all ethnicities, of all cultures identify with [everyone] in the story,” she says.
“I just know that young women of color are coming into the theatre, seeing me as Hermione ... and are seeing me with my afro hairstyle, and it takes their breath away and they're just going ‘There I am, I’m represented in this story.‘ How amazing is that?“
Brown echos this pride for his wife’s work, saying it is “an absolute honor“ to be married to this talented woman of color. And the two are proud to bring their talents and their personal story to the Broadway community.
“We feel that we, and our children, and our children’s children, and our nephews and nieces, and our godparents, and our godchildren are the future. We are representative of the present as well,” he says. “New York is the best place for that.”
“I agree wholeheartedly with Ralph. I do think, and this is not to contradict him, that in London people looked at us less,” says Jules. “I think when we first moved here to New York, five years ago, people would kind of do a little double take. ... We’d kind of get a vibe of hostility.
“It's because of the history,“ she continues. “There's been, over 400 years, two different Americas. There’s the white America and the non-white America traveling parallel [to each other] because the history has been so destructive and so disruptive and so separated and negative on the shoulders of the people of color. They’ve not been included in reaping the benefits of the greatness of the nation.“
With more representation, particularly onstage in popular stories, the pair make a subtle but important impact. “We've been together forever and we just kind of strive forward and know that love will always win out at the end of the day.“